Fishing in Florida's Yo-Yo Weather – Stay Flexible!

hot and cold temperaturesOver the past month, the weather has changed from hot to cold, calm to windy, and back and forth all over the board. We’ve seen water temperature go from the mid-80’s to the low 60’s and back up everywhere in between. While this is the normal pattern during the transition from Summer to Fall to Winter months, the changes have a huge affect on fish. Fish will continue to move based on water temperature, but what they eat, when they eat, and the quantity of what they eat changes until they find a comfort zone where they can find food and comfortable surroundings. If you find fish in a feeding mood during an upswing in water temperature, you could find yourself in a smack-down with some fish with voracious appetites — but miss that period, and you could strike out.
Around Thanksgiving, we had some cool days in November. Prior to a cold front, the water temperature was at 70 degrees but a drop in water temperature was on its way.  With one cold front, the drop occurred overnight and the mercury dipped about 12-degrees causing the fish to shut down for several days. Continued high winds and cold made for minimal activity from feeding fish. If I was asked how fishing was, it was the case of, “you should have been there yesterday.” Prior to the front, snook, redfish, trout, bluefish, flounder, Spanish mackerel, black sea bass, and juvenile gag grouper all got in on the action chewing CAL Jigs with Shad tails, Eppinger Rex Spoons, and MirrOlure top water hard baits. Pockets of redfish were holding in deep holes on the flats and in channels, and in nearly each hole we pulled reds to 26-inches out using jerk baits. The CAL 5.5 Jerk bait and MirrOlure Lil’ Johns accounted for dozens of redfish the days just before the front. The weather predictions for the approaching front prompted me to postpone several trips, not for the predicted high winds, but because of the anticipated water temperature drop, and it proved to be a good call. To satisfy myself with my decision, I personally fished during cancelled days to see what effect the temperature drop had. It was as I figured…slow is the word…actually that’s an understatement, but within several days, fish began to get acclimated to the change and began feeding again.
Water temperature governs the metabolism of fish and their desire to eat. To a degree, the warmer the water gets during winter, the more energy fish burn, and an increased intake of food is necessary to maintain their weight. Body fat acts as insulation from the cold, especially for snook. Varying the size of your bait to water temperature will give your targeted species what they are looking for depending on their metabolic rate at that time. So, an important tool to have on your boat is a water temperature gauge. Finding the warmest water can generally put you where feeding fish are. You may find them in cooler water, but those fish may have decreased appetites.
Algae dies off as temperatures drop, improving water clarity. Sight-fishing improves with the clarity of the water, but fish also become more wary of things that don’t look ‘natural.’ Stealth in terms of longer casts, a more quiet approach, longer leaders made of invisible fluorocarbon material like those from Ande and Seaguar, and even smaller baits that land more quietly on the water and match a fishs’ appetite all play a part in successful fishing during cold weather periods.
The DOA 3” Shrimp is possibly the best wintertime artificial lure for most species that are available here, because when worked correctly, it imitates the most popular food source available in our bays when it’s cold. Also, when worked slowly like a live shrimp, it allows this bait to sit in the strike zone much longer with a natural look, and will be eaten without hesitation or expending much energy. I use this bait after prospecting with a jig, like the CAL Shad, where I cover water to find fish. Once I get dialed in on fish, the shrimp is the real deal. I can hit the spot lock on my Minn Kota I-Pilot and hold the boat on a spot hands free and fish it until I’ve thoroughly covered the area, catching any fish that will chew there.
Flounder and redfish have been our two top targeted fish recently. Both were found in backcountry areas out of the wind in holes and channels. Wherever baitfish are present, the Eppinger Rex weedless spoon has been deadly on reds. Loads of smaller trout kept rods bent, but the majority of the larger fish moved out to deeper water, and in most cases they were in areas exposed to higher winds, where we opted not to be. Terra Ceia, Miguel Bay, Joe Bay, and the surrounding areas of lower Tampa Bay offer some of the best winter fishing anywhere I’ve fished, and for anglers fishing with me over the past month, they’ve all had successful trips with dinner in the cooler.
The key was to stay flexible and in tune to changes in the weather, temperature, and habitats that fish gravitate to, and when you do that, you’ll get on the bite. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!