Between the news and social media, moods seem to be bouncing more than our temperatures. Our holiday weather had some cool days but 2018 ended warm, and forecasts for January look warm too. Our weather patterns seem to be as radical as folks’ perception.
Is your glass half-full or running half-empty? Either way, it’s 8 ounces in a 16-ounce glass; only your perception changes. I find the brighter outlook is better. If you expect doom and gloom, it will happen. Everyone remembers “Field of Dreams” — “If you build it, they will come.” Take a chance on good things happening. Every time you make a cast, you hope to catch fish. Fishing is by nature optimistic.
I hear varied reports on our beaches. Some enjoy their beach adventures; others complain about smelly sand in some spots. Counties north of us had the insight to remove fish as they came ashore rather than let them rot on the beaches for days. Perhaps this contributes to the problems some encounter. Maybe our Charlotte County officials can learn from our neighbors and be prepared to deal with this problem proactively next time. The sooner we remove dead fish from waters and beaches the better. There are health issues as well as the ugly stinking corpses.
Visitors are still coming to our area, according to Punta Gorda airport numbers. Let’s be sure we have an environment they can enjoy. According to several published reports, we had more untreated sewage spills in Sarasota and Pinellas counties during recent rains. This is unacceptable and dangerous to us and our economy.
At some point our county governments must balance growth with sustainable economy. Impact fees need to cover the impacts of new growth on our roads, schools, and especially sewage and water systems. If we keep seeing spills after every big rain event, that makes the responsible parties look pretty incompetent, don’t you think?
On a brighter note, I keep hearing great reports from successful sheepshead fisherman. If you are new to fishing these crafty bait-stealers, try one of the land-based opportunities. We have the Venice jetties, piers in Venice and Englewood, and railroad trestles in Placida and El Jobean to explore. Here you can observe successful anglers and learn from them. Don’t spoil their fishing, just fit in as you can. Watch, then (if they don’t mind) ask a few questions. Even if you have a boat, this is the shortcut to learning to capture convicts.
Sheepshead are great eating. Just remember they are a pain to clean, so keep only what you want to eat fresh. Use a sharp knife and slide around the thick scales. They have strong rib bones to trim around or chop through. I don’t mind picking a few rib bones out of a cooked fillet, and there’s a lot less waste if you keep the rib meat. Try baking fillets with bread crumbs and Duke’s mayo. Sheepshead meat is dense and makes a great chowder too.
Trout are a go-to target in cooler months. Since both reds and snook are closed, it’s nice to have trout open. You can use lighter gear here. Cold water trout are stronger but not structure-oriented like snook. I like lures; hard plastics like the MirrOlures were invented for trout fishing. They have several new models to try.
Vary your speed based on water temps, not air temps. Colder water requires a very slow retrieve and slight twitches. Flash the mirror sides, let it settle, reel and repeat. The strike is a thump. When you feel it, reel and bend your rod to set hooks. Don’t make any sharp jerks on tender-mouthed trout.
Try soft plastics to catch all sizes. The single hook is better for catch-and-release fishing. Many days we find mostly smaller trout, and soft baits are perfect. Try different colors and retrieves. Remember that big trout eat small ones, so move away from the smaller fish to locate the larger ones.
Expect to find fish near grassy flats but in deeper adjacent waters, except on very warm afternoons. Sunny afternoons with rising tides are when I like to sight fish big trout with topwater lures.
Offshore fishing can be good if winds allow us out. Gag grouper are closed until June 1, but other grouper are open and so are all the snappers except reds. These are all tasty fish but can be crafty adversaries. Try a good local charter boat to learn about deepwater fishing. Capt. Jack’s head boat on Beach Road in Englewood is the least costly way to get started here. If you want bigger fish, private charter boats are recommended — but it is not cheap to chase fish out on the Gulf.
Enjoy our great weather and make new friends fishing. Please be safe, and remember, you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishin’, so let’s go fishin’ soon.
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.