A Sanibel fishing guide struggles with the red tide affecting Southwest Florida
The past week included a wonderful stretch of weather that allowed anglers to venture offshore in the Gulf of Mexico with light winds and calm seas. Reports were great, as fishing for most was excellent both inshore and off.
Offshore, hogfish and snapper were hungry on the bottom for those who fished lighter tackle with shrimp. On the surface, a resurgence of blackfin tuna showed up beyond 30 miles while kingfish, bonita and a few cobia relentlessly patrolled from a depth of 60 to 90 feet.
Part of the reason fishing was so good in these depths is the “dirty water” that is lingering off the beaches out to around 15 miles. What it has done is push most bait and fish into the area just outside of the dirty water, and that is where fishing has been best.
On Wednesday, I ventured offshore and saw just how good the fishing is where the water cleans up. We baited up in Terra Ceia where plenty of pinfish and whitebait were schooled up on the flats, joining the 25 dozen shrimp in the livewell. Terra Ceia and areas on the south end of Tampa Bay have yet to be affected by red tide while areas around the mouth of the Manatee River and Key Royale have had bait dying in anglers’ livewells after being caught.
There was some concern for us about our bait dying as we pushed west into the Gulf and the water went from clean to a dirty brown color. That dirty brown water color would vary to more vibrant reddish hues at points until we reached about 15 miles, where it changed to blue. Birds and bait were more active around the horizon in this area. None of our bait died on the journey as we went only a mile into the cleaner water. The destination was an area of hardbottom and ledges in 65 feet of water.
Fishing on the bottom provided instant bites every drop. Half shrimp landed a variety of hogfish, mangrove snapper, yellowtail snapper, porgies, gag grouper, red grouper, scamp grouper, lane snapper and more.
The surface is where the fishing was really crazy, as a handful of chummed bait immediately brought in aggressive kingfish and mackerel. Any freelined bait was hit by toothy critters causing plenty of cut offs. A few nice kingfish were landed with the average probably about 15 pounds. It was all you could want in surface action. A few cobia also showed up, and we landed the smallest of the bunch.
The week ahead will be interesting. Strong fronts arriving not only Wednesday but possibly next Saturday as well. Behind it, onshore winds could push some of the dirty water that has been lingering off the coast back toward the coastline.
Local fishing captains are worried that the cold front could worsen red tide, but they’re hoping for the best.
Perhaps the change of weather will help eliminate some of the algae’s persistence, but before then it looks like we’ll be dealing with red tide a little while longer.