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With this said my resolutions over the years has been and continues to be to enlighten people on the many blessings angling and life in the outdoors provide, and as a veteran guide on the IRL I believe recreational anglers are making headway in many areas. Since the days of Teddy Roosevelt, recreational anglers are leading the way in conservation and resource protection.
These efforts are constantly met with challenges, but the popularity and growth of our sport and its economic impact have changed the prospective of many policymakers. Starting off with my all-time favorite fish, the American shad run on the upper St. Johns River has not yet materialized, but should be swinging into full gear by mid-January.
And when this year’s run begins, keep a sharp eye out for Captain Tom and Three Quarter Time when you are passing through shad alley. Also, if you enjoy a fresh fish dinner occasionally, the specked perch (crappie) bite has been good and will continue to improve in all the big lakes, rivers, and creeks in Central Florida.
Silver mullet and other finish have migrated out of the area for the winter, so anglers should switch to smaller shrimp and crabs and a slower presentation. Also, January and February are key months for targeting black drum on sunny sandbars during colder weather and in deeper water channels around structure.
For the past several years, the black drum populations have expanded on our lagoons, so I’m eager to see how they show up in 2021. Near-shore, look for triple tail concentrations to improve greatly along the Port Canaveral buoy line and under floating weeds and structure, and look for cobra to move in shadowing manta rays if the surface water temperatures reach the upper sixties.
If we expedience an extended period of warm weather, mid-winter thaw, look for a mid-winter cobra run to commence. Now is also the time for surf anglers to target pompano, bluefish, weakfish, small black drum, sleepyhead, Spanish mackerel, and whiting off of the beaches and larger redfish and flounder around the inlets of Ponce De Leon, Port Canaveral and Sebastian.
Catch-um-up in 2021 and reward yourself this year by taking a kid fishing and pledge to be a reasonable conservation angler. Fish tend to become lethargic in cold water and are slow in moving to strike at lures.
Redfish can be found around docks and sitting on the flats on warm, sunny days. Bridges will continue to produce sleepyhead, black drum, craters, sand perch and bluefish.
The drum and sleepyhead have once again arrived early, and action has already been steady for these tasty fish. The inlet and turning basin will be full of bluefish, jacks and mackerel this month.
Live or dead bait on a jig head will give you plenty of action along with silver spoons or shiny lures. Around seawalls, channel edges or deeper structure you can find grouper for catch and release action in January.
Nearshore fishing gets good for many of the pelagic species that much like the snowbirds, have decided to make Southwest Florida their home for a few months. Just like the offshore fishermen, the back-bay guides will also be watching what Mother Nature throws at us before making each days’ fishing plan.
Typically, during the Winter months, you can expect our lowest tides to be in the morning hours. During these Winter lows in my area winds that blow hard from an easterly direction hold water out, not allowing it to come into the bays and creeks.
This effect combined with already below mean low Winter tides, can make things tough for many boats that draft more than twelve inches. Now you will be able to see every exposed oyster bar, sand flat, every edge, the tidal flow of the currents, and even where there is still a bit of water.
Redfish, shook, sleepyhead, trout, and even black drum will be the typically targets during these times. Ironically even those who have no idea what they are doing will stumble into a cobra these days, simply by fishing public wreck numbers.
Jigs or knocker rigs with grunts, pinkish, or squid will work most of the time. Many anglers will also troll big plugs in 25- to 50 feet of water and catch the gag grouper.
Anglers trolling out deeper will certainly find king fish, barracudas, AJ’s, and even sailfish. In the best case scenario, we’re all hoping to pick our spots between fronts while enjoying sleeping in a bit.
For the most part, If you run a shallow draft skiff or are even willing to wade, midwinter does provide some unique opportunities as fish can be easier to find. Because of the seasonally low tides, they have less room to roam on the flats and group up in deeper spots.
My favorite tide is a morning incoming from a negative low and like last month, I’ll spend my time working around backcountry creek systems. Deeper holes around mangrove points can be very productive for redfish, spotted sea trout and juveniles nook.
Here, small depressions or sand holes can be the only areas holding enough water for fish while they wait for the incoming tide. Many times, I’ve seen the smallest holes hold the best number of fish.
Cement seawalls hold and radiate heat down through the water column making them the perfect winter hangout for all our game fish. That and the deeper water provide a more moderate environment to ride out the cooler weather.
Shook season closes December 15th, but many anglers will still play catch and release with them. Fishing around bridges, docks and inlets can bring great action with shook hanging around the deeper waters of the river.
Live shrimp on popping corks or DOA Deadly Combos will work the best for them. Spanish mackerel and bluefish will continue to hang out in their favorite haunts of the river.
Photo: Hunter caught the biggest fish of the day with this nice black drum. There is a good variety of fish to target on any given day in any kind of weather conditions.
On days when its windy or the seas haven’t laid down, we’ll be fishing in the back bays and rivers. Water temperatures begin to fluctuate between cold fronts so fish will react to that.
Shook are now hanging out in the Winter haunts and will be tough to catch on days when the water temperature has dropped dramatically. We’ve got triple tail, big bull redfish, bonito, king fish, pompano, etc.
When the weather is nice grouper, snapper, king fish, and amber jacks will take up most of the offshore time. The nice part about cooling off is that the gag groupers will come in closer.
