After taking some time off, I’ve finally been on the water and after those fish again! The past month has been treacherous when it comes to cold weather and chilly winds, but when I’ve been able to get out, the fishing has been no less than incredible.
Here on the nature coast, specifically in Ozello, we’ve got crystal clear water and super shallow winter tides, making for some tough fishing conditions. Sight fishing is prime this time of year, but requires long, accurate casts, supreme stealth, and plenty of patience. Lighter gear is also necessary to avoid spooking the fish. Using smaller jigheads such as the 1/8oz instead of 1/4oz, or live-lining on a circle hook help to keep the landings quieter and are less likely to scare the fish before they have a chance to find your bait. Making your casts a good 10-15 feet or more out in front of the fish will also help.
You’ll find most the fish gathering in the deeper holes, where the water is warmer. Early mornings, focusing in the holes is most productive, then when (and if) the sun comes out, they’ll move up onto the shallower flats to warm themselves in the sun. Searching the creeks and canals will produce well, as those waters are warmer than open bays. Muddy bottoms and grassy areas also tend to hold more warmth, as well as rocky areas in shallow water. It wouldn’t hurt to mention, too, that with many of the bait fish migrating out to deeper water, the fish are feeding on a lot of crustaceans, which hang out in a lot of those rocky areas.
As mentioned, with fewer bait fish in the area, live or frozen shrimp has been working really well. I like to rig the shrimp on a jighead, pinching its tail and threading the hook up and out the belly, enabling me to work it like a soft plastic by popping it slowly across the bottom. When using a circle hook, I let the bait sit in one spot, giving it a little pop on occasion to attract attention. Smaller soft plastics, such as paddletails and jerkbaits, worked slowly along the bottom have also been productive. Lighter colors in the clear water have been working best. Just remember, “Slow and Low”, as the fish are cold and are not doing much chasing as they preserve their body heat.
We’re getting a lot of the bigger trout coming back in, and the area becomes a nursery for juvenile redfish this time of year, but there are some upper and over slots hanging around, too. Finding their holes is key to catching the big girls. Snook are either out in the deeper water, or pushed way back into the creeks or the springs where the water is warm enough for them to survive. Any sizeable sheepshead and mangrove snapper have moved out to deeper water, just look for some good rock piles and you’ll find plenty. There’s no telling what you’ll get to bite unless you get out there and try, so hopefully I’ll see you on the water soon! Until next time, Tight Lines and Good Times to all!
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