Fishing the Winter Waters

by Capt. Mike Manis

For the most part, this month marks the beginning of a winter pattern.  The combination of cyclical low tides combined with strong breezes associated with northern fronts change everything. In addition to dropping the temperature, the predominant northerly winds also push water out of the harbor making low tides even lower. This is the time small shallow draft skiffs have an advantage, as many areas become just too difficult to navigate safely. Even with the shallower drafting skiffs, caution should be foremost as its way too easy to damage your boat as well as the shallow grass flats. In addition to changing the landscape, the weather is about to change the habits of our snook for a while. Being a sub-tropical species, they are particularly vulnerable to cold temperatures. They don’t like it when the water temperature drops below 70, and below 60 can be downright lethal.  It’s possible we won’t see this extreme until next month, but you just never know. When the weather does cool, snook will begin moving off the flats and up creek and river systems where they can find more stable water temperatures.  Redfish and trout aren’t bothered by the cold and they’ll stay out on the flats; or, what’s left of the flats on low water. Under these conditions, the fish will gravitate toward the sand holes that are mixed in with the sand and grass. On the higher tide stages, they’ll move around on the flats; but, when the water drops out, they’ll have no choice but to drop into the slightly deeper holes. Deeper is a relative term and on the flats in and around Charlotte Harbor, this can be measured in inches. These depressions are referred to as “potholes” and they’re much easier to find when the sun gets up a bit. It’s more or less like sight fishing. There are flats all over that contain this kind of bottom structure; however, my favorite areas also include good amounts of turtle grass. Three areas in particular, Lemon Bay and Gasparilla and Pine Island Sound hold some of my favorite flats.

On the flip side, there are going to be days where the wind lays down and that’s the perfect time to get out those boats that can’t navigate the skinny water. Pompano should be all over the hard bottom off Cape Haze Point and black drum are a good bet at the U.S. 41 Bridge. A piece of blue crab is great bait. All in all, it’s tough not to stick your nose out of one of the passes and idle around within a mile of the beach, between Boca Grande and Little Gasparilla Pass. Keep an eye out for birds; you’ve got a shot at kingfish, bonita, Spanish mackerel, big jacks and blacktip sharks.

Until next month, good tides.

Captain Michael Manis is a U.S.G.C. Licensed captain and has been teaching the sport of fly and light tackle angling since 2002. He lives in Punta Gorda, Florida and can be reached at www.puntagordaflycharters.com.
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