The annual transition to the winter pattern has come about .. finally. This means the snook are smaller, the permit are fasting, the whitebait is hard to find, but the redfish are still here, snapper, sheep head and speckled trout are everywhere, mackerel snap off a dozen jigs a day, kings are sky-rocketing and the cobia have moved in. (left ... Logan Templeton of Miami with a nice snook ... one tarpon jump short of an Everglades Slam)
We are getting nice catches of mackerel most every trip, commonly putting 30+ fish over the sides. Primarily using swimming jigs on eight pound spinning gear to catch the critters, they make for fast, non-stop action. In preparation for our annual New Year's Eve beach camping trip, we dropped off ~30 fish to Virgil at the City Seafood Cafe' in Everglades City so he can work his magic with the smokehouse.
While in Everglades, stop in and talk with Virgil and owner Richard Wahrenberger ... the food is excellent. The Cafe' sets on the Barron River with outside seating directly on the water. You can watch manatees lumbering in the river, snook busting the docks and tarpon-ettes rolling while you eat. Chokoloskee Charters' newest boat, The Blue Bird Daze, is moored there. For those who haven't been on one of our fishing/camping excursions, you should, it is a real treat!
Redfish and snook are still relatively plentiful, though with the cooling of the waters, they are becoming more and more scarce on the outside and must be targeted in the back-country. Top water action has been good on the warmer days, tipped jigs and live shrimp have produced the most fish on the coldest ones. If you are seeking snook and reds, using shrimp can be frustrating with all the snappers and sheep head around!. (left Eric Erikson and Shannon from Ohio, with a nice 36" redfish)
(left; striper guide Al Lorenzetti and anglers Wes and Jason Little from Fire Island, NY. with a Chokoloskee striper!) We are now in our full winter pattern, with the typical winter catches consisting of the "winter mix". Most days we are catching around 50-75 speckled trout, mackerel, bluefish, jacks, and lady fish, with 1/2 dozen snook and redfish in the bunch. We are getting shots at small tarpon regularly and hooking 3-4 cobia per trip. However, the transition from the fall to the winter pattern was tough!! We had periods of three to four days where we it seemed could not buy a snook or redfish bite inshore or offshore. Even the macks and trout would get lock-jaw. This was unfortunate timing for the few the anglers who got to experience this first hand. It makes for a tough day!! Hopefully, we are past that now, but winter can raise it's nasty fishing hand anytime.
I have only been grouper fishing offshore twice recently and both times we managed on a few "keepers". Lots of smaller fish were on the bottom. However, it looks as though there will be many more trips to report coming up in January and February.
(left; Joe Llanes and Michele on a very cold winter morning!!) The Everglades fly fishing has been up and down. The water has been clearing up so sight-fishing is improving. Most of the coves that we pole into are holding a couple of snook and redfish each. However, it has been a while since I have seen real schools of snook. The winter weather should change this. We took our first cobia of the season on fly last week on one of those days with a real tough bite. The fish, ~ 25lbs, ate a fly and the angler did an excellent job with the fish, but we had a hard time getting the others to eat. Fly fishing should be getting better and better. For those coming to Naples fly fishing, try the Park, it is just 30 minutes away and is an outstanding destination.
If you wish to get in on the spring tarpon, snook and permit run, I would suggest start planning soon. March, April and May is booking up quickly. These are the most popular months, but as most of my regular anglers know, the summertime is hard to beat!! It looks as though 2002's total for permit releases is going to remain at 283 unless I can scoot out there before the holidays. Throughout the fish averaged throughout the year 17-18lbs with the largest estimated at 33-34lbs (the Boca Grip pegs out at 30lbs). Being a hardcore "permit-holic", I am going to have to be satisfy my "need" by chasing cobia for the next several months!!
I would like to wish all a happy and safe Holidays and thanks you for the good times this last year. I hope to see you all again in 2003. Thanks again.
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