January can go two ways, depending on the weather. So, based on the last few months, let’s start with an above average temperature scenario. The snook will be along mangroves that have easy access to deep water in case the water temperature starts to drop.
Double Branch, just north of the causeway boat ramp, stacks up with puppy drum, redfish, flounder and big trout. The best time is the start of incoming tide. Follow the crab traps going in. If most of the trap is covered, its safe to go and stick close to them–they are your guide to getting in. A word of caution, winter tides are negative tides and Double Branch has a shallow entrance. However, once inside there is plenty of water. Fish the edges of the cuts and the deep side of the oyster bars. Live shrimp with a small split shot seems to work best for me.
Big Island flats, at the northwest end of the Howard Frankland bridge, has a deep-water channel between Big Island and the shore line. Although the charts show it as a one to two feet of depth, in truth the channel is over 10 feet deep with an old barge lying on its side. This is an absolute favorite of redfish, snook, trout and mangrove snapper.
The old barge sitting along the shore line can only be seen during the winter months with the extra low tides. It’s a great hang out for sheepshead, mangrove snapper and redfish with a falling tide.
The radio towers, on the northwest side of Gandy Bridge, is another hot spot with plenty of rocks and a deep-water canal within easy reach in case of a quick cold front. This is a great area for shore bound anglers from the end of the bridge west to where the mangroves start. This area has plenty of deep water which is a favorite of snook, trout, jacks and redfish.
Weedon Island will hold redfish and snook around the oyster bar at the entrance to Christmas Pass. Just outside in the deeper water flats in three to four feet, you can find some above average trout and flounder.
If the weather is cold, everything changes and you need to look for the fish around deep-water canals, hot water runoff around the power plants and rivers.
Silver trout will more than keep the average angler active. Look for them in the main channel going into the St. Petersburg power plant or the south side of the Port Tampa channel in about 30 to 40 feet. The big female sheepshead will have moved in from the Gulf to spawn in the deeper waters. I have the best results when the water temperature hits below 65 degrees. This may not be good for snook but it’s great for the big sheepshead.
Little Manatee river is a gold mine when the temperature drops below 65 degrees. Large schools of jacks will roam the river from the entrance all the way to the railroad bridge. Snook and redfish will hang around the points waiting for the bait getting pushed by the tides. Look for pot holes, an area where the tide has made a trench. I found some areas that drop as much as eight feet, and guess where the fish are staging–at the bottom of the pot holes.
Don’t worry about trying to catch the white bait (greenback sardines), as shrimp is the best winter bait–bar none. This is also one of the best times to fish with artificial baits. I found the scented ones, like Fisbites Lures, work the best. Work them slowly along the edges/drop offs, or pitch them under a dock with a slow retrieve works best.
After all has been said, the key to some great fishing in January depends on the weather and water temperature. Low winter tides and wind make a perfect combination to fish the many canals in the Apollo Beach area. As the sun hits the docks and seawalls, it radiates the heat into the water acting as a radiant heater drawing bait fish to it, acting like a food court for the hungry redfish, sheepshead, snook and mangrove snapper.