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Captain Bill Walsh
Dawn Patrol Charter Fishing
Marco Island, Florida
Phone: (239) 394-0608
In business since 1992 !!

On the Hook: A cold that won’t hold makes fishing too hot to handle
By Bill Walsh

February 1, 2007 (Marco News)

John Geering had ice fished his lake in Central Wisconsin every winter of his adult life - until this year. Why? No Ice!

That’s right, there have been cold snaps in the land of “eh” (Don’t-chya know, eh?) this winter. But the cold has been quickly followed by unparalled warm temperatures that have kept the lake free of ice. John’s famous ice-fishing shack is in the barn and his weekend get-a-ways, with his buddies, put on hold.

John blurted out all this info last week as we were getting ready to shove off on one of his condo’s Snowbird Fishing Charters. His lament was quickly echoed by his condo buddies.

“So warm back home we almost (but not seriously) cancelled our winter holiday in Florida.”

Well, folks, they are not alone. As you know, we are having unprecedented warmth in Southwest Florida this winter. Great for the beach, the pool and the tan, but playing havoc on the world of the local angler.

For every year in recent history, late January water temperatures have been anywhere from 57 to 62 degrees. Contrast that to the water temperatures in the last few weeks that have been ringing the bell at 71 to 72 degrees.

What does that mean? Lots!

Let me translate that with accounts of a few actual charter trips we had these last two weeks.

Monday morning

It’s a morning charter. Nice and warm early in the day with a light wind from the east and a favorable tide.

Our charter consists of three anglers. Good friends whose common denominator is volunteering for Habitat for Humanity - these guys call themselves “Wall Raisers Extraordinaire”.

We have fished together each winter for at least ten years, so the routine is rather old hat. Except for this day.

It’s flat calm and we agree on the First Reef to be our fishing venue for the day.

The “First Reef” for those not familiar, is a loose knit collection of artificial reefs placed anywhere by anyone years ago, These lumps of whatever are anywhere from a few hundred yards to three miles offshore. They attract bait fish and thus set the food chain in motion.

Winter months are usually great fishing for species like snapper, triggerfish and sheepshead on these close in reefs and that’s what today was all about.

We anchored, put our chum out and had at it. After ten minutes of “nothing” there was a universal inquiry of “what’s going on?”.

Now, this reef spot was noticeably overloaded with massive schools of small bait fish that were surging to and fro and occasionally being “flashed” (bait fish were reacting to a slashing predator).

Our wonderment as to the identity of the predator was short lived when one of the light tackle rods was hit by a formidable slasher who leapt out of the water before leaving for the horizon.

Bonito! Or more aptly identified as a false albacore were the culprits. These are members of the tuna family and normally a mid-summer visitor to these parts well offshore.

But here we were mid-January just a mile or so off the beach trying to fight a 15 pound albacore on light tackle.

This first fish would have none of us and proceeded to empty the spool of line as it left for points beyond.

That identical event happened four times in the next few hours ….. four broken or empty spools before we finally managed to land the demon on the deep. They are beautiful, sleek and equipped for speed. We all marveled at its strength and aggressiveness and were unanimous in effecting release.

Well there was no keeper snapper; no triggerfish or anything else other than our bonito/albacore experience that day.

The “Habitat” guys took the disappointment in stride and were on the cell phone with “headquarters” going home switching the evening meal from fresh fish to pasta.

Thursday morning

Another glorious day in Paradise. They said it would break the record of 85 degrees this afternoon.

Our charter today is another Condo Group all with roots in Eastern Pennsylvania. These guys didn’t just like sheepshead, they were passionate over them.

Over the years that’s all we ever fished for. If we caught anything else it was a mistake; even the coveted pompano went back!

This morning, I tried every way possible to tell them that the water was too warm and their big “sheepies” had not arrived - they were holding in cooler water way offshore.

They looked at me like I was Pinocchio!

“Come on, captain. The big guys are here they just need sheepshead experts to land them. We always get keeper sheepshead with you - quit kidding around and let’s go!”

We worked pilings, docks, structure and deep holes for over three hours and now, in the waning moments of the trip, we had nothing - zero - in the box. As predicted, we landed tons of 10 and 11 inch fish but nary a keeper.

They were still baffled. This had never happened before. One of the gang anguished that without his bag of sheepshead filets his wife would never believe that he went fishing.

After some gentle pleading, I convinced them to try for some mackerel on jigs which was successful. We put a half dozen fish in the otherwise empty cooler.

No matter, our outing had finished disappointingly for our sheepshead hunters. Their “take home” was the realization that this was a different winter and we either had to readjust expectations or repeat disappointment.

They called me last night and want to switch their target to mackerel next week. Smart move.

So conditions can change. These two events pay tribute to the axiom that nothing is for sure.

I’m afraid, that if we want our fish for the balance of this season …..adapting will be the name of the game.


Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to

Fishing Marco Island, Everglades, Naples, the 10,000 Islands, Florida