The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 17 No. 17 - February 8, 2017

reel time

 Cold weather strategy

Reel time


Don't rule out top water in the winter.
Parker Novi, of Anna Maria, caught this bluefish
on a top water plug in December in Sarasota Bay.

When winter weather comes to southwest Florida, anglers have to alter their strategy to meet the changing conditions. Cold fronts not only drop water temperatures, but can cloud local waters and produce shifting cold winds. Fortunately, the passing fronts yield to periods of calm and often balmy weather. While weather conditions can vary significantly, the first strong fronts put fish into a winter pattern.

One factor that remains consistent during our winters is a change in the water temperatures.  Knowing the way different species respond to the chilling waters gives anglers an advantage. While winter fishing can be challenging, excellent action is available to fishers that use their senses and think like a fish. Awareness and persistence really pays dividends when the thermometer begins to plunge.                                                                                                                           

The most sought after species –snook, redfish and trout – respond differently to the cold, but will all concentrate in areas where the surrounding waters are more temperate. Snook are most sensitive to the changing water temperature and migrate to rivers, canals and basins with deep water. There are several strategies to employ when fishing for all species, especially snook.  Look for areas with dark bottom that absorb the heat of the sun warming surrounding waters, creating a magnet for the sensitive linesiders. Shallow bays and bayous that heat up quickly on sunny days and flush warm water on late afternoon outgoing tides can be particularly productive. Even the seawalls that line residential areas can warm the water and attract fish on cold days. It doesn't take much of a temperature difference to concentrate them. 

When fishing a particular flat, canal or basin, pay attention to areas that receive the most sun during the day. Explore water that is protected from cold north winds. The wind stirs the water, keeping it from absorbing the sun's rays and warmth. Sun exposure, depth, protection from the wind and the color of the bottom all figure into the equation. Find these conditions and you'll be in an area that is more desirable to fish.

When the weather prevents the sun from warming the water, look for deep areas that harbor fish. Channels, holes under big boats in canals and boat basins are all potential refuges for fish during cold weather. These areas warm more slowly, but they also cool more slowly. Rivers and creeks are also good sanctuaries, depending on the conditions. 

All local species are affected by the cold water to some degree, but many, like trout and redfish, have a higher tolerance. One strategy to employ even under temperate conditions is to slow your retrieve and keep close to the bottom. Top water can still be effective in the winter, but anglers should reduce the action they impart to plugs and poppers.  

Some species actually thrive in cold water. A good example is sheepshead. Often shunned by anglers, they are hard fighting, challenging to hook and excellent to eat. Look for them around structure, particularly bridge and dock pilings where they feed on small crabs, shrimp and barnacles. Winter weather and cooler temperatures  also stimulate species like pompano, bluefish, mangrove snapper and black drum.  Use your senses, experiment, be persistent, and you can experience some very good fishing during our cooler winter months. 

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper