Island fishers not discouraged by cold weatherWith water temperatures dropping into the upper 50s, don’t be discouraged to go fishing, just change your tactics. Changing strategies may consist of changing locations, switching bait and slowing down with artificials. Keeping these three options in mind might help you catch more fish on those chilly days ahead.
Changing location: When water temps drop below the fish comfort zone, they tend to search out warmer water. Our job as fishers is to find those warmer areas so we can find the fish. Where do you find warmer water? Well, there are a number of indicators. Objects in our environment that generate heat are a good start. Things such as a black muddy bottom in the bay or areas sheltered from wind could allow for a couple of degrees higher water temp.
Another good place to find warmer water is in canals. The concrete sea walls on either side get warmed by the sun and that warms up the surrounding water. You may also find fish in deeper water, as well as warmer water. Water temps in deeper water tend to stay consistent, whereas shallow water can be quickly affected by air temp and wind.
Switching baits: Yes, we all know that shiners, in most scenarios, are the best bait for inshore fishing. But as the water temps drop, shiners get harder to find. You may also find they don’t work as well. Live shrimp is a likely alternative. Cooler water temps tend to make some of our inshore species lethargic. Instead of chasing down a shiner, using a lot of energy, these fish choose to conserve energy and become opportunistic in their feeding habits. A live shrimp is much easier to capture than a shiner or pinfish. Shrimp are readily available at any bait shop, plus they stay alive long periods of time if handled properly.
Slow it down: Generally, in the wintertime we use a lot of soft plastics for trout, redfish and snook. We’ve already established that the fish are lethargic and they don’t want to work too hard to eat. So you need to put your jig in the strike zone for a longer period of time. Slowing down the action of your jig will increase your chances of hooking up. Also, try the new scented plastics. They seem to work best in a cold-water scenario.
With these three examples in mind, your next cold-water fishing trip might turn out better than you expected.
Until next week, think like a fish and seek warmer water.
Capt. Warren Girle reported that “before the cold hit” he was catching nice flounder off the structure just off the beaches. Also in the same areas, Girle encountered some keeper cobia. “There are still a few around,” Girle said.
In the backwater of Sarasota Bay, Girle has been catching keeper redfish, but the fish scattered once the water temperature dropped. Girle said he’s been fishing the deeper potholes for the redfish. “They’re like little ice blocks out there,” Girle said.
Bluefish in the 2- to 4-pound range are still abundant in Sarasota Bay. Girle has been hooking up bluefish while working the deeper flats for trout. “The trout bite has been pretty good,” Girle said. “If you can get past the bluefish.”
Jonny Keyes of Island Discount Tackle said, “It’s time to start fishing the bridges, docks and piers.” Species such as black drum, sheepshead and flounder are being reported, as well as small grouper and redfish. Best baits for these fish have been fiddler crabs, live or frozen shrimp and Berkley Gulp.
“Use stout tackle,” Keyes said. “You need to be able to get these fish away from the structure as quickly as possible. If you don’t, they will cut your line on the structure.”
Wade fishing has been good this week. “Try fishing the deeper pot holes and drop-offs,” Keyes suggested. Live shrimp and soft-plastic baits in chartreuse or root beer have been producing small flounder, sea trout, ladyfish and “rat reds.”
Keyes said he’s anticipating the pompano bite will turn on any day now. “Keep a pompano jig ready,” Keyes said. “In case you skip some behind the boat as you’re running the flats.”
He also suggested a stinger hook added to your pompano jig could result in multiple hookups, as well as multiple species. “Those pompano jigs catch everything.” Keyes said.
Offshore reports have been hard to come by this week due to the weather, although, Keyes said, “The bite should really turn on once the seas calm down.”
Tom Cassetty at the Rod & Reel Pier said black drum and sheepshead are being caught in the mornings and early afternoon. The black drum have been hitting on shrimp and fiddler crabs, fished under the pier. “The sheepies are being caught on fiddler crabs,” Cassetty said.
Other catches at the pier include redfish up to 22 inches, flounder and bonnethead sharks in the 3-foot range. Cassetty suggested using fresh-cut mullet or ladyfish for the sharks.
Jamie Forster at the south pier on the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers reported an array of wintertime species being caught. “A lot of keeper gags are being caught on free-lined pinfish and grunts,” Foster said. “They’re also being caught on Spanish mackerel heads,” she added.
There is still bait around the piers, which has been a food offering for mangrove snapper, flounder and silver trout. “Doc’s Goofy jigs are working good for the silver trout, too,” Foster said.
Bonito and bluefish have infested the waters around the pier, feeding on threadfins and whitebait. Gold spoons have been the lure of choice, but live threadfins have been producing fish as well. Foster suggested that fishers “look for the diving birds” to find schools of blues and bonito feeding.
Pier fishers also are producing nice catches of sheepshead on fiddler crabs and cut shrimp.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters reported that in spite of the cold weather, he’s been able to catch some nice fish this past week. Howard reported that trolling for grouper, using Gold Long A Magnum Bomber lures rigged on planers, is producing some nice keeper-sized fish. “Grouper to 12 pounds have been chewing inside Tampa Bay and on the nearshore artificial reefs,” Howard said.
Last weekend, Howard used shiners he netted at the Skyway Bridge and was able to have some nice action using a small split-shot and 2/0 hooks. “The redfish, flounder and speckled trout bite was good in spite of some tough conditions,” he said.
Looking forward, Howard said, the use of shiners for flats fishing is giving way to live shrimp and artificial baits like Berkley Gulps, DOA shrimp and other soft plastics.
“The mullet fisherman on the water are working the schools hard, and the cold temperatures also have signaled the arrival of the winter pattern.” Howard added. “A change in tactics from the fall pattern will produce some nice fish for fun and dinner.”
Capt. Wayne Genthner of Wolfmouth Charters reported that the black drum and redfish were on the move this week from the all over the bay and channels into the backwater. Genthner said his charters this week brought in nice catches of flounder caught on jigs, shiners and live shrimp, sheepshead up to 4 pounds and redfish in the 20- to 26-inch range.
Genthner used 1/0 circle hooks and 14-pound leader to bring in these fish. “With the clear water, you have to downsize your tackle in order to hook up with fish,” Genthner said.