So you moved here to avoid the icy ravages of Old Man Winter. They told you Florida was a tropical paradise, and they were right — mostly. But they never mentioned all the blustery days we get in the winter months, when that north or northwest wind is huffing at a solid 20 knots (or south wind, ahead of a cold front, or east or west wind, when one decides to park on top of us).
Anyway, wind is going to be a reality of your fishing life here in Southwest Florida. What you have to do is decide how to deal with it. Are you going to spend those breezy days watching Fox News, or are you going to find some workarounds that will get you out on the water? If it’s the first, go grab your remote, because you don’t need my advice. If you choose the latter, then read on.
Canal fishing is the easiest and most logical course of action for most anglers, especially those who happen to live on a canal. But it comes with pros and cons. The upside is that you can always find a canal oriented so that the wind is (mostly) blocked by land and houses, and you can fish in relative calm. Colder water temperatures also push a lot of fish into the canals for warmth.
But canal fishing can be a unique challenge, because it’s not like fishing the flats. You’re fishing mostly other people’s docks and boats, simply because they are the main structure on these bodies of water. Sure, bridges and seawalls also hold fish, and some canal systems have mangrove-lined shores that can be fishy. But mostly, you are targeting fish living around private property.
That can be nerve-wracking. You don’t want to ding up someone’s gelcoat with a jighead, or hang a lure with treble hooks into costly upholstery. If you do hook something on a dock or boat, you don’t want to leave it where it might injure someone — but you also can’t trespass to retrieve it. The solution is somewhat nebulous, although I personally would focus on ethics rather than legalities.
As you spend more time in the canals, you’ll find there are some oddities. For example, why does one dock hold fish while the one next to it doesn’t? It can be as simple as one having a few more inches of water. Sometimes homeowners drop concrete blocks or other “mini reefs” off their property that attract fish. Perhaps the fish are being fed. There are a lot of possible reasons, but you’ll find that it happens a lot.
If the urban fishing environment of the canals doesn’t appeal to you, you can head up the rivers. Smaller water doesn’t have the same problem with nasty wind-pushed waves that we see on the Harbor. There are launches on both the Peace and Myakka (Marina Park in North Port and Harbor Heights are good options). Fish move up here for the same reason they show up in the canals — warmer water. The deep channels provide thermal refuge.
If you’ve never boated up here, you may be intimidated by sandbars in the dark water. The good news is there’s no hard bottom. It’s all sand or mud. Go slow and stay in marked channels when possible, and you should be just fine.
If it’s not too snotty, you may be able to go out on the Harbor and fish the lee shorelines of some of the backcountry islets or the barrier islands along the coast. This can be problematic if the wind has pushed a lot of water out of the Harbor, as it may be too shallow to safely navigate. There’s also the waves you’ll have to deal with driving there and home. Always remember that wind can make it relatively comfortable to go one way but an absolute nightmare to go the other. Know how your boat handles in current sea conditions before setting out on any sort of journey.
When it’s just too windy to get out in the boat, don’t overlook land-based fishing opportunities. You’re a lot less likely to have waves coming over the bow when you’re on the pier. If you opt for a freshwater location, just remember that your saltwater license doesn’t cover you there. Make sure you get a freshwater license to stay legal.
The wind is going to be there. It’s just a fact of our geography and climate. Learn to work around it and you won’t have to do nearly as much cussing, and that’s probably a good thing.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.