The New Year is upon us and we haven’t skipped a beat here in Tampa Bay. In fact, we are beating to the sound of a different drum this time of year. We have now shifted our efforts back inshore with the colder weather patterns as of late. January fishing is always dependent on the weather and fishing around the fronts is key. Lately, we have taken advantage of using live Shrimp and Crabs for bait and targeting Black Drum, Speckled Sea Trout, Sheepshead, and Redfish in the backcountry bays, residential canals, and muddy creek bottoms.

tarpon fishing on tampa bay

On the colder days, look for these fish to be staged up in the deepest parts with mud or oyster bottom. With water clarity in most places at a premium right now, I spend a lot of time in my tower. Especially when the sun is out, this can be the most advantageous way to spot and find “fishy” areas. Once we have decided on an area, one of my favorite rigs this time of year is a select shrimp under a Canjun Thunder popping cork. I like tail hooking the shrimp about 24-30” under the float and let it drift freely in the current. An occasional twitch/pop is what I recommend as this will attract fish that are near to feed.

You can expect to find Trout, Snook, Redfish, and Jacks to be willing to party. In shallower areas or when targeting bottom feeding fish, we are using a more traditional setup with a 20lb leader, 1/O circle hook, and a 1/16 – 1/8 oz pinch weight. In most cases, we will use a whole shrimp but there are plenty of trips where a small piece can deliver better results – especially for Sheepshead.

cobia fishing on tampa bay

On the warmer days we have still been able to find a fair supply of pilchards available. Water temperature, tides, wind, and water clarity this time of year can make catching bait more challenging than catching gamefish at times. Once loaded down with bait, we have been fishing for snook and other gamefish in residential canals and deeper channel edges in the river systems. We have been focusing on shallow sand banks or mangrove shorelines as they seek warmth from the day’s sunlight. Though not typical, it’s not uncommon for us find juvenile Tarpon and even large Cobia in certain canal systems. Redfish aren’t quite as temperamental through the cooler months and can still be found roaming the shallow flats. Although there are some around, don’t expect to find any significant schools of fish. Typically, they are found spread out along an area or shoreline in pairs or singles. Working a healthy grass flat with scattered potholes is a great way to catch a handful of reds. A live pilchard is the bait of choice, but a select shrimp won’t be turned away either.

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Capt. Travis Yaeckel
Instinct Fishing Co.
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Capt. Travis Yaeckel owns and operates a local Fishing Charter business, Instinct Fishing Co. based in Ruskin, Florida. Born at Tampa General Hospital and growing up along the South Shore of Tampa Bay, Capt. Travis has spent most of his life fishing the waters he now guides for a living. When you book a trip with Travis, your memories begin from his dock and headquarters at The Resort & Club at Little Harbor Village Marina | Slip F1 adjacent to Harborside Suites. From there you will be greeted with a clean charter boat, rigged rods, a live well full of fresh caught bait, a cooler full of ice and water, and most importantly a full-time professional fishing guide – ready to fish! After a short idle through the marina, your personal quest for the fish of your dreams or just an exciting day on the water begins. Year round he provides clients with all-inclusive inshore and backcountry fishing trips for Snook, Redfish, Trout, & Tarpon. Depending on the tide, weather conditions, moon phase, and time of year, you will fish the flats, bays, creeks, and rivers that makeup the unique estuary we call Tampa Bay.