Oh Boy… winter time blues!!! Well, I know it is really winter time when Kelly has on 5 or 6 layers of clothing and her waterproof gloves out. It may be cold, but if you look for the right places to fish, winter time can be very productive. Creek mouths are a great place to start. They have the 3 keys to finding fish that I always try to stress…food, moving water and cover. Get these 3 things together and you’re sure to find fish. There are several creeks along the west wall of Charlotte Harbor and even a few in Turtle Bay worth fishing. Throughout the creeks, there are deeper holes and stretches that you’ll want to target.
Throughout the Harbor, sheepshead are still milling about and eating live shrimp cut into 3rds. Have plenty of shrimp because they are very good at getting your shrimp off the hook and leaving you fishing on credit. Another favorite bait for these buck tooth convicts would be fiddler crabs. Shrimp are in high demand right now at your local bait shops…so if you’re planning a sheepshead trip you might want to call or buy some a few days in advance.
Redfish and snook seem to be about everywhere right now. They’re hitting shrimp, scented soft plastics and chunked lady fish or pinfish. Look along the shorelines in shallower water because they’ll move into the shallows as the sun warms up the water. If you have a shallow running boat, you may be able to venture in the back country and fish the potholes. These are excellent spots to pick up trout, redfish, and snook. But, be very careful because we have had some very low tides and not many boats run skinny enough to get back there.
So whatever you plan on targeting during your fishing trip, go ahead and pick up some shrimp because it is a catch all. Trout and other fun fish such as ladyfish are still abundant along the bars and in the pot holes mentioned previously. You’re more likely to find fish in those areas with shallow shorelines/sandbars adjacent to a deep drop off. They like these spots as it provides an easy transition from deeper water for finding food into shallower water for warming up. I would recommend deeper grass flats on these cooler months for trout. I would start with live shrimp on a light wire 4/0 circle hook under a Bomber saltwater grade paradise popper with 20 lb fluorocarbon. For leader length…you will want to fish mid to lower part of the water column, too deep and you’ll just be feeding the pinfish and if it’s too far off the bottom they’ll probably not expend the energy to go looking for it.
Remember, the water temperature is hovering in the low to mid 60’s and warms in the latter part of the day. Most of our fish (like our residents) like it a bit warmer before they really get aggressive…so slow down on those retrieves. The good news is that most of the fish are easily accessible on most of the sandbars, shorelines and oyster bars. Don’t get too close to the bars or shoreline or you may pass over the fish. For all the fish we’ve seen along the shoreline, there have been just as many milling around in the 3-4ft range. So don’t rush immediately to the shoreline; stop in that 4ft range and fish your way towards the shoreline.
For “fun fish” (jacks, ladyfish, trout, etc), look for bait schools and birds diving. This is usually an indication of fish in the area. Many times, they are all mixed in there together… sometimes you just have to weed through them to find the ones you’re looking for. A good, simple rig for winter time fishing is a live shrimp on a 1/4 or 1/8th ounce jig head. I like to remove the “fin” part of that shrimp’s tail, then feed the hook right where the fin was removed on the tail, letting the hook come out near the legs.
Nearshore fishing has still been productive if you can get out past the red tide and its affects we’ve been experiencing recently. Mangrove and lane snapper have been plentiful on hard bottom around the 8 and 9 mile mark. Nearshore reefs will be holding sheepshead and occasionally schools of permit passing through. But, if you’re seeing large numbers of dead fish in the area you’re trying to fish, you might be in an area affected too badly by red tide. It has a funny smell and some people experience a tickle feeling in the back of their throat. In this case, pack up and try elsewhere because many of the target species of fish will have cleared out. But, like I said, if you’re able to push out to around 8 miles, you’ll start to find cleaner water and more fish.
Folks, that’s a wrap for me. When you’re ready for a great day out on the water…
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Capt Jesse McDowall