By: Capt. Terry Fisher
It is that time of year when the area ‘lights’ up with numerous visitors and homeowners alike, returning from their summer habitats to enjoy some of the best climate and pristine waters that Southwest Florida has to offer. It is also a time to reflect on another year gone by and a new one on the horizon. This is the time of year when returning family and friends get to relive memories and experiences of the past and forge new ones over the Christmas and New Year Holidays. Many will have the opportunity to spend time on the water boating and fishing as part of their holiday celebrations.
December is a transitional month in regard to water levels and water temperature, which for the most part, determine the most productive species to target as well as their winter locations, challenging myself and other guides to make adjustments that ensure a good fishing and catching experience. Winter months bring additional challenges from the northern and northeasterly winds.
Low water levels not only restrict access to numerous areas for most boats, but they also change the location of fish. When this occurs, I begin to fish areas around docks (with current flow and deeper water) than those or spoil islands with little depth.
Migratory and reef species are affected mostly by water temperature. Fish temporarily relocate to areas that sustain their basic need of food for survival. This why in winter months fish such as, mackerel, permit, tarpon, cobia and pompano migrate south in contrast with the warmer months when they reverse their migratory pattern. Basically, they are following the food chain.
Non-migratory species such as reef fish (grouper, snapper, trigger) simply move to depths that meet their need which are shallower venues. The angler’s job is to find them, and they will be successful catching their target fish. Both migratory and reef species are following the bait with the water temperatures being the basic conduit that drives relocation.
All the above begs the question: what fish will provide the best opportunity for anglers throughout the month of December and where will they be? It is common knowledge that sheepshead are the winter species to target as the larger ones living on the reefs during the summer months will move to shallow, inshore water depths around the rocks, docks and seawalls to spawn. However, all species are still available. The challenge is to find enough water to target them.
Large grouper, snapper, triggerfish, grunts, and other reef species will hold in depths of 85 ft. or less providing anglers a shorter distance from the outer islands to catch them. However, be aware of the harvesting requirements for every species, depending on Federal or State Waters. They change from time to time. As of writing this article, red grouper is closed until January 1. Red grouper are the easiest of the big three to catch (red, gag and black). There will be plenty of other species to catch and harvest.
Redfish, snook and other inshore species will inhabit areas of current flow, pockets of depth, most likely around passes and docks. Seatrout will be in the potholes of 3-5 foot or on the grass flats in the same depths. The techniques for fishing remain the same year around. Live or dead baits, artificial baits are all productive. Artificial baits will require the use of a trolling motor to keep moving to different locations along the shorelines and docks.
CAPTAIN TERRY’S DECEMBER SUGGESTIONS:
INSHORE; this month, as the colder fronts come in from the north, concentrate on sheepshead and mangrove snappers around docks and old piles using shrimps and fiddler crabs on small number 1 hooks. Fish the canals and passes for snook with white bait (pilchards), pinfish or artificial presentations. Big jack crevalle will likely in the canals and creeks. Look for black drum, redfish, snook, sheepshead and mangrove snapper on incoming and outgoing tides around the structures at Redfish, Captiva and Boca Grande Passes. Seatrout will hold in the 3-5ft. of grass flats and around the potholes. Look for spanish mackerel where birds are diving on baits. Silver spoons and pilchards will deliver success.
OFFSHORE; anglers can hope to score edible reef species as close as five to ten miles offshore as opposed to the thirty and forty mile runs during last summer’s extremely warm water temperatures. This I like to fish 50-100 ft. depths for the bigger fish. Wind velocity will be the dominant factor as to whether one goes out. Baits of choice will be pinfish, squid, pilchards and shrimps on a number 2/0 to 6/0 circle hook with leader and line size to match.
Fishing can be very productive in December as long as one concentrates on the nuances of the species being targeted. This is Captain Terry Fisher of Fish Face Charters wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and ‘Tight Lines’!
Check out my website at www.fishfacecharters.com. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call direct at 239-357-6829 to schedule a charter on my vessel or yours. I am available as ‘Captain for Hire’ on your vessel by the hour for safety, navigational, fishing locations and techniques that ensure every trip is successful.