SW FL-Bonita Beach: Big Gags Gulf-side; Drum Inshore
Capt. Dave Hanson
March 31, 2014
Bonita Beach - Saltwater Fishing Report
Winds were still gusting to 25 knots Tuesday morning, 3/18, after a gusty day Monday and heavy rain overnight. The only good news was that the wind direction was beneficial for the tide in the backwaters, where I fished the island groups by Little Carlos Pass with Steve Davis, his son Matt, and his son-in-law Eric. Anchoring and casting is challenging in 25-knot winds, but the guys did well with sheepshead, catching five keepers to 14 inches and releasing some smaller ones. They also released some, shall we say, unusual catches—mostly caught by Steve, to whom we awarded the "trash-can slam" trophy: He managed to pull in a couple rays, a couple sail-cats, a baby goliath grouper, a humongous blue crab, a starfish, and a leopard toad-fish—all released a lot more quickly than we stopped our teasing!
I fished inshore again on Wednesday, 3/19, not believing that the seas offshore would calm down so quickly, after days of high winds and disturbed weather. Doug and Ann Brady and their two teen daughters, McKenzie and Taylor, fished the islands by Little Carlos Pass, using live shrimp. Taylor got the catch-of-the-day, with a 19-inch keeper redfish. The group also caught an 11 ½-inch keeper mangrove snapper and a 14-inch keeper sheepshead. They released five smaller sheepshead, a couple of stingrays, and a couple of sail-cats.
Thursday, 3/20, Gary Mueller and his friend, Bob, fished the backwaters with me. We timed our trip to coincide with optimal tide conditions, but it didn't do us a lot of good. I fished in the same areas that had been productive for nice sheepshead, redfish, and black drum for the past several days, but the bite was slow and the water was muddy, with so much boat traffic in the bay. The guys released sheepshead and a couple of rays.
Friday, 3/21, it was calm enough to get offshore, and I headed out to spots between 18 and 20 miles with frequent customers, Ron Musick, Eddie Alfonso, Bob Meyer , and Richard Arnett. The guys used live shrimp for their many catches, which included three nice mangrove snapper that were all about 15 inches, three 11-inch lane snapper, six 13-inch whitebone porgies, five large grunts and an 18-inch Spanish mackerel. Gag grouper are currently out-of season, which was heart-breaking for this crew, since they caught three nice ones at 22 inches, 24 inches, and 28 inches. We released those, along with a dozen red grouper shorts to 18 ½ inches and three lizard fish to 18 inches.
Saturday morning, 3/22, seas were a little choppy near the shore, but they were smooth 17 miles offshore, where I fished with Dr. Victor Luna, his six-year-old son Victor Jr., and friends Roberto Russi, Tom, Eric (with a c), and Erik (with a k). The group of six caught a brace of 14-inch sheepshead, a keeper porkfish, whitebone porgies, and grunts. But the catch-of-the-morning went to Dr. Luna, who reeled in a 48-inch king mackerel on light tackle. The group released smaller porgies, triggerfish shorts, and blue runners. In fact, it was a blue runner that caught the big kingfish. A couple of goliath grouper also got hooked, but broke off before they were reeled to the surface.
Keith Scharm and family hoped to fish offshore Monday, 3/24, in advance of some nasty weather that was predicted to come through the area later in the day. The weather forecasters had all concurred that we might see "a few, scattered, light sprinkles" early in the day, followed by some heavier rains in the late afternoon, evening, and over-night hours. As it turned out, that consensus was dead wrong. It rained on us for nearly the entire morning, and the predicted 2-foot seas were actually 4-foot seas, until we headed in around 1PM. It was still raining then, but winds, which had been howling 15-to-25 knots all morning had calmed, and seas were calming as well. Needless to say these were not ideal conditions for comfort nor for catching. But the family toughed it out 18 miles offshore, and caught a few porgies and grunts, along with a keeper sheepshead, all on live shrimp. They released red grouper shorts and triggerfish shorts, along with blue runners. We used one of the blue runners for goliath bait, and had an approximate 200-pound goliath grouper on the line for a while before he broke off, so the anglers got to feel what catching a big guy like that feels like.
Tuesday, 3/25, there was yet more rain over the gulf, along with strengthening winds and rising seas. I cancelled my planned offshore trip, and remained in port. Likewise, for Wednesday, 3/26, with small craft advisories and seas of five-to-seven feet offshore.
Thursday morning, 3/27, I fished with Stuart Norris, who has fished with me each March for many years. Usually, we fish offshore, but with three-to-five foot seas persisting through today, we changed plans and fished the backwaters in the area of Little Carlos. Stuart caught a 16-inch sheepshead and a 17-inch black drum. He released two redfish to 17 inches, a few short sheepshead and one mangrove snapper short, all caught on live shrimp.
Friday morning, 3/28, Jim Novy and his four young children, Jacqueline, Julie, Jordan and Jimmy, who have fished with me each spring break for several years, were hoping for a calm day offshore, but that wasn't going to happen, with small craft advisories still in effect offshore. We opted for near-shore, and headed to the reefs but, even there, six miles off the beach, seas were pretty choppy. We ended up fishing most of the morning in more sheltered waters, behind Fish Tale Marina. The group caught three keeper sheepshead to 14 ½ inches, and released a few smaller ones, along with a few stingrays and sail-cats.
Saturday morning, 3/29, long-time customer Rusty Hook and his sons, Charlie and Jeremy, had originally hoped to fish offshore. But with rain and rough seas in the early morning hours and more predicted for afternoon, the gulf was not a viable option. Our choices were to fish the bay on a revised schedule to miss the rain Saturday, or defer our trip until Sunday, when predictions were for 30 mph gusts, and the tide was not to be as favorable in the backwaters. We opted to wait out the early rains, depart at 10AM Saturday, and fish until about 2PM, returning to land before the afternoon rain storms hit. That plan worked well and, though it was very windy, we did pretty well fishing in lower Hickory Bay, using live shrimp. The guys caught two keeper redfish at 18 ½ inches and 21 inches, and released four redfish shorts, along with a 17-inch crevalle jack. Charlie also caught a 16-inch sheepshead.
The photo shown is of Captain Dave, with a 28-inch gag grouper, caught on shrimp and released on a recent offshore trip.
You can check out all of our shark and goliath grouper action videos at the following link.
Bonita Beach Fishing Forecast:
Seas are finally calming down this week, after a week or more of high winds and rough conditions, with some rain mixed in. Forecasts are for warm temps, calm winds, and seas of 2-to3 feet for most of this week...Looks like fishing offshore and inshore will both be options.
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