by Capt. Dave Stephens
Well fellow anglers, it’s that time of year to put the cast nets up and get the shrimp tackle out. Water temperatures have steadily fallen enough that most of our game fish no longer want to chase their meal. This time of year I hear people talking that the fishing is bad, however I strongly disagree. The biggest secret to having a successful day, when the water is cooler, is to change your approach.
Luckily Charlotte Harbor has plenty of other game fish that are not effected as much by the changing weather. On the top of my list would be trout. In my opinion, this can be one of the best times to target these guys. This is the time of year to start looking for fish in deeper water, over six feet, like creeks and rivers that have good current flow and depth. In these areas, a shrimp on a jig head will be my bait of choice. The color of your jig head is very much a personal preference. My go to color is chartreuse, though I have also had great luck with white and red. In an area with high current flow, you might want to use a heavier jig. In most situations, I use 1/8oz. I don’t like to pin it to the bottom, but bounce along with the current.
While you’re searching the local creeks for trout, you might also find yourself pulling on some redfish. These guys also move into the creeks and rivers, though most of the ones you’ll catch will be undersized. On warm sunny days, the deeper potholes will be very productive. I like to suspend a shrimp on a jig head under the good old’ popping cork, it seems to do the job for me.
Sheepshead are also targeted during the winter months. These bait thieves take a little practice to catch. Shrimp are great baits, you can also use fiddler crabs and sand fleas. Structure is the key to locate sheepshead. I like to fish around old crusty docks and bridge pilings. A small circle hook and enough weight to hold the bottom works very well. To start a good sheepshead bite around heavily crusted piles, just scrape the sides of the pilings to get barnacle pieces chummed into the water or chum directly with crushed oyster shells or shrimp shells into the water. Once the bite starts the action should attract the other sheepshead in the area, along with a few other forage type fish.
So, if someone tells you the fishing is bad during the winter months, just remember having a great day of fishing this time of year is very possible; you just have to change things up, be flexible and slow down.