A lot of folks think oh, here it is winter and the cold water and all and no fish to be caught. Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. These cold-blooded creatures still have to eat, just not as much. I know I’m beating a dead horse, but practice patience and slow retrieves.

Think about it, these fish don’t hop on an airplane when it gets cold and go somewhere warmer! They’re still around. Just maybe not in the same place as you found them in the spring or fall. And it can be better when you do find them because they’re schooled up. Along our Nature Coast area there are plenty of places with plenty of willing species to be caught during January. Let’s take a few and see.

They have come in from the surrounding deeper flats and have gotten into real shallow hard bottom water where it’s going to warm up the fastest. I’m talking 12”, 18”, to 24” of water. They will be concentrated in these shallow areas between islands and keys to protect themselves from the wind, get a few degree warmer water temp, and be on nearby bait supplies. Rig and utilize something weedless like jerkbaits, jigs, a “Thunder-Spin” saltwater spinnerbait, or even a jig rigged under a Cajun-Thunder. Just keep your leader length shy of the depth as so to keep off the bottom.
Mangrove snapper.

These awesome tasting little panfish of the sea will be up in the rivers in and around springs and warm water spots, like dock holes, seawalls and such. They can school up by the hundreds just waiting for somebody to toss em a tidbit of shrimp on a number #4 hook with some splitshot pinched above it.

This “chicken of the sea” will also be schooled up in the rivers by the thousands. They also seek the warmer protected waters of the rivers. Cast netting them or using hook and line will bring you in a mess of the fine cracker staple. For conventional, utilize a #4 hook with a sliver of white plastic grub on it. And a piece of light splitshot pinched above. Chum up the area where you’ve seen some swimming by with a mixture of oatmeal and laying mash. Toss your rig in and you’re fooling them into thinking it’s the chum.

Some sheepshead will also be meandering around in the same area with the previous 2 species, but for the most part they’ll be congregated on and around the inshore oyster bars and nearshore rock piles in anticipation of the spawn. Here again, the best bet for these jokers (notorious bait stealing convict wanna be’s) is to anchor up from a bar or rockpile and chum up the area a little with some cut up pieces of shrimp. Then, the rig as mentioned before, a short shank stout #2 hook with a tidbit of shrimp attached and a heavy enough piece of splitshot weight to ease it down to em. Like I’m sure you’ve been told before, if you think he’s looking at it, don’t take no prisoners, set the hook! These are a little harder fish to operate on at the fillet table, but well worth it. Excellent table fare!

These hard pulling bulldogs of the flats will be more than happy to oblige on your offering. They will also be lingering in small schools around the island points, cuts and little cove pockets. We will have a lack of rain, so the water will be clearer, the tides lower, and the redfishing will make for some of the best sightcasting of the whole year. And when these fish like the others are in schools, and there is lack of bait food, and they are competing for a meal when they’re hungry, all you have to do is get it in front of em. They’ll usually crash on it. Best bet is a fresh chunk of mullet you caught earlier, or some fresh shrimp. Don’t forsake a good chunk of fresh ladyfish either. They love it. And there should also be plenty of them to catch in the same surrounding vicinity.
If it’s not unbearable on your planned trip, get out and enjoy some these good eating, hard fighting willing participants.
See ya on the water.

Submitted By: Capt. Rick Burns
Reel Burns Charters