Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cold weather often means hot fishing on the mighty Myakka River

Jim Hoffman of New York shows off a fine Myakka River snook caught on a D.O.A. CAL 4-inch jerk worm.

Cold is not the reason I moved to Florida in 1971.

No, I moved to escape it.

However, we do experience a bit of cold weather in the winter.

But I’ve learned to deal with it. In fact, I’ve learned there can be some mighty fine fishing when the weather’s a tad chilly.

When the water temperature dips into the low 60s or high 50s, you can usually find me on local rivers. That’s because snook and several other species move up rivers in the winter, seeking warmer water. And when this happens, fishing can be very productive.

I most often fish the Myakka River, a picturesque stream that begins in Polk County and meanders through Sarasota County before emptying into Charlotte Harbor.

I conduct 6- and 8-hour trips on the river. This trip is for serious anglers, but newcomers will enjoy the fishing and the scenery!

Most often I launch at Snook Haven, a well-known spot located at 5000 E. Venice Ave., near Venice. It’s about a mile west of Interstate 75.

I like to paddle downstream to a series of deepwater spots that usually hold good numbers of big snook. In addition, anglers will get a shot at redfish, largemouth bass and some big spotted and Florida gar.

I usually use medium to medium-heavy spinning tackle, 15-pound test braided line, 20-pound fluorocarbon shock leader and a D.O.A. 4-inch CAL Jerk Worm on a 1/16-ounce jig head. This lure out-produces others lures by far.

I encourage fly anglers to use 8-weight outfits and 20-pound leaders. Most sinking baitfish patterns will produce.

Fishing on the river isn’t fast. But what it lacks in numbers, it make up for in quality. For example, we caught snook exceeding 30 inches on seven of our first nine trips in 2012, including five snook of more than 35 inches. Largest snook was a 37-incher.

We target the big fish on deep ledges and drop-offs. You’ll find many other anglers casting lures toward the banks and fallen trees. While this approach does work, you’ll catch more and bigger fish when working the deeper water.

A River Slam is any three of the above species. Catch all four and it’s a Grand Slam. Add a tarpon and you’ve got something really rare – a Super Slam.

We’ve had several River Slams in 2012 and even a couple of Grand Slams. I came within a redfish of a Super Slam on Jan. 10. I got the tarpon, but didn’t land a redfish.

Fly fishing can be good. John Garcia of California caught snook and landed a 28-inch redfish on fly. Dick Badman of Pennsylvania has landed snook.

Key to success is keeping your lure or fly in the water and not losing focus. It’s tough fishing, but persistent anglers are usually rewarded.

Sometimes, anglers catch their biggest fish first thing in the morning. Sometimes, it’s a mid-day. And at others times, it’s during the final hour.

We call 10 fish “par” on the river. Anything more is icing on the cake.

In addition to fine fishing, there is a plethora of wildlife to see on the river. Alligators, blue heron, otters, raccoons, wild hogs, whitetail deer, ibis, red-tailed hawks and other wildlife are commonly seen.

You don’t have to be alarmed by alligators. Wild gators don’t like to get close to humans. And during cold weather, we usually only see them “sunning” themselves on the banks or sand bars during the warmer afternoons.

Fishing the Myakka River during the winter is one of my favorite endeavors.

I think you’ll like it, too!

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