How different is Florida fishing in the winter compared to fishing in the Spring or Summer? All things considered, more aspects are alike than different. However, knowing the differences and how to best adjust your tactics can easily make the difference between coming home empty handed, or coming back with your limit. A few of the biggest differences is that inshore fish change their locations and feeding habits during the winter. What may be one of your best spots in the summer months can be empty during the winter. A bait or lure that was one of your favorite for warmer water temps may be entirely ineffective during the winter. As for the similarities, you still go out and cast your rod in hopes of landing the biggest fish. You’re likely to use many of the same knots, same rods, and same reels. You may wear more layers of clothing, but you’ll still appreciate your polarized sunglasses. There are certain species that are more easily caught during the winter than summer. One of the most popular offshore examples is the sailfish. They’re the fastest fish in the ocean, capable of speeds up to 68 miles per hour. Their large size and spirited fight make them a favorite among those seeking a trophy fish. Stay tuned for an article we have coming up from a sailfishing trip I’ll take this upcoming weekend out of Stuart, Florida. For pursuing sailfish, your gear would be different than what you would use for catching those winter redfish or trout.
As explained above, what changes most are the tactics and the locations. Otherwise, the battle of you versus the fish remains the same. It’s more or less common knowledge that the earth is farther from the sun during colder winter months. The increased distance from the sun causes colder temperatures on land, and correspondingly, colder water temperatures. The colder water temperatures are what create the need for different tactics and different locations.
During winter, we experience the lowest tides of the year. The lowest tides come about as a result of the pull of the new and full moon phases. The ultra low tides are referred to as “negative tides,” negative lows,” or “moon tides.” These referential names come from having a water level that’s lower than the mean low water mark upon which the relevant charts reflect. You’ll see all the water disappear from a flat that might have been deep enough to support boat traffic no less than 12 hours earlier. Seagrass blades lay flat, exposed to the air, while seagulls take advantage of shrimp left high and dry. The negative tides can be a good opportunity to gain a better understanding of the topography associated with your favorite spots.
WHERE TO LOOK
Just because the water up and disappeared from the flat, doesn’t mean your chances of landing anything did too. Be on the lookout for random troughs, trenches, ditches and depressions. In other words, look for those deep spots among the otherwise shallow flat. Especially deep pockets directly next to the flat itself and associated sand bars. The randomly placed deep water areas form a shallow water winter habitat. When the negative tides occur, fish occupy these deeper areas. These deeper areas hold comfortable depths to sustain larger game fish throughout the duration of the negative low tide. If the deep pocket has a dark bottom, so much the better. Dark colors absorb heat from the sun. The result can be a hole with a sustaining amount of water and a warm bottom to make the space more comfortable. Temporarily entrapped, some fish will even bite on a slack tide. However, focus on the last half of the outgoing tide and the first of the incoming tide. Those times tend to be the most dependable. Hungry game fish await the return of the high tide in these random troughs and potholes, and along the edges of a grassflat. Casting a Berkley Gulp Bait, like the jerk shad, 3″ shrimp, or mullet , or a live shrimp affixed to a bait hook, into one of these deeper areas, and slowly working the bait, or letting the live shrimp drift across to the edge, is enough to entice a bite. Flats with large numbers of wading birds such as herons, egrets, wood storks, and roseate spoonbills feeding along the shallow perimeters are indicative of a good spot. These flats clearly hold an abundance of crustaceans and baitfish. Adjacent deep water is very likely to hold snook, trout and redfish.
You’ll find similar opportunities at the mouths of coastal arteries. Especially where water is forced under a bridge into a backwater canal area.
In the photo below, the docks and boats up on lifts are just past a small bridge. All the fish that enter this canal area, and all the baitfish that ride the tides in and out of the are, have to use one of a few bridges to make their entrance and exit. If you can find such bridges around the area you generally Fish, check out the ground structure on a particularly low tide. More of the sea floor will be exposed. If you see rocks or an oyster bed near that bridge entrance, the spot is worth trying during a high tide. Because fish tend to be more lethargic in the winter with the lower water temperatures, focus on baits that either remain affixed to the bottom, or that you can bump slowly along the bottom; with emphasis on the word “slowly.”
MEANS OF APPROACH
If you generally fish from a boat, be prepared to get out of your boat and walk the flats during the winter. When sandbars, or simple lack of water impede your progress, anchor or stake out your boat. Then proceed on foot. If access depth allows, tether the boat to your waist towing it along behind you. Doing so will prevent unexpected lengthy returns if you happen to walk farther than you expected.
