small shark

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One of the surest bets in Southwest Florida fishing is that there will be a time when the sharks show up.

Weather, people and fish are all impossible to predict with certainty, but there are seasonal patterns associated with all three of them. People always surprise us, sometimes in a good way and sometimes not so good. The weather … well, we’ll probably never be able to predict the weather. And fish won’t bite when they should, and bite when we don’t think they will. But the seasonal patterns which affect weather, people and fish — those are very predictable, at least on a large scale.

First, let’s talk weather. Is winter over? Technically it is, but courtesy of our subtropical climate we can still get cold fronts into June. Subtropical refers to the fact that our pattern flip-flops with the seasons.

Our weather patterns are temperate during the winter, driven by cold fronts that sweep across the Gulf from the north and west. Then during the summer, our weather switches to tropical, influenced mainly by trade winds and tropical weather systems which travel east to west across the Atlantic.

It’s impossible to predict tomorrow’s weather with certainty, but it is absolutely certain that these large-scale patterns will occur. Which means that the odds of us having blustery, chilly mornings are dwindling fast. This is good for us fishermen, because big northwest winds and wild swings of the barometer make fishing difficult.

If you watch the news, you know that individual people are completely unpredictable and are capable of doing just about anything, including stuff that is unimaginable for most of us. But there are clearer patterns in the way that groups of people behave. Many ER staffers and first responders that I’ve talked to have held the opinion that people act differently during the full moon. Could this really be true? Maybe.

But here is a pattern that is definitely accurate: There are fewer people in Southwest Florida today than were here 30 days ago. And there will be fewer yet in another 60 days, in spite of the efforts of the tourism bureau to attract more off-season visitors.

People flock here in hordes during the winter, but not so much during summer and fall. I understand that our summer heat is not attractive to people who hail from cooler climates, but I have never understood why we don’t get more visitors here in October and November. The weather is great, the fishing is great, traffic is light and hotels are charging off-season rates. But those facts don’t change the pattern which controls how large groups of people behave.

Then there’s fishing. It’s impossible to predict how well the fish will bite on any given day, no matter how intently we study weather, tides, bait movement or anything else. But there are patterns which always, always, always hold true.

For example, Charlotte Harbor is now filling up with sharks. Not all are need-a-bigger-boat monsters (though there are some big girls around), most are small or medium sized animals. Blacktips, blacknoses, lemons, hammerheads, sharpnoses and others arrive here each spring, then by summer’s end they disperse, going to wherever they go.

Tarpon are on a similar come-and-go pattern. Some years tarpon may arrive earlier or later and they may stay a little longer or leave a little sooner, but the overall pattern never changes.

There are many other fishy patterns. Permit are gathering in schools above many offshore wrecks and artificial reefs. Goliath grouper are congregating at those same wrecks and reefs as they head into their summer spawning season.

Snook and redfish, which relocated upriver for the winter, are now moving downstream into the Harbor. And snook take it a step further: Many of them will soon be on the Gulf beaches, where a trained eye can spot them just outside the surf in spite of their near-perfect camouflage.

Large schools of sardines and herring are showing up in Charlotte Harbor. They will soon produce hatches of baby bait, which will keep ladyfish, jacks and mackerel happy all summer.

Our annual summer hatch of baby pinfish will take place pretty soon too and we’ll get to watch as untold millions of these little porgies grow on the grass beds, providing prey for just about every predator in the Harbor. Did you know that pinfish are among the most common prey for Charlotte Harbor’s dolphins? That must be the equivalent of a human eating popcorn or M&Ms.

Let’s go fishing!

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.

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