Winter fishing in Charlotte Harbor and Boca Grande

November has come and gone, and judging by the cold fronts we have had Winter is definitely in full swing. This month has been one of extremes. With some welding work to be done on the tower I had several days without a craft from which to fish. This gave me some much needed down time to spend with my family. Once the boat was back it was game-on once again with trips back to back for the rest of the month.

During this time the weather also played some extremes on us. I woke up to temperatures in the mid thirties on two occasions before it slowly worked its way back up in the much more appropriate fifties and sixties in the morning . The day time highs stayed up in the seventies, and the cold blasts were short lived, which helped to keep the water temperature up a little bit, and stave off any kills or major trauma to the snook population. Luckily things are back to normal, and the fishing cant be better.

I had the pleasure of having Linda and Brian out for two days that both proved to have their weather influences. The first day was out was Thursday, with the cold front moving in on Wednesday…OUCH! Some large bluefish moved up onto the flats (5-8lb) in lieu of the nice school
of over slot reds that had been there before. The Snook slowed down and became sluggish, and it was overall a fairly tough day. We managed to get some fish, and hooked a couple big goliaths. We fought the good fight on the big boys, but just couldn’t stay connected. Our second trip out we hit some nearshore wrecks and discussed trolling techniques for lipped plugs, and then decided to drop some lead and see who was home. Linda hooked into a nice 28lb cobia on our second or third drop and made short work of bringing him to the gaff. With dinner aboard it was time for Brian to do his part. He hooked up and lost a few, had some hits, and then set the hook onto a nice fish. The 50lb braid peeled of the reel, and the stout spinner doubled over. We tightened the drag several times before we got a good handle on the fish. When Brian would gain an inch, the fish would take back two. This went on for a good ten minutes plus as we discussed what color the tasty 30lb grouper he hauling up would be. The fish fought just like it should and I was putting money on a nice black or gag. When we finally saw color I said it was I thought it was an AJ because I caught some silver. This pegged me as strange because it wasn’t the thump-and-run of the typical “reef donkey”. When the fish finally came into view, we had a good chuckle. Brian had been tussling with a 5lb AJ that was foul-hooked in the back half of the body facing away from him. So not only was the strong little fish facing away from him (doubling its ability to strip off some drag), but when Brian made headway it was pulling the fish backwards through the water which made it seem like it had a lot more heft. We had a good laugh, snapped and photo and had to head for the barn at high speed to beat the storms that had blown up almost on top of us. We made it back dry, and Linda and Brian at least had several bags of fresh Cobia to take home for their efforts.

I also had the pleasure of having some good friends out from Colorado. They stayed for several days, most of which I was booked up and didn’t have a lot of fishing time. I finally had a cancellation and wanted to show them what South Florida fishing is all about. We filled the live well with some Jack Crevalle and headed down to Boca Grande the Friday after Thanksgiving. We arrived to find the typical Goliath drop spots pretty well loaded with not much action. I was a little disappointed, but not put off. We started dropping baits, working our way through each spot very thoroughly. Finally after about fifteen to twenty minutes we get the perfect drop and I see the tell-tale THUMP! on the end of the stout 130lb IGFA blank. I tell Erik to start reeling and the rod doubles over to the waters edge. We pulled away from the piers, and Erik made a good show of gamesmanship playing the fish to the surface. This was by far the largest fish he had tangled with before, and I had prepared him well. After a few minutes we saw a nice 85-100lb Goliath coming up from the depths. We unhooked the little devil and sent him back to the depths quickly and safely.

We sent our last bait down after about another twenty minutes and managed one more little guy of about 30lbs. This one decided to get a little bit feisty and bit down firmly on my bare hand! He roughed me up a little bit, but I feel it is only fair considering we may tangle again the future….possibly many times before the end of both our lives.

My other days out on the water this month were filled with great folks, and good fishing. Barring the first couple days of the cold front the fishing was pretty hot. We managed some beautiful reds to over 25lbs, some nice slot snook to cap off our season (snook season is closed on the Gulf Coast and in the Keys starting December 1), some nice keeper gag grouper to 17lbs from just over 6 feet of water, snapper, sheepshead, Cobia to 45lbs, a big mess of pompano, and even a couple tarpon in the 10-15lb range. The black drum starting moving in, and I did see several bruisers pushing 40lb+ but didn’t really spend the time to hook into any.

December should be a great month it looks like. The water temperature n the offshore waters is still hovering at, or above, 70 degrees which is slowing the big grouper bite, but they are definitely on their way in. Within the next month we should start to see regular limits of Gags and nice reds come from 20 to 60 feet of water. The kings are getting a little larger, but still not too many fish over the 30lb mark this fall. Either they moved through fast while the weather was blowing, or they aren’t here yet. Only time will tell.

The inshore fishing should also be spectacular. The reds have started to really pile up and are being found in good numbers. I have seen more over slot snook in the last week than any time short of high summer season. The trout bite has been on fire, but the gators haven’t shown up just yet. Our largest trout as of this month was about 28″, so we may have a few weeks to go.

Best bets:
Grouper – live pinfish, whitebait, or 4-5oz white bucktail jigs with 6″ glow curly tails (my go-to)

Cobia – same as the grouper but fish them a little farther off the bottom.

Goliaths – anything over 2-5lbs that you can legally use for live bait!

Redfish – Exude RT slug in golden bream or new penny, mirrodine (no XLs right now), live whitebait, ladyfish chunks (fresh)

Snook- 4-6″ whitebait (if you can find it), ladyfish chunks (fresh), or the Exude RT slugs/ Comida.
*Both reds and snook have been absolutely hammering the big topwater plugs in the mornings and evenings. Just find schools of mullet during low lite and work the outer edges.

Tripletail – hand picked shrimp

Pompano – good ole’ short nylon jig worked pretty fast with a shrimp tip if you need to spice it up.

Be safe on the water,
Capt. Tom

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