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Early fall’s a great time to fish across Southwest Florida

September 13, 2019
By GEORGE TUNISON , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Early fall is prime for anglers here in Southwest Florida! Everything is biting. You can still score a bright silver tarpon before they leave. Snook are back from the beach and eating, storing fat and energy for the upcoming winter. Off shore, mackerel, grouper and snapper and some between hurricanes, great weather to get safely out and back with full coolers and happy faces.

Fall brings one of the toughest, fastest, light tackle busting game fish on the planet close to our coast -- the bonito. Try one on for size with your snook rod or an 810 wt. fly rod and make sure you have plenty of line capacity or backing on your reel. If you've never hooked one you're in for a treat, especially if you're a fan of screaming drags and hot reels.

Many local angling "specialists" wait for fall as for them. Southwest Florida fall is spelled "redfish." September through November are prime redfish hunting months here on the flats and passes of Southwest Florida. Target early morning rising tides on the flats for schooling fish typically 3-10 pounds with some rare bulls in the 20-pound or over class mixed in. I did catch a 22-pound October red on a shallow Matlacha oyster bar using a gold spoon in 2016 but oversized reds like this in our shallow water are pretty uncommon. Typically reds of this size stay in deeper water in most parts of the country. Usually when redfish exceed 30 inches, life is spent pretty much offshore where anglers going off to catch deepwater species often see massive acre-sized schools coming to the top turning the water copper-gold.

One big exception is Indian River or Mosquito Lagoon north of here where huge redfish are often found in shallow water year round.

Redfish patterns (and schooling size) on our flats often change due to bait location, weather and angling pressure.

When I relocated here 20 years ago, an early morning October trip out in front of Burnt Store Marina meant giant schools of reds, hundreds of fish, like clockwork. Reds are still around, of course, but those giant schools seem to have broken up into smaller pods, singles and/or have set up housekeeping in other parts. Without question this was caused by guide and recreational angling pressure as the word got out.

With hungry fall snook transitioning back and away from the beaches and always hungry redfish in shallow water, this is a great time to "run and gun," hitting high percentage spots. Plan your trip using your tide chart so the odds are stacked in your favor and so you aren't stranded in some insect-infested backwater for hours being eaten alive.

Sea trout fishing picks up with fall's cooling water and those looking for a true Southwest Florida gator trout using an artificial should be on their favorite flat or oyster bar before sunrise. Dead quiet in the boat and long casts are the name of the game as little trout aren't smart, but gator trout all own PhDs and are as skittish as Keys bonefish during tourist season.

As I've advised for years, for a real trophy trout on a lure, find the biggest top-water plug in your tackle box. Make long casts around bars and schools of shallow, early-morning feeding mullet.

Does that plug you're holding look stupidly big? For a trout? NO, throw it! It's fine! Remember a 7-pound trout has no trouble swallowing a 12-inch long mullet. Your 6-inch Zara Spook won't be an issue.

A downside to throwing a big plug for an early morning, fall trophy trout? By-catch like huge snook or redfish. Some problem!

With big snook and reds in shallow water, docks, mangrove edges and bars are prime locations where soft plastics, spoons and hard baits score.

Fly anglers will cast big weedless bugs for awesome shoreline explosions.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or captgeorget3@aol.com.

 
 
 

 

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