The calendar says it’s still fall for a couple weeks, but it’s already been below 40 degrees. As far as I’m concerned, winter is here. Along with the cold, winter brings north winds which blow all the water out of Charlotte Harbor. A lot of people hate this time of year because there is no water at all up on the flats.
But even though I hate the cold, I have to be honest: This is my favorite time of the year to fish. It’s not because I have a boat that runs in a few inch of water on plane. (I mean, don’t get me wrong, it helps.) No, I love it because with all the low water and land where land shouldn’t be, the fish have to be somewhere, and usually they’re all grouped up together.
One of the main things that I look for when the water is very low is deep pockets: Areas that hold maybe 2 to 5 feet of water coming off an area that has less then a foot or so of water. All the fish in that whole area are going to be concentrated in that deeper water, so there will be numbers of fish there.
You’ll find trout, redfish snook, sheepshead, snapper and others — a big variety of fish hanging out together. Since the water around them is so shallow, they have no place else to go. Fishing for them here is a little like fishing in a stocked farm pond. You can sometimes catch so many it’s almost not fun anymore. Almost.
Now I know most of you don’t know where the deeper holes are out on the water. That’s OK — they’re not that hard to find. There are a few ways of going about finding them. The first takes a little bit longer but it’s a lot more fun.
Go out on a negative tide day, ideally when the wind is out of the north. Go to an area where you see land that is usually covered by water. Park your boat, anchor it, get out and start walking. Take note of wherever you find water and remember those spots. Now you know where there is water on the shallowest days. Those are the deep pockets. Go back and fish them when there is more water, and I bet they will still have fish in them.
Or, you can do it the easier way. Go on to Google Earth. Zoom in on the flats around the Harbor and look at the water. You can get a pretty good idea of where there is deeper water, which will help you to find fish in our low-water months.
I frequently fish in unfamiliar waters for tournaments, and I use Google Earth everywhere I go. It helps me get an idea of the area: Where the oyster beds are, where the grass looks best, and even where the water movement is. In saltwater fishing, that moving water is key.
Another big thing in the cold temperatures is to look for concrete and muddy bottom. Both of those hold heat and those warmer areas are where a lot of our fish will move to — especially most of our snook, which have to stay warm to survive. If the water temperature gets below 55 degrees, a snook is in real trouble.
One last tip for you: Shrimp is our go-to bait in the winter time. It doesn’t matter what type of fish in am targeting. For trout, I fish a shrimp under a float — usually about 2 feet down, but it really depends on the water depth. For redfish and sheepshead, I like a shrimp on a jighead bouncing it off the bottom. For snook, a mostly free-line the shrimp. But shrimp is definitely the bait I mostly use in the winter.
If you have any questions about these topics or other local fishing issues, give me a call. I’ll be happy to help and point you in the right direction.
Capt. Karl Butigian lives, breathes and eats Florida fishing. He owns and operates KB Back Country Charters (KBBackCountryChartersFishing.com) on the waters of Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. To book a trip or for info, call him at 941-565-7325.