Winter is finally here. After a few cold fronts, the water temperature in the Gulf and nearby bays is finally falling below 70 degrees. That’s what it usually takes to get both the bait and the gamefish around here in motion. Migrating gamefish that follow the schools of bait south will be leaving the beaches and near shore areas and heading south in pursuit of their next meal. Other species more tolerant of cooler water will arrive here from the north.
Our local resident inshore fish that most kayak anglers chase will be seeking warmer waters in nearby rivers and canals. With the exodus of baitfish schools, our local favorites (including snook, redfish and trout) will flip the page on their menu to the shrimp and crab specialties. This leads them toward the grass flats and mangrove shorelines in the kayak angler’s territory. Shrimp are popular all year but really work great in the winter. Note that snook, redfish and seatrout are all catch-and-release until May to help in their recovery from the red tide event last year.
Fish relocating to rivers and canals are limited by the fresh water flowing downstream from the Peace and Myakka rivers into Charlotte Harbor. Most saltwater gamefish will move upstream until the water becomes too fresh for comfort and they’ll hunker down there for the winter. Some gamefish, like snook, will travel up into totally fresh water, whereas trout will hang back in the saltier stuff. All these fish crowd into a relatively short section of river and compete for the limited forage available, and that can make for some hot fishing.
Kayak anglers don’t have the luxury of paddling 20 or more miles in search of feeding fish like boat anglers can. It’s just smarter to launch close to your destination so you can spend more time fishing and less time paddling. To this end, we want to take this opportunity to mention a few launches available on the Peace River above the I-75 bridges and on the Myakka River above El Jobean. These launches should get you into some cold weather action.
Darst Park (537 Darst Ave., Punta Gorda) is a good place to start on the Peace River. Located above the I-75 Bridge, there are a couple of islands about 400 yards to the north that will break the wind from that direction.
Riverside Park (8320 Riverside Drive, Punta Gorda) is actually on Shell Creek which has its own flow of freshwater pushing back on the brackish water farther down. Upstream from here you’ll mostly find bass and bluegill but downstream will hold snook and redfish.
Deep Creek Park (at the end of Peace River Street, Arcadia) is even farther up the Peace River, but we have caught both redfish and snook in this area.
Over on the Myakka River, a few spots come to mind. Paddling down 800 yards of canal at the El Jobean boat ramp (4224 El Jobean Road, Port Charlotte) will put you downstream from the bridge on a shoreline protected from north winds. Then you could cross over to the west wall, fish along this protected shoreline to the east or explore upstream past the Myakka River Motor Coach Resort.
The North Port boat ramp at Marina Park (7030 Chancellor Blvd., North Port) puts you on the Big Slough (Myakkahatchee Creek) with its multiple side channels. This spot can be productive in cold weather and is protected from most winter winds. Head downstream and explore the channels on the north side by the manatee sign.
Senator Bob Johnson’s Landing (9083 S. Tamiami Trail, Venice) is even further up the Myakka River at U.S. 41. Launching here and going downstream will put you where the water flowing out of Warm Mineral Springs enters the Myakka. During colder weather, the warm water (87°F) entering here is a magnet for gamefish and the bait they chase.
Directions and GPS coordinates for most of these launches and many more are included in our waterproof pocket guidebook, “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida-Sarasota Bay to Pine Island.” Ask for it at your favorite tackle shop.