By Michael Murphy
The cold weather will be upon us shortly, if not already here. Tides will be incredibly low, so be wary when exploring the backwaters of the mangrove areas. It could be a while before you get out if you head back in a falling tide. Many of your target species will be retreating back to residential canals and river areas, as the seagrasses will be relatively absent during the winter months. Find some deeper water basins for your trout and possibly redfish.
When looking for bait this time of year, focus on the large towers in the bay. You will see large mounds that are hugging the bottom on your depth finders. Chum heavy but be wary of the tides when throwing the net. Try a test throw away from the tower and see the way the net sinks and how rapidly it hits the bottom. This may save you $300 for a good net if you judge it correctly. Bait in general is difficult to acquire in the winter, so don’t waste precious hours in the bait grind.
Artificial baits and shrimp will be the go-to choice. Focus on deep water with a southern exposure, as the sun is on a different angle or azimuth this time of year. These areas typically will heat up faster than the shady edges. This is the total opposite of the rest of the year where we focus on the shaded areas during the warmer months.
Sheepshead should be moving in as the water temps drop in the bay. This will be their spawning season, and the larger fish will be moving in to participate on this seasonal event. Use a 1/0 hook with just enough split-shot weight to hold it steady on the bottom of the areas of reef and structure that hold these tasty delicacies. When the bait is on the bottom, keep a tight line so you can feel the bite. If you think one has the bait, pull up steady and see what may be there. If there’s a fish, pull back immediately.
Remember to check on the length requirements and bag limits. Snook will be closed for a few months, but you can still target them as well as the other species of interest. Trout will readily take an artificial bait when bait is still scarce. This method is very productive and optimizes the survival percentage for the great catching fish.