What season is this? Is it winter, spring or fall? The weather doesn’t know what it wants to do and it has made the last couple months very strange (in a good way). There are whitebait and threadfins everywhere right now. That usually doesn’t happen in February.
Now, the bait is there — but our gamefish aren’t eating much of it. The water temperatures are in the low to mid 60s. When are water is that cold, the metabolism of a warmwater fish slows down and its feeding habits change. Even though there are still greenbacks and threadies around, the fish don’t want to have to exert a lot of energy to chase them down. They’d rather save energy and keep warm.
When the water is chilly, fish prefer to eat something that’s a lot easier for them to catch. Shrimp are not very fast swimmers, so it’s very easy for a trout, redfish, snook or pretty much any fish to eat a shrimp. And everything will eat a shrimp — heck, I can’t stop eating them once I start. Live or dead both work great this time of year.
However, cut pinfish, ladyfish or mullet is my go-to bait this time of year. I have a couple of good reasons. First, cut bait does not move since it’s dead. It’s very easy for a fish to eat while also saving energy. That’s also why I don’t put it under a float. I usually use a large splitshot sinker to help keep the bait where I want it.
But my number one reason for choosing cut bait is that with the water being as clear as it is, the fish can see a very long way. Fish that have good visibility are easily spooked, and the more you move around, the less you’re going to catch. Fishing can be very tough if you are moving around and casting a lot since that’s going to spook them.
It helps so much this time of year to just sit and wait with dead stinky bait that fish can find by scent. I have been catching a lot of big fish by casting dead bait in the bushes and waiting. Usually I’ll give a spot 20 or maybe 30 minutes and then move.
With cut bait, I prefer to use big circle hooks. Those fish are going to pick it up the bait and take off with it, and using big circle hooks is going to help you avoid gut-hooking the fish.
One more tip for you guys: Try to find mullet out on the flats. There will usually be redfish and snook around them. Fishing dead bait around mullet has been working very very well for me lately, and I hope it helps you guys put more fish to the boat.
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.