COLD WATER FISHING CHALLENGES
No doubt, extreme low tides yield opportunities. Yet, there’s always a balance maintained when fishing. Meaning, though there may be plenty of fish, catching them will be as much of a challenge as catching them during any other time of the year. The information in this article will help give you an edge; but its actually getting out there and doing it that will teach you the know how you need to be successful. One thing to keep in mind is the risk that an increase in the water clarity presents. Winter’s colder water turns gin clear. The clarity occurs because the bacteria that would live in warmer temperatures dies off. Years ago, I remember a guide describing the winter water clarity to me. He said, “I feel like I’m floating on air…” Clear water means high visibility – both for you and the fish.
REMEMBER THIS RULE: If you can see a fish, he can see you. In fact, chances are he’s already seen you. Whether you can put that fish in the boat comes down to a degree of tolerance between you and that fish. You’re already invading an area as familiar to him as your living room. How hungry and likely he’ll be to bite is now more of a question than it would’ve been if you’d remained out of sight and avoided making any sounds. Remember to keep your distance and keep quiet. Keeping quiet is easier done when you’re walking on the exposed floor of flat than when you’re in a boat. There are no hatches to close too quickly and loudly. No deck to drop your rod, smartphone, water bottle, etc., on. You may have seen flats boats with their decks covered in a type of foam padding. Not only does this enhance your comfort when walking on deck, it also helps to conceal your presence by decreasing the sounds a heavy step makes on the deck. To make the most of fishing these conditions, you’d do well to use a long rod with braided line to achieve maximum casting distance. Spinning rods that are 7’6″ and above, rated for 8-17lb test line, and have a fast to extra fast action, work well to make long casts to hungry fish. Long casts are particularly important in the winter because of the increased water clarity. You may also find yourself contending with higher winds during the winter. The longer rod can add more momentum to your cast; thereby giving you an advantage when you need to cast into the wind.
WHAT TO FISH WITH
Jigs in the 1/16- to 1/8-ounce range offer great versatility for experimenting with different body shapes and colors. Grub or shad tails work well, as do soft plastic jerkbaits. Darker colors are typically best for mimicking crustaceans, but a pearl, chartreuse or gold body may do the trick on a bright day. For a weedless presentation – often essential in thick grass – rig soft plastics Texas style on 3/0 to 5/0 worm hooks. Hooks with weighted shanks or pinch weights will increase your casting distance when the fish are nervous.
When searching broad areas, a weedless gold or silver spoon is tough to beat – especially on windy days. In a creek’s tidal eddies, slow-sinking plugs resemble disoriented baitfish and topwater lures are generally productive at daybreak or during cloudy conditions. Mullet expand the surface opportunity because slam species become so accustomed to the noise of the school that they’ll tolerate a splashy surface lure. Smaller mullet sometimes end up on the menu, so expect ferocious strikes.
WHAT TO BRING
If you know your fishing trip will involve wading, wear wading boots; or a pair of sneakers that fit securely on your feet. Whatever you wear, you want to be able to tie it securely around your feet. Otherwise, the seemingly amazing amount of pressure that starts when you step into a mud flat will suck your shoes right off your feet. Commit to a handful of lures. If you’re inclined to fish live bait, you can tie a bait bucket to your waist and let that drift behind you. As for your terminal tackle, limit yourself to one small tray or resealable plastic bag. You can carry either a small tray or the resealable plastic bag in a Live to Fish dry bag, chest pack, or stuffed inside a shirt pocket. The advantage of going with the dry bag is that you can clip it to your belt and let it float along side you; without any worry over whether the contents will get wet. One rod is usually sufficient. If you can manage carrying two rods, you’ll have another with a different bait option ready. Carrying a second rod is usually best accomplished through using a wading belt. You want to look for a wading belt that has loops along the back edge for holding a spare rod. I’ve heard of some do it yourselfers fashioning their own wading belts from using lumbar support belts. Because you’re wading through the water, your reel is likely to become submerged at one point or another. You can avoid any damage to the reel by thoroughly rinsing it in fresh water immediately after use. Your best bet is to not only rinse it, but use a reel best suited to the saltwater environment. The Penn Slammer III is one such spinning reel made to survive the harsh saltwater environment. Some other spinning reels are the Shimano Sustain FI series and the Daiwa Saltist. These spinning reels tend to be more expensive with others, but the old saying “You get what you pay for,” is indeed true.
If you have any questions about any aspect of fishing or boating, please don’t hesitate to contact us. You can visit us online at www.livetofish.com call us at 844-934-7446, or visit our showroom at: Live to Fish, 9942 State Road 52, Hudson, FL 34669. In addition to selling fishing and boating equipment, we offer a wide variety of marine electronics and perform installations and warranty repair / service on SIMRAD, Lowrance, and B&G electronics.