There actually is a bright side to our bipolar weather: We still don’t have to winterize our boats. But 80 degrees one day and 40 the next can make fishing difficult. Sudden temperature drops and pressure changes can give a lot of our fish lockjaw.
As a charter captain, sometimes I have to fish those days and make it work. A lot of you may be able to wait out the front, but some of you — like me — may not have that luxury. What do you do?
Choosing the right species to target is a good start. Some of our fish will still eat because they don’t mind those changes as much as other fish. Cross snook off your list. Snook, because of their highly tuned senses and preference for warm temperatures, can shut down completely. The bigger snook especially. The little guys will sometimes stay active because they haven’t figured out the way of the world yet, but the big girls will more than likely be off their feed.
Redfish are a 50/50 bet. Yes, redfish range from here all the way up to Massachusetts. You would think that they wouldn’t mind the cold. Well, here’s a hint: How many of you down here are from up there? How does it feel when you go home in the winter? It’s not fun, is it? While the species has a good northern range, Florida redfish are still from Florida. They don’t take the fronts as hard as snook, but they will be affected.
Trout are always a reliable choice. They used to come here in the winter, so our winter weather patterns don’t hit them as hard. Now, I say used to come here in the winter, because it seems more and more trout are staying through the summer. I don’t know what is causing that change, but I believe it will cause them to take our winters harder and harder as time progresses.
Sheepshead are always a solid bet in the winter. They seem to take weather changes the best. They are breeding, so that may be part of the reason why — they have more important things on their minds.
The other thing I like about sheepshead is that they will eat through a slack tide where most other fish will stop feeding when the current stops flowing. So if we’re between moons, or have weak tides with opposite winds, sheepshead are still a valid target.
Cobia are another fish that are becoming a realistic winter target. The past few winters have given us pretty good cobia fishing. And the strange thing is they are taking a liking to the shallow flats. They apparently have figured out that’s where all the food is this time of year. But they can still be found on our inshore and nearshore reefs.
Whiting are another winter fish that a lot of people overlook. They seem to remain active through the fronts and are usually easy to catch. They can be hard to find, but once you do sometimes it’s like shooting trout in a barrel (or a pothole).
A lot of people don’t realize that whiting are good eating. They are a member of the drum family, and I think they are better than redfish. They are like a very mild redfish when it comes to table fare.
So don’t give up because the weather isn’t perfect. We’re in an El Niño cycle, and perfect weather is going to be harder to find than fish. Get out there anyway and you’ll find there are hungry fish even under challenging conditions.
Capt. Cayle Wills owns and operates Bad Fish Charters on Charlotte Harbor. You can contact him at 941-916-4538 or Capt.Cayle@ReelBadFish.com. You can also visit him online at ReelBadFish.com or Facebook.com/BadFishCharters.