Fort Myers Fishing Report: March 2016

T & I Redfish & Sheepshead, Charlotte Harbor
T & I Redfish & Sheepshead, Charlotte Harbor

Advice and confidence; that is what a good tackle shop should have and I can say that is what we do here at Fishin’ Franks. Except this winter there is no way to give great advice when there is no past history. By that I mean this winter’s fishing conditions have been all messed up and one for the record books. The weather has been a mixture of hot and cold days, cloudy and sunny days, calm and then gale force winds, and lots and lots of rain. When you add in the tides, the reoccurring Red Tide and all that freshwater run-off, giving good fishing advice becomes a challenge.

The 2016 EL-Nino weather event has been almost a one-of-a-kind pattern, lots of cold weather with cloudy days and plenty of rain. The rivers are way above normal, more than five feet above seasonal levels, and they are inundating the Harbor with freshwater which is normal if this was summertime but it’s winter, our dry season. So now we have cold freshwater flowing into the Harbor on out-going tides and cold saltwater flowing in on in-coming tides. This year the rains are coming too fast and too hard which in turn create massive run- offs that are carrying nutrient rich waters to the Gulf which in turn feeds the Red Tide algae. These blooms create a toxic ale that is killing the fish all along the coast and making shellfish dangerous to eat. If this was spring or fall this would be normal but not during winter! Ever wonder why there are so many Red Tide problems just south of Sanibel? It’s due to the Caloosahatchee River and the shape of the shoreline. Look at the way the land curves in there, this causes the Gulf water, which flows in a north to south direction, to eddy right there. The swirling effect of the eddy concentrates the algae and everything else including the brown nasty discharges from Lake Okeechobee and prevents it from dissipating. Why don’t they stop these discharges from the Big ‘O’? Why do they even do it? History can answer that. A lot of people died in a series of hurricanes in 1926 and 1928, so the knee jerk reaction was to put a dike all around Lake Okeechobee to control future flood waters. But by fixing one problem they created another. The lake itself is not to blame for all the problems, the Big ‘O’ is a Florida treasure beyond compare. However it was never intended to dump all the water into the bottom of Charlotte Harbor.


Anyways back to the fishing and what’s going on. The Red Tide while it is a problem for the Gulf cannot get into the upper Harbor. We have a force field of fresh water keeping us safe. The same water which brings unwanted nutrients and causes the Red Tide to bloom also kills the Red Tide. The algae that creates the Red Tide requires a saltwater environment to survive and the Harbor is very brackish so the Red Tide dies. That’s what is going on in places like Bull Bay Pine Island Sound. The Red Tide will come in with the tide but as the tide turns and starts going out it pulls so much fresh water from the rivers that it kills whatever Red Tide is left. So our freshwater force field keeps us safe.

So what is my advice if you’re going fishing? As a default kind-of thing, if you fish a spot for 20 minutes and you don’t get a hit move on, but there is more to it. Shrimp are the king of baits right now. The cold water has the fish moving slow so how you present the shrimp to the fish is very important. The other day “T” and I, that is what I call my wife Terry, stopped in the Myaka Cut-off to fish. I started with poppin corks for 10 minutes nothing, switched to free lining nothing, tried slow bouncing a jig head with shrimp nada. So we left and headed up river into a creek. Tried poppin corks nothing, jig heads nothing, then as the current picked up a little we went to free lining Shrimp with the hook buried in the tail. Casting up into the current and then letting the shrimp slowly drift down along the shoreline, BAM we both got hit. Mine was a 14 inch Sheepshead, hers a 16 inch Redfish. Weird, when we got the rigging right two fish hit a same time. As the tide continued running we continued to catch Sheepshead and Redfish just at the drip line of the mangrove shoreline. The dripline is the outside edge of where the overhanging branches stop. If we were two feet away from the edge there were no hits, too far under the branches there were no hits. You needed to be right in the sweet spot. After an hour of pretty good fishing the tide was slowing down and I caught a catfish so it was time to move. Moving up further into the Peace River, in a cut between two islands where the tide would be stronger again, we changed to a #7 split shot about 10 inches above the shrimp and we started catching Redfish. We caught 8 Reds and then the tide slowed again and the bite stopped so it was time to go home. My best advice is not to change spots until you have tried at least 4 different types of rigging to present your Shrimp. The fish are there, they are biting but how will they bite is the question. Right now I am looking for water 3 to 4 feet deep with shallow water around it and a good tide flow.