Biggest Fish of the Year

By Capt. Cefus McRae 

With the holiday season in full swing and freezing temperatures outside, fishing may be on the bottom of your priority list. But if you can find time to get out and brave the cold, you may hook up with some of the biggest fish of the year.

The biggest striper I’ve ever landed was caught the day after Thanksgiving on Lake Lanier. It was a cold, breezy day and I opted to go fishing instead of deer hunting. I really didn’t change my tactics that much from what I had been doing all summer. The primary difference was the size of the bait. I was using an eight-inch rainbow trout on a downline, fishing over a patch of standing timber. I could see schooling fish on the Simrad, and it was probably pure luck that a 28 pound fish happened to take the trout, rather than a 12 pounder. Nevertheless, that fatty came to the boat, and I was one happy camper.

I’ve had bigger stripers hauled in my boat, but they were at the end of someone else’s rod. And, yes, the big ones were all caught in the winter months.

If you prefer a little saltier environment, you’ll discover the same is true inshore and offshore, and your trip to the fishing spots are usually shorter. Wintertime is the perfect time to catch grouper in close on the Gulf of Mexico. From Steinhatchee to Port St. Joe, these deep water denizens will transition from their offshore haunts to just a few miles off the beaches. You can catch them by trolling diving plugs like Stretch 30’s and Sebile big lip divers. Speaking of Steinhatchee, the winter months will produce some of the biggest trout of the year. They will come up river from the bay and hang out in the deep holes in the channel. Remember, you can only keep one over 20”.

On the Georgia coast, a smorgasbord of species gets fired up when the weather turns cold. Capt. Ken Olson, who fishes out of St. Marys, GA, will be connecting with everything from sheepshead to trout and flounder to black drum for the next several months. Sea conditions and tides will always be a factor, but the numbers and size of fish typically increase when the water cools down in the winter.

A little further south in Cumberland Sound, the bull redfish come in close, offering rod-bending action all day. The key is finding the drop-off’s in the channel and fishing moving water. Book a trip with Capt. David Johnson of Even Better Charters in Fernandina Beach for a very fishy day on the water.

So while other folks are putting the covers on their boats for the winter, I would suggest it’s time to break out the insulated bibs and get on the water. Dress in layers and pack a thermos of hot coffee and a couple OMEALS for an easy, hot lunch (and they taste really good too).

Yeah, it’s cold, but we were all whining about how hot it was back in August. So now’s your chance to cool off a bit and maybe catch your biggest fish of the year.

Tight Lines and Calm Seas.