With winter coming up quickly, this is my favorite time to fish for the entire year. Something magical is happening in the water right now. The water temperature is between 70 and 75 degrees, and that makes for happy and active fish.
Think about about this: When the weather is really hot or cold, you probably aren’t very active outside the house. Who wants to “enjoy” the outdoors when’s it’s 98 degrees — or, worse, when it’s below 50 degrees? (That’s when I have to wear three pairs of pants just so I don’t freeze to death.)
But when the temperature is right in the middle — that comfortable range between sweating and shivering — you want to be outside having a good time. Why should a fish be any different? With the water at the temperature it is, the fish are fired up right now. They’re taking this opportunity to eat everything they can to fatten up before it gets colder and their metabolic rates slow down.
The snook, redfish and trout bite has been fantastic. Right now we are still having some high water in the daytime. While there’s been some some lower water too, we haven’t got our super-low winter tides yet, so you still can fish the bushes when the water is up.
As the tide drops, the fish move into deeper creeks or off the bushes and into the troughs. Around most of our mangrove shorelines, there is a deep cut that runs just off the trees, and on lower tide stages the fish gather in these troughs.
A lot of people make the mistake of putting their boats in that trough when the water is lower because they can move around a little easier. But that’s where the fish are staged up, and getting right on top of them will make it a lot harder to catch those fish. You’re better off staying way back and casting into the trough — even if it means you have to anchor the boat and wade to get there.
Right now I am still using a lot of greenbacks (whitebait) because they are still around, and the fish are really taking advantage of that. When I use a greenback, I always put it under a float for a couple good reasons.
First, I always want to know where my bait is. Greenbacks swim, sometimes far away from where you cast them. I want my bait to be always in the strike zone. When you’re freelining a bait, you might throw him up by the bushes or under a dock — but when you go to reel it in to recast, sometimes he’s under your boat, or even out in open water on the other side of the boat.
That bait swam as hard as he could to get away from the fish. It’s understandable: If someone threw me right next to a pack of lions, I’d probably run the opposite way in a hurry. But you need to keep him where he can be eaten if you want to hook fish.
Another reason why I put it under a float is for casting distance. With our water clearing up due to far less rain, we have to stay farther back or we are going to spook the fish. A weighted float helps with that. The other thing that helps is a 7.5-foot rod. A shorter rod is great right up against the trees, but when you have a ways to throw, the longer stick makes a real difference.
I’m also using a lot of live shrimp. All the trout that are showing up love them, they’re really good for the redfish, and don’t forget about all the sheepshead.
For trout fishing, I put the shrimp under a float, because they feed mostly in the middle or top of the water column. But for redfish, I always put my live shrimp on a Rockport Rattler jighead. Redfish feed mainly off the bottom, and that subtle rattle helps them find my bait very easily.
With all our fish hungry right now, they’re also taking a lot of artificial baits if you don’t want to go hunt down or buy live stuff. If I’m out very early in the day, I’ll tie on a topwater bait. I’m liking the Rapala Skitter V. It has a little bit of weight to it so you can cast it a mile and cover a lot of water, and it has tough VMC hooks on it. First thing in the morning, the snook, redfish and trout will go crazy over any topwater bait,
As the day gets on, I’ll switch to lures that stay under the water: A gold spoon, Gulp shrimp, Strike King paddletails. Those types of bait work better for me after the sun is up and into the middle of the day. No matter what artificial bait I’m using, I always put some type of scent on there. The more the bait smells, the better it will work (in my head, anyway). Whether it’s coffee smell, Gulp spray or Pro-Cure, put some stink on there.
Just remember one thing: All of our fish are on the move right now as they make their way to their winter spots. If you’re not catching fish, move — and if you keep moving till you find some fish, you’ll probably catch a bunch. If you have any questions or need any help in baits or anything, give me a call. I’ll be happy to help you and point you in the right direction.
Capt. Karl Butigian lives, breathes and eats Florida fishing. He owns and operates KB Back Country Charters (KBBackCountryChartersFishing.com) on the waters of Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. To book a trip or for info, call him at 941-565-7325.