Bringing Some Clarity to Inshore and Offshore Fishing October 07 2017, 0 Comments

As it relates to angling, I'm often asked what kinds of fish are biting at certain times of the year. The easy answer is all of them are. However, there are factors which determine how prevalent the bite will be from one species of fish to another. Success in catching them first comes from literally getting into the mindset of a fish and then pushing the right buttons to prompt some action. Some days are obviously better than others in getting on “a bite.” Hopefully, if the action is slow or erratic, your Captain is making moves to make something happen.

Rather than focus right now on scientific approaches to get fish to bite, I’d first like to tackle the types of fishing we do in this area. Understandably, there are people who don’t realize there are differences. While one could drill down even further on types of angling, let’s start with two classifications -- Inshore/Backwater and Offshore Fishing.  (I’m not going to cover Surf/Shore fishing because that’s something folks pretty much do on their own without a guide).

Inshore Fishing

In our area around Sanibel and Captiva, inshore fishing pertains to the bulk of Pine Island Sound, the Caloosahatche River and also waters moving up towards Matlacha. Another way of viewing the area is to think of the barrier islands that start with Sanibel and then run all the way almost up to Tampa, Florida. The waters to the outside or west of these islands constitute the Gulf of Mexico. The waters behind or to the East are generally those between the barrier islands and the mainland.

In Pine Island Sound (the “Sound”) we generally fish grass flats and/or oyster bars looking for a variety of species in 4-6 feet of water. Sometimes, we’re also targeting potholes, channels and passes for everything from Spotted Sea Trout, Spanish Mackerel, Pompano to Snook, Redfish and Shark. And in the late spring, summer and fall let’s not forget the infamous Tarpon. Lastly, during the winter months, the Sheepshead bite just gets stronger and stronger as the water temps drop below 70 degrees.

Unless it’s Shark or Tarpon, the approaches to luring (no pun intended) the other aforementioned species, can be jigging with artificial baits, free lining shrimp or white bait or using a popping cork with about 2 feet of line underneath it with a small sinker and baited hook. All of these techniques can be a lot of fun and are easily learned. Best of all, they usually result in producing table fare. Fishing the edges of sandbars, island shorelines and piers (docks) can also yield great results.

Backwater Fishing

This term usually relates to going into areas where there are creeks and flats surrounded by mangrove trees. Water levels can vary greatly depending on what the tides are doing. Two techniques that work great to get action are fishing off the bottom in an incoming or outgoing tide with baited hooks/jigs. Or, pitching slightly weighted hooks with white bait (preferable) or shrimp into indentations of mangrove tree limbs. The latter requires more skill and the closer one can cast and lay the bait into the roots and limbs in these areas, the better the opportunity to prompt a strike. This can be the preferred type of fishing for more experienced anglers. Conversely, it can be frustrating for folks not used to pinpoint casting and can result in line hang-ups in the trees. Usually though, if desired, your friendly guide can do the pitching for you, and help to potentially get a biggun to hit.

On my mostly half day day trips, I split our time between flats and backwater fishing so folks can be exposed to both. Plus, it’s fun to see the area and have a broader experience. In the end though, I’m happy to do whatever folks would like.

By the by, the cost for 4-6 people for a half day of fishing will $375 -$450 plus any gratuity you may wish to extend. I offer these prices up for comparison sake when we address offshore fishing which follows.

I could go on for quite some time about inshore and backwater fishing techniques. However, for now I’m going to stick to writing about types of angling.

Let’s move onto offshore fishing.

Offshore Fishing

I’m not going to address “Near Offshore” fishing. This usually involves fishing within say, 5-10 miles from shore. At times this can be fun and productive for Tarpon, Shark, Spanish Mackerel and Cobia, to name a few.  Techniques for fishing them include trolling, sight casting and/or anchoring up among fishing lanes or shallower reefs. The latter are usually man made, because under 35 feet of water, the Gulf of Mexico is mostly just sand. The offshore fishing that most folks focus on in this area, requires getting out about 15+ miles off shore and in depths of 40+ feet of water. Think of the Gulf of Mexico around here very gradually declining until one hits that 40 foot level. At that point, there are shelves where the bottom drops off rapidly. Within very short distances water levels can vary up and down between 40 and 60 feet. It’s in these areas that reefs form, some man-made, others natural. Certainly, the further one ventures out into greater depths, there are more reefs. It just takes that much longer to get to them. This translates to more time running and less time fishing. And, of course, more dollars are spent on fuel.

The two fish that most people target offshore are Snapper and Grouper. There are a variety of types of these within their species. For Snapper, the most prevalent are Mangroves (Manny’s), Lanes, Vermilions and Yellow Tails. And the further out one goes, usually into 80+ feet of water, you get into Red Snapper. For Grouper, there are three primary types that are sought – Reds, Blacks and Gags.

