Flats To Nearshore Report By: Capt. Gary Burch

Happy New Year 2019

Let’s get out that new fishing gear and accessories you got from Santa and put it to use.

Fishing forecast for January will find us dodging cold fronts in the Tampa Bay fishing area.  Even with temperatures on the cold side, there will be nice sunny days that warm the waters on the inshore flats of Clearwater and Dunedin.  This will be the time to get out and search your favorite trout and redfish areas.  The optimal condition for catching redfish and trout would be to have a high tide in the afternoon at the warmest part of the day.  As the water moves up on the sun baked flats, it could be 3 to 5 degrees warmer.  The fish will be more active in this warmer water and catching a gator trout or an oversized redfish, should be a lot easier.  There are some great days to be on the water during winter–timing is everything.

Use these cold fronts to your advantage.  The fish will go on a feeding frenzy the day of or the day before a cold front blows through.  The winds will pick up from the south-south-west and increase the tidal movement in the bays and back waters.  Check all the oyster bed points, mouths of back bays and openings to canals along the east side of the bay.  Trout, redfish, ladyfish, bluefish, jacks, pompano and, maybe, snook will use these areas and the moving water to ambush their food.

Trout and redfish will be the targets in these cold-water conditions.  When searching the warmer grass flat areas, I will be casting darker or root beer colored plastic tails on a 1/8-ounce jig head for both species.  Remember to bounce your jig along the bottom very slowly.  The fish are very lethargic in the colder water and will not move far for a meal. Using live shrimp under a float, once the fish are found, is another effective way to catch trout and redfish.

Now, the water temperature will be consistently below 65, and most of the time around 60.  St Joseph Sound and Clearwater will hold some of the biggest gator trout on the west coast of Florida.

The bigger trout will move into the bays and will hang around all winter until the water warms up in the spring.  Locating the bigger trout is fairly easy, as they tend to congregate together in the grass flats that are adjacent to channels in both bays and inland waters.  The big gator trout over 22 inches are a bit more difficult to find.  They can be mixed in with the smaller schools or off on their own in another part of the bay.  Searching different areas throughout the inland waters may pay off.

Redfish may be found back in the mangrove cuts near oyster beds, the channels leading to the back waters and around docks.  They won’t always be schooled up in large numbers, so look for scattered reds in the shallows.  Remember, be very stealthy when approaching your redfish, they are extremely spooky this time of year.  Throw a nice size, tail hooked shrimp when spotted–it will not be refused.

Don’t let the cold fronts keep you dry docked. Fishing is excellent in the winter.  Pick your days and grab your jackets and come on out.