Here in Southwest Florida, the wind often becomes an inescapable reality — particularly during the winter months. In spite of the tourist propaganda that promotes an endless summer, it can get pretty chilly out on the bay. Add on an 8-knot wind and it can get downright uncomfortable in kayaking clothes. But we’re big fans of quick-dry shorts, water shoes and fishing shirts, and resist insulating to enjoy an afternoon of fishing from our kayaks. So, here are a few ideas for finding little patches of summer weather in winter winds.
Follow the snook. These fish are tropical and need warmth. Heeding their example, kayak anglers should head inland into sheltered mangrove areas in the winter. Mangroves hold back the wind and allow the sun to heat the dark bottom along the mangroves. Pay special attention to the sun and wind direction. While shadows are helpful during most of the year, a sunny shoreline can be better on a cold day. You just have to cast a little further back under the trees.
If you must fish open water, be prepared to get wet. Kayaks are pretty smooth and streamlined on the bottom, but when you sit on top you become a sail. While tidal current rarely exceeds 5 knots, wind speed is frequently in the 15- to 20-knot range on winter days here. Wind also creates swells and whitecaps that add to the challenge of kayaking.
The best investment a kayak angler can make for windy days is a drift anchor. This is just an underwater parachute that will slow your drift across a flat in the wind. Deploy it directly from the kayak without a line to tangle up with a fish being landed.
Using a drift anchor allows an angler to fish ahead of his drift without running over the lure, even with a slow winter retrieve. It also lets the angler cast with the wind and present his offering to undisturbed fish. Even light 1/16-ounce jigs will cast a long way with the wind. Drift socks, anchors or bags (whatever you call them) start at around $15 and will reward you with the control and stability needed on windy days.
Another strategy for a windy day is to go with the wind. We sometimes pre-position a vehicle at a takeout downwind from the launch, then drive to the upwind launch, intending to enjoy a free ride with the wind. This works great — if the wind forecast is accurate. Once we launched at Indian Mound Park to fish our way south on Lemon Bay to Oyster Creek. But the forecast north wind died, swung around to the east and then the south while gaining strength during the day. We resolutely paddled on but couldn’t even pause to cast without losing ground to the wind.
There are lots of freshwater creeks and canals around North Port and Punta Gorda that make a great change of pace during our windy winter. The surrounding trees keep most winds at bay in the twisty creeks, and canals can be fished comfortably if you choose those that run perpendicular to the wind direction. Largemouth bass and numerous panfish are in pre-spawn and spawning mode now which concentrates feeding fish and makes them easier targets. In addition, the heat of the day replaces dawn and late evening as the prime feeding time, making mid-day trips realistic, productive and more comfortable.
The best advice we ever heard (and took) was to begin a paddling trip into the wind. This lets you head upwind when you are fresh and allows for good drift fishing downwind, plus an easier trip back to the launch when you are tired from all that catching. Most kayak paddles have an adjustable pitch setting that allows the paddle to catch less wind when not in the water. When adjusted this way, a simple rotation of the wrist will make it much easier to paddle into the wind when necessary.
There are many things a kayak angler can do to either avoid or compensate for windy conditions. One of the most obvious is picking a protected launch and fishing area. On page 17 of “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida,” you’ll find a list of launches that are best for particular wind directions. Even on those 20-knot days, there is always a lee shore somewhere. Don’t let a windy day keep you from some great kayak fishing. Instead, make the wind and tides work for you by picking the right launch.
Kimball and Les Beery, authors of the waterproof “Angler’s Guide to Shore Fishing Southwest Florida” and “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida,” contribute these columns to promote the excellent fishing available in Southwest Florida. Their books are available at most tackle shops in the area, AnglerPocketGuides.com, or Amazon as a download or hard copy.