December was unusually warm with only a few cold fronts, so the bite was awesome for trout, reds and snook. Some of the fish went to their regular winter stomping grounds, but not all of them, as some were spread out around the flats. Let’s talk about the cold fronts we’ll get in January–some as cold as 36 degrees or a little colder in a few spots. Just what will this do to the fish? Typically, it’s going to put them in lockjaw mode for a few days, while they hold out for warmer weather. With these cold fronts from the north, it will push water off of the flats, even during high tide. This will congregate the fish in potholes and, sometimes, you can stay in these potholes for hours having fun catching fish after fish.
When we do get these big cold fronts, it usually takes two to three days for the fish to adjust to the drastic temperature change. Snook will be more affected by these cold fronts and will stage in areas that are warmer, and they’ll likely be more lethargic than usual. You’ll still catch some, but not like you did prior to these cold fronts.
Live pilchards or cut bait were working well with warmer water temps but, with the cold fronts, the bait usually is going to be pushed out near the Skyway and deep holes in the Bay. If it stays cold for a longer time period, the white bait will be hard to find.
But, no worries. If you’re like me and love tossing artificials, the winter months are perfect for trout and reds, and they will be looking for an easy meal.
I like a variety of artificials when it comes to fishing for trout, reds and even snook. A few lures that have been working well are top water plugs, as well as, the MirrOlure 17Mr or a Matrix Shad on a 1/8 to 1/4-ounce jig head.
I like an outgoing tide when fishing the flats. If you’re fishing and find a nice deep hole (8 to 14 feet) near a dock or inlet and have a Matrix bait tied on a 1/4 to 3/8-ounce jig head, you’ll find the trout can’t resist them.
My next bait choice is a Bass Assassin Jerk Shad on a 1/8 to 1/4-ounce weighted 5/0 to 6/0 worm hook. These two set ups are irresistible to trout and you’ll even pick up a redfish or two, if they’re around. Snook fishing the groves with artificials is a little different–try tossing top waters or a MirrOlure Catch 2000 or 17MR.
Capt. John Rivers operates Rivers to Bay Fishing Charters out of Tampa Bay and Tarpon Springs. With 18 years guiding experience and over 40 years of fishing knowledge, he can assure you a professional / fun fishing adventure. Single or multi boat trips available. www.tampabayinshoreguides.com