by Captain Terry Fisher
These hot, ‘Dog Days of Summer’ are the most productive months of the year for many anglers. I speak from many summer experiences, as the super high tides, strong currents, lots of rain and a lot of natural baits produce the near perfect situation or ‘Perfect Storm’ for catching fish. The waters both inshore and offshore are clear, clean and attractive for recreational and commercial anglers alike. The only thing to be wary of are the daily storms that may bring on strong winds and lightning, creating a dangerous environment at certain times and on certain days, which for the most part, can be avoided by discerning or cautious anglers.
The waters now house a variety of species and numerous schools of them for the catching. Some are still available for harvesting while species such as snook, redfish and seatrout are closed to harvest, but still provide the opportunity for catch and release. FWC closed their seasons due to last years Red Tide and algae blooms that swept our estuaries and offshore venues. However, those days (at least for now) appear to be behind us. I applaud that decision and even though these species are showing up in better numbers again, it is my hope that FWC extends their closures past next year to sufficiently rebuild the fish population to higher levels, that can sustain the additional fishing pressure as more boats and more anglers than ever before continue to enjoy our waters.
During these summer months I love to take family charters to the deeper grass flats to catch seatrout, Spanish mackerel and other species, either on incoming or outgoing tides. So long as the water is moving the bite is usually very good. I use live shrimps under popping corks with light spinning tackle. This is an easy and effective way for anglers of all ages to experience hooking and catching lots of ‘Ocean’ fish on their own. My biggest decision this time of year is ‘how many hundreds of small shrimps do I purchase’ for this type of charter.
On the other hand, when the conditions are right with a good incoming tide, I work creeks and creek mouths as well as remote spoil islands. I take the clients to catch redfish, snook and mangrove snappers. Except for the mangrove snappers, I purchase big shrimps when available to use to entice the redfish and snook. I use both popping corks with short leaders up against the mangroves and oyster bars or weighted jig heads with a big shrimp placed on the bottom of the seabed along the mangroves or other structure. Another option is to use a small circle hook with a small egg sinker on the leader that slides up and down in stronger currents to catch bigger mangrove snapper and sheepshead in creek and backcountry locations. Unless I am fishing both the top half of the incoming tide and the top half of the outgoing tide, time for fishing is restricted to 3 to 4 hours, as low water levels will reduce access to these areas.
The inshore bite on the deeper flats has been really good for seatrout, Jack crevalle and ladyfish, with by-catches of Spanish mackerel, permit and small sharks. Of course, expect those ‘Dog Days of Summer’ catfish to join the party. The redfish and snook bite have been good in the locations mentioned in the preceding paragraph, however locating them is the key.
Offshore, one may expect to have spotty success on the close inshore reefs of Sanibel, Captiva, N. Captiva and Cayo Costa Islands. Shrimps, baitfish, squid on 20-30lb. leaders and 2/0 circle hooks should land sheepshead, mangrove snapper (gray snapper) and lane snapper larger than those inshore. The bigger grouper, snapper and porgy reefers will be found in deeper waters of 45 to 100 feet. Heavier equipment with larger circle hooks and 40lb. leaders should be considered further offshore. Consider drifting the deeper waters as opposed to anchoring to locate fish.
Pelagic species are plentiful in the gulf during the summer time period. Look for permit, kingfish and cobia to be working around the bait pods along most any reef. Anchoring up on the reef and chumming should produce opportunities to make presentations to a number of fish working the surface or sub-surface. Otherwise, troll plugs and spoons with wire leaders around bait pods and reefs.
When considering fishing offshore during the ‘Dog Days of Summer’ be certain to monitor weather conditions so as not to get caught in severe weather and high wave conditions. If several days of westerly winds have prevailed, delay going out until the energy level in the gulf has subsided, as the bite will be negatively affected until things settle.