One of Florida’s nicknames is the Sunshine State. Although we have plenty of thunderstorms in the summer, during the winter tourist season sunshine is the general rule. Often, the bright days are marked by skies of pure robin’s egg blue, with not a cloud in sight. This makes the tourism board very happy, but few anglers smile about it.
There are several reasons a hard blue sky can put a frown on a fisherman’s face. First, cloudless days usually come just after a cold front blows through. That means the air pressure is up and the temperature is down, neither of which is ideal for great fishing. The wind is usually blowing something like 20 knots out of the northwest, which means boat rides are bumpy and areas that are usually shallow often become impassable due to the wind pushing water right out of the Harbor.
The easiest advice is to skip on-the-water activities on these chamber of commerce days, but inevitably they show up when you have guests from out of town or on the only day you have to fish. You need a plan for how to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation.
One thing you can do is explore. When the wind pushes water out, it’s amazing how much of the Harbor’s bottom contours become visible. This is a great learning opportunity for you. You can see that sandbar you keep hitting, or identify the deepest potholes on your favorite flat, or make note of the natural channels fish use when moving between areas. This information will make you a better fisherman and a more confident navigator. You’ll burn a bit of gas running around, but an education always costs.
If you have visitors who really want to go out on the boat, you can turn your planned fishing expedition into an eco-tour. Most anglers love the outdoors, but all too often we miss out on many aspects of it while we’re busy casting. In winter, the local waterbird population more than doubles. There are manatees and dolphins to watch. And the grassflats are always filled with life, if you take a little time to look.
OK, I hear you — birds are super, but you want to go fishing. Well, I can’t guarantee you’ll catch the heck out of ‘em, but I can offer some tips that will probably keep you from getting skunked.
The first order of business is to find someplace to hide from the wind. A lee shoreline is good, if you have enough water depth. Another good idea is to go into one of our many local canals.
Canal fishing is a tricky tradeoff. You’ll find more fish near the mouth of the canal, where there’s moving water, but you’ll be more sheltered from the wind farther up the canal. Try to find a happy medium. Cobia, small sharks and Spanish mackerel are all possibilities in the canal mouths, but they don’t like confined spaces. Trolling the canals with a small spoon or lipped plug can be a productive method, plus you can pick up some new spots. And think about this: If you find a spot where the bite is decent on a tough day, think how phenomenal it might be when the weather is more favorable.
Although I wouldn’t rule out any species of fish, some are more likely to bite than others. Trout (especially the smaller ones), sheepshead, flounder and to a certain extent mangrove snapper don’t seem bothered by chilly water and high air pressure. Maybe they have more voracious appetites, or maybe they’re better adapted to our winter conditions. Whatever the reason, they still are fairly dependable about putting a bend in a rod.
How you fish is just as important as where you fish. Being cold-blooded (or ectothermic, if you like learning ten-dollar words), a fish relies on ambient temperature to regulate its metabolism. Cooler water, slower metabolism. That means they aren’t moving quite as fast, and they are looking for meals that are a mouthful and not a banquet.
If you’re a live bait angler, you’re probably going to be using shrimp now that the baitfish are scarce. Save a little money and skip the super-jumbo shrimp — on colder days, even big fish are much more eager to go after a smaller crustacean. If you prefer artificial lures, a small soft plastic or a suspending twitchbait is ideal: Not too big, and you can work it slowly. Although the live bait is more appealing to fish, at least most of the time, you can cover more water with artificials. There’s always the one-two approach: Use lures to find fish and then target them with bait.
A final thought: Although it may be cooler out there, it’s still sunny. And though you may not noticeably sweat, that’s probably because the wind and low humidity are keeping you dry. Sunscreen is always a requirement, and be sure to stay hydrated. Blue-sky days may not be the best for fishing, but if you do these few things to maximize your chances of hooking up, you may find they’re not such a bad 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.