By Neil Taylor, Owner and Guide www.strikethreekayakfishing.com
Progressing through autumn and on into winter, opportunities abound around the entire Tampa Bay region. Many people seem to think that fishing in the winter isn’t as good as it is during the warmer months of the year, which is completely false. It’s almost the opposite with additional opportunities to catch a wider variety of species. Sheepshead, flounder, silver trout, whiting, black drum, bluefish (and even king mackerel if it is a mild start to winter) will all be good targets for anglers. But the “usual suspects” are still there, you just have to know where to go. Speckled trout remain closed in the “South” region in December but will be caught often. Take measures to handle them as little as possible for healthy release. Redfish action will be excellent around the entire Tampa Bay region.
“Stay dry, stay warm.”
Success has everything to do with some “basics” starting with but not limited to Trip Planning. Air and water temperatures have cooled. Trip planning includes the appropriate clothing based on your forecast. Dry-wear is the number one key with waterproof pants, jacket and good shoes the angler who stays dry can brave the elements comfortably. “When it doubt, wear it out”: Layering of clothes will be insurance that you won’t be cold. It’s always better to be able to take off a layer than to get chilled and want to go home. The oversized dry bag is a great place to store a jacket and gloves “just in case” you need them, or for when you take them off.
Weather, wind and tides:
The myth that “Fishing isn’t any good in winter” keeps a lot of people off the water during the months of December through March. “Fact”- Fish have to eat year-round just like you do. Where you go fishing is as important as when you go fishing. The morning wintertime low tides are often severe and sometime combined with winds going in the same direction as an outgoing tide forcing even more water out of an area. This is a “fish in a barrel” situation, “if” you can access them. The kayak is ideal for getting into areas other can’t get to at all. The pools of water surrounded by areas that are dry will be loaded with hungry, cooperative fish.
“Minimize the Wind”
Savvy anglers minimize their Misery Factor by getting good wind forecasts. Knowing the direction and speed of a prevailing wind should give you a great clue on where to go fishing on a particular day. Observant anglers will note a large similarity between fish and humans: Both like to be out of the wind. The open areas exposed to wind will usually be void of fish. The canals, creeks and downwind of islands will be great options on the windier days.
December starts a trend toward the “rock eaters” ganging up nearshore and inshore. The lowly sheepshead, with teeth that look like a lifelong smoker, makes its living chewing on items that grow on rocks, pilings and other underwater structures. Crafty baitstealers, the sheepshead is great fun to catch and excellent eating if prepared properly. The game plan for sheepshead is pretty easy. Get some fiddler crabs or live shrimp and sink them down “right next to that structure. Use a 1/0 or 2/0 live bait hook and just enough weight to get the bait down to the area where you predict them to be holding. This is “fishing by feel.” When the line starts to slowly move ever so slightly, a sheepshead has picked up that bait. Set the hook firmly and the fight is on!
Black drum are another inshore option this time of year. The intercept plan for these guys is one of two choices: Residential docks and backwater bridges. It is not unusual to catch black drum on one cast and a sheepshead on the next. It’s also not unusual to have a pesky redfish join the party as well. Redfish will often evacuate the open flats when the water temperatures fall because a great deal of the baitfish leave those areas as well. Those shallow areas where redfish normally congregate become eerie, lifeless areas. They too, like to go to the structure of docks and canals during the wintertime.
Don’t take a “fishing vacation” because it’s December: Formulate a good plan based on the wind and tides, dress for success and enjoy some fantastic action out there!