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Fishing in Florida's Wacky Winter: Is this the New Normal?

Lynn Manzella catching a Pompano in this yo-yo weather.
Lynn Manzella catching a Pompano in this yo-yo weather.

Just when you were starting to think that this abnormally warm weather was settling in and the new year was going to be a mild one, we’re hit with some colder than normal weather to balance it out. What’s ‘normal’ is a daytime high temperature about 70-degrees, and a low temperature of 54-degrees. However, the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen highs in the 70’s and lows in the 70’s, hardly normal for a January on the Suncoast. This week, we’re expecting “normal” weather with highs in the mid 70’s and lows in the 50’s.  Nobody can complain about that! But the real danger lies in what fish could be sensing and thinking.

Catching Snook in the Winter?

We’ve been catching snook on the open flats out near the Gulf in water temperatures ranging into the mid-70’s…very high for January and more like a day in April. These fish stand a very good chance of freezing to death should we have a hard freeze like we did a couple or three years ago. Snook tolerate some degree of cold temperatures providing they get acclimated to it. But the start of the winter was warm, and fish weren’t anywhere close to being where they normally are for January. The norm would have these fish in deep canals, up rivers, and in deep creeks, but not on the flats. While we have caught them right along with the trout and redfish, we have not been targeting them. As by-catch, they are a welcomed catch and release fish, but concern for their well-being is of utmost importance, and a fish in stress has a higher mortality rate than one that’s healthy and in its proper habitat and comfort zone.

The Stats on Pompano

These warm day have put good numbers of pompano in the bays and anglers aboard the Flat Back II have been catching them on CAL Jigs with Shad tails. Pompano to about 4-pounds have been caught from the Manatee River to Piney Point on the South Shore of lower Tampa Bay.

Speckled Trout

Speckled trout fishing has been fair-to-excellent. There have been good numbers with some legal fish on the fair days, and good numbers with fish over 4-pounds on the excellent days. Big jerk baits like the 5.5 CAL Jerk Bait have been productive rigged on 1/16 oz. jig heads. But consistency has been an issue here with size lately. Red tide to the south made its way north here for a brief time, which moved the larger fish out, then back, then out again. Right now we’re working for some big fish, but have found them most days. On the warm days, a top water bite has provided good surface action with MirrOlure MirrOmullet XL lures for trout.

Fishing for Redfish

Redfish have been more consistent, and slot fish have been on nearly every trip. Eppinger Rex Spoons, CAL Shads, and MirrOlure Lil’ John jerk baits have been top red-getters for us. Most fish are coming either in the potholes and channel edges on the low tides or up in potholes on skinny water flats on the higher tides.

Flounder Stats

Flounder continue to show on sandy bottom areas wherever there is some current and water movement. DOA Shrimp and CAL Jigs with Shad tails have put more flatties in the boat than all the rest of the lures combined. Flounder to 19-inches have been caught on the outside long sand bars from Joe Island to Port Manatee. Passes provided the greatest numbers of flounder.
With winter here you can expect variable weather, and the action corresponds usually to warmth and time of day. Warmer periods during the day are typically the most productive, but with air and water temperatures being the way they have, it makes you wonder if this could be the new normal.