by Capt. Dave Stephens
In true Florida fashion our winter weather has been a roller coaster ride. We had a couple weeks of temps in the 80’s. Then Mother Nature reminded us it was winter with several mornings dipping into the 30’s in some areas. This can make for some challenging fishing. The main thing you need to do is slow things down. With the cooler water temps fish don’t want to chase their meals down.
The past couple weeks the sheepshead fishing has picked up. The cooler waters school these guys up for the winter spawn. Small crustaceans, such as shrimp and fiddler crabs, are great baits. Fiddler crabs can be hard to find this time of year, so my go-to is shrimp. When targeting these well-known bait thieves, I drop my hook size down to a #2 hook and just enough weight to get to the bottom. Since sheepies are crustacean feeders, you want to be around structure. Areas such as old docks, bridge pilings and rock riff-raff are great places to locate fish. If there’s any advice I can give you to catch more of these striped bait thieves, it would be “set the hook about a second before you feel the bite”. Normally you’re feeling them spit the hook out.
The cooler water will also have the trout schooled up. This time of year, I locate more fish in deeper water; sand bars with deep water access & pot holes, deeper creeks and rivers. Also, residential canals will be holding fish. Locating fish in these areas is not the easiest, so you might have to do some looking. If we have some consistent warm weather, look for trout to move out on the flats. During the winter months, shrimp is my go-to bait for trout. In the deeper areas, I like to use a jig head. If I’m looking for fish on the flats I prefer a jig head and a popping cork. If you’re looking to practice using artificial, this is a great time. This time of year, trout will take soft plastics very well.
Most redfish that I’ve been catching have been in deeper water. Creeks and rivers have been holding good numbers of reds. Also, the deeper points on mangrove islands have been producing. Like everything else, shrimp seems to be the bait getting the best bites. This time of year, I also use a jig head when targeting reds. Myself, I prefer a chartreuse jig. As far as size, if I’m in a low current shallow water situation I use 1/8oz. If I’m in deep water with heavier current I will jump up to 1/4oz.
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