Cold Feet


I need to be pushed to fish in cold weather.  Folks, mainly guys, from the way north have regaled me about the fun of ice fishing.  The common denominator, adult-style drinking in a tricked-out mobile fishing shack.  No, I can watch the ballgame from my cozy home, complete with a kitchen.   


My feet have gotten cold many times when fishing in the Florida winter.  I didn’t like it.  Socks and rubber boots are the remedy, as well as, head gear, gloves, layered clothes covered with some type of waterproof outer shell.  Nonetheless, if there is a skin of ice on the boat of the morning, I’m hard pressed.  Then again, I’ve fished in horrible conditions simply because I’m obsessed with fishing.  Anyway, keep your feet warm. 


In the winter, catching trout in the Steinhatchee river has a long history.  The lore of ‘axe handle’ trout, as fast as you could reel them in, are standard stories from old timers.  I love to listen, and I wish I had been there.   


The axe handle days are long gone, yet the trout do come into the river during cold spells.  On weekends, boaters cluster near the mouth of the river catching plenty of trout.  Most of the trout are under-sized, mishandled and die of disease after release, because their protective slim layer has been scrubbed off.   


It is fun to catch a bunch of fish.  However, knowing future keepers, perhaps axe handles, being removed from the population, leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.  If you’re catching under-sized trout, the likelihood of catching a keeper is unrealistic, because trout, like many other fish, gather by year-class. It is better for your success to try another location, perhaps a larger hard bait.   


The best bet is sea bass and Florida snapper (grunt) fishing in 20 to 45 feet over hard bottom.  Sea bass are in full rut.  Any type of rig or meat will do the trick.  For catching larger sea bass, drift fish, using a relatively large jig as the sinker with a lighter dropper jig above.  Sometimes, a tip of bait will improve the bite.  When other sea bass follow the hooked sea bass, mark the spot.  Large Florida snapper are the extra fish.  Also, large sand perch are fine eating.   


February is a tough month in terms of strong weather variability.  Always consult the latest marine forecast before going out, especially in smaller vessels.  Consider, not only the days prediction but, equally important, the night and following day forecast.  Remember, it is just a fish; that’s not worth your life.