There's a shoal in Charlotte Harbor that's sort of "in the middle of nowhere." Bokeelia Bar is often over-looked by anglers racing past on their never-ending search for hot fishing. The few fishermen who do stop on the bar are usually intent on catching live bait, a plentiful commodity on this particular patch of Southwest shallow water.
Bokeelia Bar is nearly a mile long, runs roughly east/west, and lies approximately a mile north of Bokeelia off the northern end of Pine Island. It's surrounded by dense seagrass beds which become spotty around the bar edges, fading away to sandy bottom atop the bar. There are a few small oyster beds near the eastern end of the bar where wading birds are often seen. At low tide some portions of the bar go dry, especially the shallowest section which surrounds the oyster beds.
The rich mix of habitats, a strong tidal flow and the abundance of bait all combine to create a great fishing spot. In addition to the schools of shiners and hordes of pinfish which live on the bar, there are plenty of bigger fish there which give you the chance to use some of your fresh-caught bait right on site. Redfish sometimes tail on the south-central portion of the bar. Big snook lie in potholes on the north-central section. Trout can be found on the grass all around the bar, Spanish mackerel and bluefish chase bait around the bar edges, tarpon mill around in the channel on the eastern end, and sheepshead forage around the oysters.
Throughout the Southwest region, snook are on the move, headed inland and upriver. They pause in their journey to feed around docks, points and creeks, in front of small mangrove islands, potholes and canal mouths. Livebait anglers are enjoying the return of larger shiners after a summer of dealing with mini-minnows. These bigger baits are just the ticket for tempting larger snook, which are feeding heavily before winter slows their metabolisms.
October is an "iffy" month for Charlotte Harbor tarpon. Last year saw solid action through much of the month, but if cooler weather prevails, the fishery can shut down at any time; most years tarpon fishing is done before the end of October. Rivermouths and passes are likely to hold a few tarpon, and it's possible to find bunches of them offshore, sometimes around offshore wrecks and reefs, sometimes simply following schools of bait.
The term "Red October" is often used by Southwest Florida anglers who think that October is the best redfish month of the year. It's certainly the best month to find schools of oversize fish running the bar edges in the lower harbor. Others will be encountered offshore where they are occasionally taken by mackerel fishermen.
Other inshore action includes a resurgence of trout on the flats as water temperature drops, a smattering of flounder on the backsides of the barrier islands, pompano and whiting around the edges of the Gulf passes, decent fishing for mangrove snapper around docks and riprap in the canals, and the appearance of a few early season sheepshead around bridge and pier pilings.
Gulf anglers can find a mix of red grouper, lane snapper, mangrove snapper and a few gags in water depths starting at about 65 feet. Wrecks 80 feet or deeper hold a fair number of 20- to 30-pound amber-jack and a few yellowtail snapper. Near the beach, hordes of Spanish mackerel are the norm, and a few early king mackerel are sneaking into the mix along with scattered schools of jumbo redfish (see above) and stray blackfin tuna. Barracuda fishing, which has been slower than normal this summer, should heat up over the shallower wrecks and reefs in 25 to 65 feet as a fresh influx of 'cudas arrives.
Freshwater fishermen look forward to the cooler weather because dropping water temperatures activate the bass bite. On Lake Okeechobee, they begin to feed heavily in anticipation of the coming winter spawn, and last year there were even a few fish on beds in October. Look for these fish in the thicker grass; frogs and plastic worms are good heavy-cover baits.
Best Bet: SOUTHWEST
Anglers have descended on the fall Spanish mackerel run along the Southwest Florida coast for decades. When the run is on, the action can be unbelievable. Tales abound of charterboats catching a hundred fish in a hundred minutes. Don't believe it? Then you haven't watched a capable mate struggling to keep a half-dozen trolling rigs in the water during a mackerel blitz.
For sheer numbers of bites, no doubt the most efficient technique is to troll with spoons and jigs. But there are other methods which might be more fun. Positioning a boat within casting range of a surface rage and going to work with whippy spinning gear is a blast. When matched to appropriately light tackle there might be no more sporty first run in the world of fishing than the blazing dash produced by a panicked mackerel.
Fly fishermen love this fishery. When a blitz is on the fish aren't picky about pattern or presentation (some anglers save ratty, tired flies all year to use for mackerel). Long casts aren't necessary when the fish are blasting all around the boat, and mackerel are great at producing that "ting-ting-ting" sound made by the fly line/backing knot bouncing through your guides on the way overboard.
Schools of southbound Spanish mackerel can be encountered in bays, around the passes, along the beaches or many miles offshore. Since they're fast movers their location can change rapidly, yesterday's hotspot might be a distant memory by tomorrow. Up-to-the-minute fishing reports are invaluable during mackerel season, but if you don't have access to recent reports, you can find fish by searching for flocks of birds, by finding jumping mackerel, or by simply spotting busy boats.