Fishing is on fire this summer. The beaches, bays, rivers and creeks are all producing a mixed bag of redfish, snook, seatrout, tarpon and snapper. There are big schools of bait and there’s been just enough rain to make all the critters in our estuaries happy.
Last year at this time Southwest Florida was struggling with one of the worst water quality issues most of us have ever seen. Red tide was prevalent off our shores and blue-green algae was in our interior canals and waterways. What a difference a year makes. At this writing there are no signs of either and unlike past years where the problem was mostly ignored when the good followed the bad, locals are now determined to right the wrongs of years of complacency. There are now groups and movements in place to better monitor and research our water quality. There is light at the end of the tunnel. We mustn’t let our guard down.
This past week I went fishing with my brother, who lives in St. James City on Pine Island. My daughter and granddaughters from Kentucky joined us. We left the dock early and headed to the grass flats near Tarpon Bay and then north to the power lines. I’m happy to report that the seatrout are back and the sizes were mixed in both locations. We caught a lot of small ones on popping cork rigs baited with live shrimp, and of course the usual mix of ladyfish, jacks, mangrove snapper and catfish. When we switched to artificial Gulp Shrimp under the corks the bigger trout decided to eat. I’m not sure why this happened, but hey, I’ll take an unexpected gift anytime. The unusual catch was a large bluefish caught by my granddaughter, Emma. I’m used to seeing plenty of bluefish in the winter months, especially along our shorelines, but a summer inshore blue is rare.
A little later in the morning we relocated to nearby mangrove islands and set up for redfish. What we’d normally throw toward the mangrove overhanging branches would be quarter-ounce jig heads with live shrimp, hooked tail first. But the gals weren’t very experienced with feeling the bite, so once again the popping cork came into play. I shortened the line under the cork to about 18 inches and used the same jig head and live shrimp combo. The first cast produced a good sized bonnethead shark. A total of five redfish followed along with a host of mangrove snapper. Here’s a tip. If you’re going for the reds along the bushes make sure your cast lands as close as possible. If the cork was out just a few feet there were no takers.
As we traveled from spot to spot it became abundantly clear that the water clarity was a normal sea-green and seagrass had returned to many areas where it was missing this past fall. There was also lots of bait on the surface and pinfish were flashing like silver coins on the bottom in the deeper grass.
Earlier in the week I fished Estero Bay and the changes there were also positive. Redfish were caught near mangrove islands and oyster bars. There were also snook willing to bite near the mangroves and I hooked up with a lot of mangrove snapper. There was a lot of concern about the lack of seatrout after last summer’s red tide, but although small, they have suddenly returned to the flats and passes.
I believe our bays are on the path to recovery after last year’s water quality debacle, but me must remain vigilant. We must demand changes in the way our water is managed so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy great fishing well into the future.
Captain Rob Modys is a lifetime Florida outdoorsman, retired spin & fly fishing guide and host of REEL Talk Radio on ESPN 99.3 FM from 7-10 a.m. every Saturday morning. He is past president and board chairman of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association and serves on the board of the Florida Guides Association. Capt. Rob also shares his fishing knowledge in a series of fishing classes at Bass Pro Shops.