SW FL-Bonita Beach: Fishing great when weather allows. 22-inch mutton snapper!
<p>Monday and Tuesday, 1/18 and 1/19/16, began just as the preceding week had begun, that is, with a cold front that brought high winds and seas, along with some cold temperatures. The two offshore trips I had planned for those days had to be canceled.
Wednesday, 1/20, it was still pretty breezy, but winds were forecast to decrease, and seas were calmer, with two-to-three feet predicted. I headed offshore for a full day of fishing with Dale Beckett and Dave Frantz. Seas were rough first thing, but subsided as the day progressed, and we fished in spots from 18 to 24 miles west of New Pass. The guys caught a nice variety, including a 22-inch keeper red grouper, a brace of 23-inch gag grouper (released), ten keeper mangrove snapper ranging 13 to 19 inches, fifteen keeper lane snapper to 12 inches, a brace of 14-inch porgies, some nice grunts to 16 inches, a 13-inch hogfish, and three keeper sheepshead to 19 inches. They released a few short red grouper, smaller grunts, a 16-inch white margate, and a 13-inch mutton snapper short. The grouper bit on baitfish, and everything else was caught on live shrimp.
Ron Musick and Eddie Alfonso fished offshore with me Thursday, 1/21, in spots ranging 20 to 26 miles west of New Pass. The red grouper were biting, but they were shorts right up to the 20-inch mark, and had to be released. When a fish measures exactly at its lower limit, it is best to release it, since shrinkage will cause it to be under legal size, once placed in the fish box. We would have been in luck for gag grouper, if only they were in season, but they are not. So we released five would-be-keeper gags to 29 inches. All the grouper bit on baitfish. Using live shrimp, we fished for snapper and other bottom varieties, and we boxed six porgies to 15 inches, fifteen lane snapper all 12-13 inches, and a few grunts.
Friday was a rainy, soggy day, causing me to cancel a trip, and Saturday brought heavy wind gusts and seas to 14 feet—a day that was not suitable for fishing anywhere. I rescheduled Saturday's trip, and remained in port until Tuesday.
As if weather hasn't been enough of a hurdle this season, an outbreak of red tide is also upon us. But, though we passed a few areas that were hit pretty hard, there were others that seemed unaffected when I headed out Tuesday morning, 1/26, to fish with Ron Richardson and Dave Aragon. We fished fifteen miles west of New Pass, where the guys used live shrimp to catch three keeper sheepshead to 18 inches, a 17-inch pompano, and a beauty of a 22-inch mutton snapper. They added to the box twenty keeper lane snapper to 12 inches and ten grunts. They released five red grouper shorts. Ron and Dave had planned to fish inshore the following day on Wednesday morning, but rain curtailed those plans.
Wednesday, it rained all day, and persisted into Thursday, and I canceled both days' trips. Friday, 1/30, the rains were finally gone, but were followed by windy conditions and rough seas, once again. So, Alan Bronson and son, Wendall, along with family friend, Clyde Balsrud, fished the backwaters of lower Hickory Bay with me. The north wind was chilly, and the temperature dropped from an early morning high of 59 degrees to about 56 degrees while we were out, with a chilly night predicted to follow. But the tide was pretty decent, and the guys used live shrimp to box two trout, 15 ˝ inches and 16 ˝ inches, as well as three sheepshead, all between 14 and 15 inches, and one keeper mangrove snapper at 11 inches. They released a four-pound stingray, along with some sheepshead shorts.
Saturday morning, seas were much calmer than they had been recently, and I fished offshore 15-20 miles west of New Pass with Darren and Linda Rachman and Darren's dad, Bob. Ever since the cold front came through, the close-in red grouper bite has diminished, and those fish have likely moved further offshore. We released a few red grouper shorts, but no keepers. The group did well with snapper fishing, though, and boxed a dozen keeper lane snapper to 12 inches, along with eight nice mangrove snapper to 16 inches. They added a few good-sized grunts to the mix, and also released a 14-inch bluefish.
The photo shown is of angler Dave Aragon with a 22-inch mutton snapper, caught on shrimp on a recent offshore trip.
You can check out all of our shark and goliath grouper action videos at the following link:
22-inch mutton snapper
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.