All of the aforementioned fish are excellent eating, but there are very tight restrictions on what constitutes a “Keeper.” For example, from the tip of the tail to the forward portion of the mouth, a Red Grouper has to be 22” or more. Also, there are tight restrictions on how many each angler can keep and what months of the year the fish can be harvested. And, these restrictions vary, at least in Florida by which region of the state one is in. Since you don’t want to be caught with illegal fish (big fines, even jail, etc), it’s wise to know the rules. Plus it’s the  ethical and sportsman-like thing to do. All of this being said, while fewer keeper fish can be legally kept, it oftentimes is a heck of a lot of fun catching and releasing frisky undersized fighting ones.

In addition to Grouper and Snapper, there is a plethora of other fish offshore that can be caught and are excellent eating. Just one example of this are good ‘ol Grunts. They’re named this because they do, in fact, grunt. There are no restrictions on this fish, and yet they are real fighters and make great table fare. There is one recipe that is famous in Florida called Grunts ‘N Grits which is outstanding especially if there is also homemade tomato gravy ladled over the top. We’ll be providing a recipe very soon. This would even be a great recipe for freshwater fish like walleye or crappie.

Okay, back to basics. Once out in the deeper waters, it behooves you to have “numbers” on where to fish. Otherwise, you can drop lines till the cows come home and not get a bite. “Numbers” refer to Latitude/Longitude coordinates to pinpoint optimal fishing areas. People guard those Numbers like the Holy Grail. They are rarely shared. And oftentimes, just like coveted season tickets for an athletic event, these numbers are even willed to certain family members or friends.

While there are several techniques for fishing offshore, the most popular is anchoring up and then dropping a weighted leader with a good sized baited circle hook down to the bottom and jigging it slowly up and down. My favorite baits include: Live shrimp, pinfish, whitebait, frozen squid and cut-up ladyfish and even small Grunts and squirrel fish. Oftentimes as well, dropping a chum bag (mashed up fish parts) off the back of the boat, will help get the bite going.

Going Offshore usually requires using heavier tackle (rod, reels, lines, hooks, etc), having good numbers, the right bait and a boat that’s able to handle varied sea conditions. It’s quite a bit different than inshore fishing and is expensive and time consuming. Don’t get me wrong, it can be a really great experience and fun time, but you really need to know what you’re venturing out to do. Let me paint a picture. Most of the charter boats in this area that run offshore 15+ miles do so out of Ft. Myers Beach. These boats are generally 40+ feet in length and have a Captain and a Mate (the person who helps with the basic fishing.) You generally book your trip a month or two in advance of your outing and the average group size is six anglers. (There are what we call Head Boats that take our large groups of people, but we won’t address them here.) Leaving the dock usually around 6:00 AM, it will take about an hour and a half to get to the preferred depths and fishing grounds. Oftentimes, this can be in seas that aren’t very pleasant. As a result, some people in your group will get seasick. This can also occur on calmer wind days if the swells and/or seas are unsettled. There potentially are some things that can be employed to cut down on seasickness. Unfortunately though, I tell most people, that if they go offshore, there is a strong likelihood that one or two people are gonna get sick. And, that ain’t a lot of fun for anyone.

“Lines-up!” offshore and the return to port usually occurs around 2:00 – 2:30 PM. Once back, your fish is cleaned by the Mate and divvied out to everyone in your party however you want. Now, it’s time to pay up. The Captain and his boat usually are going to be asking in the $1,100 - $1,300 range. They’ll also recommend that each member in your party tip the Mate $50, so called it another $300 for a total cost for the day about $1500.00.

Going offshore to fish can be a marvelous adventure and possibly generate the catch of a lifetime in terms of a big lunker. You just need to have your eyes wide open in terms of time you’re going to expend, the cost, heightened weather issues/concerns and just plain comfort for all in your group.

Personally, I greatly enjoy both inshore and offshore fishing about equally. I believe though that inshore fishing provides a great experience for so many groups of people at a very reasonable price. Furthermore, unless crazy weather forces a cancellation, an experienced guide can get you to protected waters and usually on fish even if the weather is dicey. There is just more flexibility with inshore versus offshore fishing.

I specialize in inshore fishing. However, I also Captain offshore for a great guy and we do frequent trips from October through April each year. Therefore, I feel I’m qualified to address and talk about both types of fishing. If you would like further info about all the types of angling you can do in our area, give me a shout. It’s always fun to just plain talk fishing and where to toss lines in the water.

Hurricane Irma is gone. Like Storm Charlie fourteen years before her, there are stories that will be told for years to come. The good news is the waters around us in Sanibel and Captiva are as inviting as ever. Whether it’s inshore/offshore fishing, beachcombing on remote islands, dolphin watching or just enjoying nature in general, the Hey Mon is fueled up and ready to take you on a unique adventure.

See you soon on Sanibel!