SW FL-Bonita Beach: Big, Winter Sheepshead are Here (when weather lets us fish)
Our Beaches are Clean�Our Waters Pristine"
I was in port for several days the week of December 12th, due to a strong cold-front that elevated seas offshore to 12-18 feet, as winds gusted and temperatures plummeted. By Thursday, conditions were calming, but the trip I had scheduled for that day decided to wait one more day to allow for greater warming. We headed out on a chilly morning Friday, 12/17, but it warmed up nicely and quickly in full sun. I fished in 43 feet, about 17 miles west of New Pass, with Jack Roberts and friends Kaitlin, Terry and Jim. We used live shrimp to catch keeper mangrove snapper to 15 inches, whitebone porgies, porkfish and grunts. We released smaller mangrove snapper and lots of red grouper and gag grouper that were just short of keeper-size.
I thought I would get my Saturday morning anglers out and back to the dock before the rains introducing our next cold-front arrived. Those rains were predicted to come through late in the evening on Saturday. But as all fishermen and meteorologists know, approaching fronts are on a time-line that often changes from its original prediction. We awoke Saturday morning to rains that persisted throughout most of the day, and fishing was out of the question.
Monday morning, 12/20, though seas were predicted to be 2-3 feet, within twenty miles, I got no further than the near-shore reefs with Norm Bauer and son, David. It was a cold morning, with a wind-chill of 42 and sloppy seas. The fish must have been freezing too, because it was tough fishing. We used live shrimp to catch a keeper sheepshead at 15 inches, a couple of snapper, and some grunts. We released smaller sheepshead and snapper, an eel and a mother-in-law fish. Norm and David plan to go fishing again while David is visiting, and we'll hope for a warmer day with calm seas that will allow us to get to at least 45 feet of water. But, we had fun and caught enough fish for the two to have for dinner.
Tuesday was only minimally better than Monday, in terms of temperature and wind. I waited until Wednesday to get back offshore, and fished about 18 1/2 miles west of New Pass, in much calmer seas and warmer conditions, though the water temperature is still only 64 degrees. Long-time customer, Brad Hayes, fished with me, along with his son, Jackson, and Jackson's friend, Billy Denny. Billy caught a pair of hogfish, both 16 inch keepers, and released one smaller hog. The trio also caught ten keeper mangrove snapper keepers that ranged 14 to 17 inches, along with a 15-inch keeper sheepshead. We released smaller sheepshead, as well as red and gag grouper shorts, all caught on live shrimp.
Dan Miles and his son and friends had planned a morning of backwater fishing with me on Thursday, but the tide was dead-low and I didn't think the fishing in the bay would be very productive. So we decided to head offshore to 43 feet of water, where we used live shrimp to catch eight keeper mangrove snapper to 15 inches and a 16-inch sheepshead. We released smaller mangs and triggerfish, as well as gag and red grouper shorts.
As seas once again built offshore on Friday, I was glad to be fishing in the backwaters with long-time customer, Vince Tomlinson, his son, Mike, and daughter and son-in-law, Katie and Joe Cavanaugh. We fished with live shrimp in Estero Bay, toward Wiggins Pass, where we caught three nice sheepshead to 18 inches (see photo). We released one that measured longer than that, but it was a skinny one that was more head than body, so we let it go. We also caught a keeper 13-inch flounder. We caught and released two 17-inch sea trout, which are currently out-of-season. We released some small mangrove snapper.
After the holidays, I had hoped to resume fishing Monday, with a full week of trips booked. But, Mother Nature had other ideas, as an arctic air-mass made it south to our area, bringing gusty winds, high surf and small-craft advisories, and record-low temperatures. Monday's trip and Tuesday's trip cancelled. We are looking toward a gradual warm-up, and I have hope that I will be fishing the rest of the week.
one of three 18-inch sheepshead caught on shrimp by angler, Katie
second of three
About The Author: Captain Dave Hanson
Company: Fish Buster Charters
Area Reporting: Bonita Beach
Bio: Captain Dave Hanson is a native of southwest Florida. He has been fishing local waters since childhood, and has been fishing professionally for over fifteen years. He is Coast Guard licensed, and is a member in good standing of the Bonita Springs Chamber of Commerce. He has been featured in several national fishing magazines, and he also appears weekly in the fishing reports sections of the Bonita, Ft. Myers, Ft. Myers Beach, and Naples, FL newspapers.