Finally, if its really nice out, a trip to 150 plus feet of water these days will give anglers chances at sailfish, tunas, and perhaps a Yahoo. At this point, with the combination of weather changes and the holiday season, I’d have my gear ready and waiting for those few short openings.
By that, I mean waiting between the fronts for those perfect days that make living in southwest Florida special. In fact, I like to wait till late morning to let the sun warm things up.
With reduced rain and cooler water, salinity and oxygen increases back here providing good habitat as well as a refuge from the windswept open flats. Also, after a cool night the sun will warm the shallow water over the darker mud and sand bottom quicker here than on open flats.
I like a late morning or early afternoon incoming tide coming off a negative low. Being a natural nursery, these estuaries creek systems provide a decent array of prey albeit of a smaller source like silver sides, billfish, shrimp, and crabs.
Most days, dealing with a strong northeast breeze, I like to work areas that provide as much lee as possible. North, towards the top of the harbor, I also like extensive area that includes the Hakka Cutoff, Tippecanoe Bay and Muddy Cove.
If the wind is really cranking, the Junta Golda and Port Charlotte canals hold good numbers. Lastly, when the wind permits, take a run over to the hard bottom off Cape Haze Point where pompano like to hang out and get in a few casts with a ¼ ounce Nature jig.
Captain Michael Mani's Junta Golda Fly Charters 941-628-7895 email@example.com www.puntagordaflycharters.com Despite high water levels on the St Johns River system good numbers of speckled perch (black crappie) are showing up in the upper St Johns River, and the big lakes of Monroe, Jess up and Harvey.
Fish structure or slow troll Road Runner jigs or live minnows near the bottom. Also, look for the American shad to begin showing up near the end of the month on their winter spawning run.
American shad are an incredible species to catch on light tackle and fly, and if you have never experienced this fishery, you should book a day with me and learn how it is done. American Shad fishing is the closes Floridian’s get to the salmon runs of the north, and we are catching them during the winter when the northern rives are frozen over.
These breeder size redfish will hit artificial baits, but live pinkish, piggish, ponies and finger mullet are more productive. Remember, these are oversized reds, so step up the size of your tackle and handle and release them with extreme care.
It is best to target inlets nook at night by drifting live piggish and pinkish through the channel, or fishing buck tail jigs or large swimming plugs from the rocks and catwalks. Schools of bluefish and Spanish mackerel have been feeding on glass minnows (bay anchovies) along the beaches and outside the Inlets.
When targeting these species watch for bird activity and work small jigs or spoons fast to avoid cut-offs. The Flounder run is on with good catches being reported from both Port Canaveral and Sebastian.
Anglers utilizing either jigs, live finger mullet or mud minnows fished on the bottom are experiencing the best results. This tactic allows you to cover more ground, and once you have located a hot spot, you can anchor your boat and concentrate on the area.
Further, off the beach, tarpon and king fish can be found shadowing bait pods outside the Inlets. December is also the month when triple tail begins to show up on the Port Canaveral buoy line, and as the water cools the bite should improve.
With this said, focus your efforts on shoreline and backwater areas as sight fishing is incredibly challenging. In closing, 2020 has been an exceedingly difficult and challenging year on many levels, but if you are reading this forecast, you have survived to fish another day.
For me, I am at a crossroad in my life where spending time with friends and family has become a priority, so I am not sure where 2021 will take me. Our concerns of fish changing patterns moves from the warm waters of the Gulf and Atlantic, to the Florida state line.
Sometimes we get lucky, being on the southern end of Florida as fronts making it this far down are usually rather weak. With that said we hope all the fronts stall out near Tampa leaving us with incredible fishing till the years end.
However, the biggest factor is when will our first significant cold front or two make its way past Tampa thus effecting Southwest Florida. We have already seen many of the migrating fish that have followed the big schools of thread fin herring, menhaden, and pilchards that are everywhere in our area.
King fish, Cobra, triple tail, Bonita, and mackerel are just a few examples of what has already set up home here in Southwest Florida. The back bays are full speed for redfish, trout, black drum, and pompano.
The water temperature should stay in the high 70s barring and substantial cold weather. Lastly in our back bays we usually stumble upon some strangers this time of the year that occasionally are just doing a drive by to see what is going on.
Permit, triple tail, and cobra are good examples of fish we pick up randomly during these changing times, so be ready for anything. Those that choose not to make the long 40 plus mile runs can easily target king fish throughout the area.
Trolling large deep diving hard baits works well, or free lining blue runners in areas you already know they exist are two of the easiest ways. Those that run out to the deeper waters will be able to find plenty of red grouper, lane, mangrove, and mutton snappers, as well as AJ’s and king fish.
The timing of these trips very much depends on the weather so again paying attention to the cold fronts coming from the North will be important. It was a hot summer, but things have been milder lately and it should provide us with some great fishing conditions this month.
T he pompano are beginning to return to the river and will be a favorite target for anglers throughout the winter. Redfish can be found around docks and mangroves with DOA shrimp or live bait.
Docks, bridges, and inlet fishing should produce some goods nook action as the water cools off. Docks and bridges will hold black drum, sleepyhead and the sand perch should also show up this month.