5 tips to help you catch more fish around Sanibel & Captiva

I received a phone call last week from a vacationer to the island wanting to know if I could get him out fishing that afternoon. Already booked I offered to go the next day but he was going to be driving home.

He had been fishing from the beach and was tired of catching catfish. This is a common problem for fishermen new in our area. I remember going through that phase myself.

So what can you do to catch more and bigger fish from the beach in the Sanibel & Captiva waters whether from shore or boat? By following the tips listed here, you’ll soon be catching fish like a local.

Redfish caught on a pinfish and Float.

AlertIf your fishing in Florida for the first time, it’s crucial to remember that everything here has teeth, razors on their bellies or gills, sharp pins on their dorsals and probably the worst of all,  the dreaded catfish spines.  Their Dorsals and both pectoral fins have a serrated barb that is hollow and injects poison or venom when they stick you, it’s very painful.   Sometimes they can stick you so bad that the barb must be cut off and removed at the ER.  DO NOT handle these fish. DO NOT kick dead ones on the beach or the barb can go right through your shoe and break off in your foot.   DO NOT try to step on the fish to subdue it.  It will find a way to stick you. Rubber soles are no match for these spines. Stingrays have barbs at the base of their tail that can inflict a very painful sting.

The proper way to deal with catfish is to buy a simple “de-hooker” device.  It takes a little practice but you don’t have to touch the fish.    For Sharks, unless you are very experienced, cut the line as close to the hooks as you can and release it immediately.  For Stingrays, the same thing applies.  Be safe! This is not something you want to deal with on your vacation.

  • FISHING TIP NUMBER 1 – Minimize Terminal Tackle! It’s common to find stainless braided leaders with crimped on hooks and swivels and sliding egg sinkers in the local tackle shops. We call them “tourist rigs” they are designed for those that can’t tie a knot. Catfish are about the only thing besides a shark that will hit these rigs. Most of our fish have very sharp eye-site. They rarely fall for those rigs. Catfish are not picky and typically these rigs are being fished on the bottom with some sort of cut bait. Use a 30-40 lb leader, fluorocarbon if your budget allows, but it’s not necessary, however, in addition to disappearing in the water making it harder to see, it offers additional abrasion resistance to a snooks raspy jaws and or barnacle-encrusted dock pilings mangrove barnacles.
  • Learn to tie line to line a 3 ft length of leader and directly to the hook. A sliding egg sinker can be added to the line known as a “Knocker Rig” it’s highly effective. Use a small hook or a cast net to catch live bait, and either fish it on a float or free-lined. I often use whiting or a ladyfish if caught, even small jacks off the beach for large snook. So that’s it. Keep the rig simple. Use live bait if you can. At times, a lure like a spoon or a jig can out produce live bait.
  • 2)Find the Fish:
  • It sounds simple enough. Fish where the fish are. What clues will help here? The lower tide stages off the beach will have dirtier water, and often mostly catfish as the water will be off-color. I prefer to fish the higher tide stages until it drops about halfway. When the water turns color like chocolate milk, it’s time to head for the pool. Not always but often enough.
  • Other clues to help you find more and bigger fish on Sanibel or Captiva include locating birds diving on bait schools. Follow the bait schools and cast into them. The bait moves up and down the beach with the tide.
  • Walkout and look left and right and head towards the birds. Some areas on the beach are more productive than others on a consistent basis.
  • The sand bars that run parallel to the Sanibel beaches can have wash throughs. These areas can funnel bait and fish will use them as ambush spots. Learning to recognize them can lead to more and bigger catches. Often especially in summer, the snook will be cruising right in the surf break. Make Casts parallel to the beach too.

3)Know your Prey:

Each species has preferred baits and lures.

  • Bait You can increase your odds by simply giving them what they want. Shrimp are great bait in the winter. Get Shrimp to get you started in the summer when there is lots of bait swimming up and down the beach. Shiners and Pinfish are the preferred bait for Snook and Trout and Redfish off the beach or a ladyfish. Cut Mackerel is good too and the fresher the better.
  • Lures Bucktail Jigs, Mirrolures, Gold or Silver spoons and Zara Spook Jr’s and Plastic Paddle Tail swimbaits are deadly as well. Fly’s are deadly too especially when the fish are zoned in on Glass Minnows or Anchovies, smaller baits with flash. Anything imitating glass minnows or smaller shiners are very good.

