By Captain Travis Yaeckel
Happy New Year! As the ball drops to mark a New Year, expect the temperatures to do the same. January and February are the coldest months of the year and can certainly be tougher times to catch fish. As long as you are prepared for the colder weather you can still have a great day on the water. Fishing the right locations, targeting the right species and wearing the right clothing will help make it enjoyable.
This time of year, most inshore fish have migrated to their “winter time” refuge areas to endure Florida’s coldest days. Rivers, creeks, channels, bridges, jetties, oyster bars, docks and seawalls are a few general locations that will generally hold fish this time of year. All of these areas provide a unique safe haven for our fishery. In the deeper areas, fish will sit on the bottom to avoid the cooler surface water temps during the coldest parts of the day.
Muddy bottom canals or shell bottom creeks are a couple of my favorites. During the warmer parts of the day, fish will move to the shallows as the water is heated from the sun. Oyster bars, jetties, and seawalls are excellent places to target on a cold sunny day. The structure retains the heat and warms the surrounding water; attracting fish.
On the colder days, don’t expect to catch a lot of Snook. Now is a good time to target some other species. A couple of my favorites are Speckled Trout and Sheepshead. They both don’t mind the cold quite as much, offer excellent table fair, provide great action, and bait is readily available. On the days that we can’t get fresh live bait (pilchards), we will buy live shrimp. This time of year is when our fish will naturally shift to eating more crustaceans than fish. Shrimp and crabs are a primary source of food and will serve as great bait. For the Trout, I like using a live medium sized shrimp hooked through the tail on a 3/0 Mustad Circle hook and I prefer to freeline. If we are fishing in some current, I will add a small split shot weight the barely get the bait to the bottom. For Sheepshead, I prefer to use live fiddler crabs and I will downsize my hook to a 1/O. These fish are known for stealing the bait right off the hook and have earned the name “convicts” from being bait thieves and wearing the “striped” suite. Most residential docks and seawalls are loaded with these fish but look for large numbers on deep structure in the middle of the bay. The two public reefs (Port Manatee and Bahia Beach) are excellent places to look for spawning congregations.
Most importantly, dress appropriately. We are in Florida, and yes, most days it warms up, but it is usually significantly colder on the water. Dressing in layers is the most comfortable and practical. A nice jacket, a pair of gloves, something to keep your head and ears warm, and good pair of waterproof shoes or boots will help make your day on the water enjoyable. Don’t forget to wear your sunscreen and have some lip balm handy. You can still get a sunburn on cold over cast days and there’s nothing worse than chapped lips from a stiff north wind.
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 www.fishbyinstinct.com. Catch him on Tampa Fishing Outfitters Radio Show on Sunday mornings from 8-9 a.m. at 1040 a.m. Sports Talk the Team.