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Winter fish seek refuge in the river

March 10, 2012
By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

While Pine Island Sound, Boca Grande, Charlotte Harbor and Matlacha Pass get all the fishing press, pressure and glory, the Caloosahatchee River is a fantastic inshore fishery as well.

Want big snook and tarpon in colder weather? Head to the warm waters of the river. The biggest, meanest jacks I've seen in years of fishing here cruise the railroad trestle bridge and the I-75 bridges near the power plant. I'm talking jacks in the 20-pound class.

Anyone living here longer than a few months knows the river bridges host great tarpon fishing, especially at night. Trout, reds and sharks all live and thrive in the river. During fall migrating fish runs it's not uncommon to see mackerel far upriver if the salinity levels are running high. My personal-best snook, cobia, shark and tarpon all were caught fishing the river.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

For prized gamefish, such as snook, think of the river as a natural highway as well as a thermal hideout during cold water periods. If you aren't aware, snook basically seek bait-rich, warm, salty Gulf waters in and around the passes and beaches during summer spawning periods and retreat upriver during the winter months seeking warmth and shelter in canals, creeks, deep holes and other warmer backwaters.

Right now the transition from upriver to the Gulf has started and with the continuing warm winter it will be earlier than expected I'm sure.

Armed with this basic knowledge makes it easier to target your intended trophy. Where do you start your river search right now?

Again, using the river as a highway, think ambush points - docks, bridge structures, high flow current edges and island points, all rest and dinner stops to a hungry snook on a journey from upriver out to Redfish Pass.

All fish seek to expend as little energy as possible for a big meal. Simple efficiency. Currents sweep bait along and snook hang just out of the main force of the current to save energy, then dart out to nab a passing meal, then returning to the slacker water to set up another ambush.

One of the biggest mistakes new anglers make is to not take the time to read the water before casting to the intended target. Snook face into the current waiting for a meal to be washed or swept down to them. Are you casting the wrong way scaring the fish? Is there current present? Baitfish around?

Successful anglers observe the intended target area first then position their boats so as to present their bait or lure with maximum efficiency. With trophy fish you may only get one shot before he spooks. Put the odds in your favor, not the fish's.

Learn and understand tide tables and plan your trophy snook trips accordingly. Snook get excited about big moons and fast current. It's my experience that snook also feed heavily on strong outgoing tides especially at night.

This weekend should be a good time to target a trophy as the snook will be responding to the strong tides caused by the moon's influence. If the tide is dropping three inches in the next 10 hours don't go snook fishing. If it drops 12 inches in the next five hours, get on the water.

Learning to read the water and the ability to visualize what's going on under the water is vital if you want to be a successful angler. With limited time to fish and the obscene cost of fuel, knowledge of your quarry and its preferred environment as well as fully understanding tide tables, will pay big dividends.

Please remember all snook are born males and many change at some point to females. Most all trophy snook are female spawners and should be carefully handled and lawfully released to provide future snook for all.

Always keep trophies in the water for the best shot at a healthy release.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or, or Flying Fins Sportfishing.



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