Well, another frigid Southwest Florida winter has come and gone. What a tough couple weeks it was. But we survived, and spring is around the corner. Now that the weather is changing, so will the fishing.
Spring is one of my favorite times of the year. The days are getting longer (more time to fish). The water is warming (so fish eat better). Tides are getting higher (so we can get to more fishing spots). And the fish are getting hungry. For most species of fish, spring is spawning time — and before they spawn, they eat.
What triggers this event is water temperature. When the water is cold, fish are lethargic and sluggish. But when that water warms into the 70s, a fish’s metabolism speeds up, which makes it hungry. Obviously, hungry fish feed more often.
Another big change this time of year is the arrival of baitfish: Greenbacks and threadfins are returning, and non-migratory pinfish are getting bigger on the flats. These protein-packed treats are on the menu for most anything swimming in our waters. In the springtime, I switch from shrimp and slow-moving lures to my faster-moving, more erratic baits like X-Raps, Rat-L-Traps. I want to cover a lot of water while looking for active feeding fish.
If you plan to fish live bait, pinfish would be a good choice because they’re usually readily available at your local bait shop. If you want threadfins or greenbacks, you’ll have to learn to throw a castnet. If you would like to learn to throw a net, stop by Fishin’ Frank’s — we’ll be glad to help you.
Baitfish tend to hang out on or near shallow flats, so I like to look for mangrove shorelines near these areas. My usual setup is a 30-pound leader, a 2/0 hook and a bobber. I use a float because it keeps the bait from going down and hiding on the bottom. The depth you need to fish the bait depends on the depth of the water you’re fishing. Set the bobber so your bait is about 6 inches from the bottom.
I have found the if you hook a baitfish just above the anal fin, it will swim straight ahead and not back to the boat. It will also stay alive longer because you’re avoiding any vital organs or its spine.
Shrimp will also work. Break the fan off the tails and rig it on a jighead. Fishing shrimp aggressively will often trigger a strike.
Don’t spend a lot of time in one area. The fish are way more active this time of year, and if they’re there, they’ll usually bite pretty quick.
Another one of my favorites to target in spring is sharks. I anchor up in deeper holes near the bait flats and tie a chum bag off the boat. Cut a 2-inch chunk of ladyfish or mullet and rig it on a steel leader and a 6/0 hook with the barb removed. I generally drift my shark baits with no weight.
Spring can lead to some memorable days fishing on beautiful Charlotte Harbor, so get out there and get a rod bent. Remember, get your kids hooked on fishing and they won’t be able to afford drugs.
Capt. Steve “Pegleg” Phillips owns and operates Southern Charm Charters, with his wife Heather as occasional first mate. If you’re wondering why his friends call him Pegleg, stop in at Fishin’ Frank’s and meet him. For charter info, contact him at 678-787-4750 or through his Facebook page at https://bit.ly/2vesgVn.