4)Know your Bait:

  • What are you targeting? – Anything that will hit? Stinky frozen shrimp is not a good deal. It’s pretty hard to find fresh frozen shrimp. Most of the frozen shrimp sold in the bait shops are the remains of dead shrimp from the bottom of the shrimp tank. Its the rare operator that cleans their tank and freezes these often enough to keep them from becoming rancid.
  • Shrimp – As mentioned above save your old shrimp for winter fishing when another bait is scarce.  throw them in a baggie and put in your cooler then freeze when you get home.   Shrimp is always good but can lead to a lot of bait stealers.
  • Shiners –There are two types of shiners you’re likely to encounter. Scaled Sardines (Whitebait) and Thread Fin Herring. Of the two, the scaled sardines are preferred baits for Snook, Redfish, and Tarpon in 4-5″ sizes. However a large Thread Fin Herring free-lined is also deadly for Snook and anything else passing by. Try the bottom with the larger baits, catfish often are less likely to bother you.
  • Catfish – Yes that’s right Sometimes, I will even use cut catfish for tarpon, sharks and cobia seem to not mind picking these up either especially when loaded with Roe!.
  • Ladyfish – free-lined or cut into chunks is one of the best baits out there and readily available to Sanibel & Captiva Beach Fishermen. Just cut into 3/4″ wide sections. Be sure to use the head. it’s one of the best parts but cut off and discard the tail. Other top baits available to beach fishermen are Jack Crevalle cut or alive, Whiting is a very good cut bait or alive especially in the summer with roaming snook and sharks and often caught beach fishing.

5)Know your seasons

  • Seasons – Knowing your seasons will often determine where and what you are fishing for.
  • Wildlife Drive in Ding Darling is often very good in the winter and spring for redfish, snook, sheepshead, and juvenile tarpon or decent snapper.

6)Sanibel & Captiva Fishing Spots

  •  Sanibel Fishing Pier there is the Sanibel Fishing Pier when the wind allows. Observe the regulars, and do what they do! At night a troll-right jig with a jumbo shrimp bounced up current and just through the shadow line of the lights is deadly.  You have a shot at everything that swims there.  A tip, don’t leave your Rod & Reel unattended, and its highly recommended you tie the rod to the railing.  I’ve seen many a rig yanked in by fish so fast you cant react even if standing next to it.
  • Algiers Beach –  a stellar location for Beach fishing this is a special area because its at the bend of the island.  The currents get split and there is a large eddy or backflow that just keeps funneling bait, and snook and tarpon and sharks and everything else to chase the.  It took me a while to figure this out.  But in a boat the colliding currents at times are obvious.
  • Lighthouse Beach – though the pier can be a great spot, the Lighthouse Beach is legendary for the large snook and tarpon that can be caught wade fishing on the outgoing or incoming tides.  Sometimes the inside of that beach on the bayside is the best other times its the outside.
  • Blind Pass Bridge and shoreline is very accessible and is always a hotspot no matter what time of the year. As always pay attention to those that catching and find out what they are doing.
  • Dixie Beach Rd – on the Bayside and the very end.
  • The Rocks – the famed Rocks on the beach, a short walk up from Private Beach 5 to Beach access 7.  An “A” parking sticker is required, but you can be dropped off and picked up.  It’s not so much they are rocks as limestone ledges created by the tide and currents scouring and keeping the sand from building up there. These same currents bring large amounts of bait and this is a well known big snook spot.
  • Clam Bayou Culverts – Another interesting spot that can be very productive but parking is an issue, it’s the culvert that connects Clam Bayou to the Bay. it’s Midway up San-Cap Road, it can be crazy good there at the right times.  Many ride their bikes there or get dropped off and picked up.
  • Bowmans Beach – And an absolute stellar place to beach fish.  With deeper water close to shore and constant bait concentration, it’s one of the best places to have a good shot at a tarpon on Fly Lures or Bait.   Facilities are available too.
  • Turners Beach Captiva Island – This is the Jetty just over the Blind Pass Bridge.  Parking is challenging most of the time. It’s worth the effort. There is a rock jetty on the Captiva side and anywhere along there and the beach is a great spot to try for pretty much anything that swims here.

Follow some of these tips, get out and get a line in the water you’d be catching fish like the locals in no time!

Capt Paul Primeaux, USCG Master

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