January can be a tough month for Central Florida anglers, but those with kayaks gain the advantage. With the east coast lagoons’ water levels low, and the ability to “launch quickly” when the conditions look just right, the kayak crowd will get plenty of chances to score fish that the boat crowd can’t. The winter sight fishing season is here. Your two main targets will be the redfish (reds) and black drum (drum) that invade the Indian River, Banana River, and Mosquito Lagoon flats. All of these bodies of water are different, but the redfish and black drum inhabiting the flats share the same needs and comforts.
Due to the cooler water, metabolisms have slowed. Couple that with the lack of “bait” fish, and you have reds and drum keying in on shrimp, crabs, marine worms, clams, and snails as their main food source. The days that see sunny skies and calm winds will give you the best chance at some hot fishing action but be sure to have a good pair of polarized sunglasses and hit the waters from 10am to 4pm. For the best sight fishing move excruciatingly slow and be prepared to cast at fish that are less than a rod length from you.
The black drum is very interesting fish with poor eyesight, and a mouth designed for foraging the bottom. Its primary foods are shrimp, crab, marine worms, and snails that drum feed by scent and small movements detected by sensitive chin barbells (soft whiskers). Black drum of 10 pounds or less will have vertical black and white stripes resembling those of a Sheepshead. However, larger individuals will have black to brassy coloring that fades to light on the bottom. They can be seen slowly cruising, “laid-up” stationary, or tailing as they root around the bottom for a snack. Drum are typically found on the lagoon flats (1-3 ft.) in the cooler winter months then move deeper around bridges in the summer months.
Typical river tackle will manage most Space Coast drum, but heavier tackle may be needed for bruisers that can top 50 lbs. Due to the drum’s poor vision, 3 ft. leaders of 30-40 lb. test will work well. Natural baits, like the quartered blue crab, fresh shrimp, or fresh clams can be used with a 3/0-5/0 circle hook and a few split-shot weights to get the line down. “Dead stick” (sit motionless) these baits in a likely area or where you see tails. Actively sight fish black drum with a live shrimp and a 1/8 oz. jig head threaded in the tail, be sure to pull the flapper fins! For artificial, an 1/8 oz. jig head with a Slayer Inc. SSB (molting) or Gulp shrimp in natural, glow, and molting can be slowly worked across the bottom.
Larger black drum tends to be found on the bars and edges of flats with a relatively quick drop from 1-3 ft. that the Indian River, Banana River, Mosquito Lagoon have in abundance. Smaller drum prefers flats 1 ft. or less and are commonly found with redfish. Fish all black drum slowly as they are not used to their food moving fast or far.