Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Cold weather can produce hot fishing in the Sunshine State

Dave Robinson of Sarasota, Fla., shows off a cold-weather redfish that was caught in early afternoon.

It doesn't get all that cold in Florida. That's the main reason I moved to the Sunshine State back in 1971.

This trout came from a channel.
But every once in a while, the mercury will plummet , the wind will whip down from the north and we actually have to put on a pair of long pants (I own one pair).

When it does get severely cold, fishing tactics must change. Fish are affected, and anglers have to resort to different strategies.

Flash back to the freeze of 2010. That's the year fisheries biologists estimate at least 10 percent of the snook along Florida's west coast were killed by the cold. And few people even both to mention the number of jack crevalle, catfish and other species that perished.

During that period, most folks were having much difficulty catching fish in their usual spots. In fact, a 10-fish day was considered good.

I happened to discover a spot that held plenty of fish. I stumbled upon it, but realized there was a reason the fish were there. It was a channel connecting two bays and the deeper water was a degree or two warmer than surrounding areas. In addition, the channel's dark mud bottom absorbed the sun's warmth and held it.
Small lures can pay off with large fish.

It was a luxury hangout for spotted seatrout, ladyfish, flounder, redfish and other species.

During that period, my clients and I averaged 50 fish per outing.  That pattern produced for a month.

Fish are cold-blooded. And when cold weather drops the water temperature, fish go into winter mode. Their metabolism slows and they don't feed as often or eat as much as they do in winter months.

So, your tactics must also change.

First, you must find the fish. That's an essential concept no matter what the weather. Find the fish, and you can usually figure out a way to catch them.

Once you find them, you've got to figure out how to catch them.

Scaling down my approach works best for me. I'll use smaller lures and work them slower than normal. My thinking is that a fish isn't going to expend more energy chasing down a bait that it will derive from eating it.

Typically, I will use a 1/16-ounce jig head and small grub during colder weather. I've also found that lures like the new Vudu Shrimp work well when worked slowly.

I use lighter lines than during the warmer months. My "go-to" rig has 5-pound braided line on it. And if targeting "non-toothy" fish, I'll go as light as 15-pound fluorocarbon for my shock leader.

Docks are great places to target winter fish. And you'll often find deeper holes around docks that are dug out by outboard engines.

A few years ago when I was the host of Fishing Paradise on SNN in Sarasota, we shot a segment on Charlotte Harbor. We found plenty of fish, but they were quite lethargic in the morning cold.

In early afternoon, we pulled into a cove that had a dark mud bottom. The fish were a little more active and we caught enough redfish on fly to produce a good show.

Canals often have deeper water, dark bottoms and docks. Those three ingredients are key to successful fishing.

When you're fishing in cold, it's wise to dress accordingly. I will layer so that I can remove clothing as the day warms up. In addition, to long pants, I'll wear a T-shirt, fishing shirt and jacket. I'll also wear neoprene flats boots.

In Florida, low tides and cold weather go hand-in-hand. When we have extreme low tides, sand holes are prime fishing spots. Fish sometimes have little choice but to drop into those holes until the tides comes up. And when that happens, it's like having your own private, stocked pond.

Tidal rivers are another option. Snook move into these rivers in good numbers during winter. The rivers usually are a little deeper, have water that's a few degrees warmer and dark mud bottoms.

Kayaks are perfect choices as fishing vessels during winter. They're stealthy, can navigate low water and are quite comfortable.

I own Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing (www.kayakfishingsarasota.com) and use Jackson Kayaks. My personal boat, a 14.5 Jackson Cuda, works well in virtually every situation.

When cold weather hits the Sunshine State, I'm usually prepared and able to catch fish.

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