By Captain Travis Yaeckel

Enjoying the holiday season with a day on the water is something a lot of Floridians get to do. We are fortunate to have tolerable weather conditions on most days in Tampa Bay. Fishing through December can certainly be tough, but targeting the right species with help in your success on the water. Snook and Speckled Sea Trout are two of my favorites this time of year.

Snook have already made a presence in their ‘winter time’ refuge locations and the bite has been on fire. We have been targeting these fish primarily in residential canals and our river systems. Luckily enough, bait has still been prevalent and allowed us to have an abundance of Pilchards (scaled sardines, greenbacks, white bait) to serve on the menu. Depending on the conditions and tide, live chumming can vary in how productive it really is. This time of year, Snook will not always respond in a feeding frenzy in comparison to the Spring.
To find fish, focus on deeper canals paying attention to points and cover. A free-lined bait will be my bait of choice, and on the colder days I will add a split shot to get the bait to the bottom, where the fish are.

Speckled Sea Trout will also be highlighted throughout the bay this month. On recent charters, we have bagged several limits with a large amount of fish between 18” and 20”. Generally, as the water temperatures decrease, the Trout fishing picks up. In our area, look for fish in the deeper bends of the river systems, back bays, and around structure or oyster bars. As with the Snook, a live Pilchard will get the job done. However, a shrimp or pinfish will do just as well in most cases. One trick that I always do when we are Trout fishing is loosening the drags on my reels. They have a very soft lip and most anglers have a tendency to pull hooks on the smaller fish…and the bigger ones pull themselves off the hook with violent head shakes.

By loosening the drag on your reel, you can increase your catch ratio significantly. If you don’t have the luxury of having enough live bait to chum or using shrimp, try a popping cork to get the fish excited. The bag limit for Speckled Trout is a total (four) per angler with a minimum length of 15” and only (one) fish measuring over 20”.

Captain Travis Yaeckel is a native resident of the SouthShore area and charters full time for Redfish, Snook, Trout, and Tarpon. He is owner and operator of Instinct Fishing Co.,based out of lower Tampa Bay. To book a charter, call 830-FISH or visit Catch him on Tampa Fishing Outfitters Radio Show on Sunday mornings from 8-9 a.m. at 1040 a.m. Sports Talk the Team.