by Captain Tom Van Horn
First, let me wish all of you a very happy and prosperous new year. For me, 2021 was both challenging and rewarding. In October I retired from guiding after 25 years helping anglers catch fish, worked the summer at the Katmai Lodge in Alaska, and spent quality time with friends and family. Although I have retired from my professional angling, I plan on continuing my monthly forecast and assisting and teaching anglers to be move successful and responsible on the water.
Photo: Tammy Wilson caught this image of Capt. Tom on an early morning outing chasing American shad on the St. Johns River.
Winter has arrived with shorter periods of daylight and falling water temperatures on the Indian River Lagoon system and other Florida waters. These conditions present anglers with the best sight fishing experienced all year. With less algae in the water and low water levels on the flats, sight fishing conditions greatly improve in January, but a stealthy presentation and long cast are critical to entice spooky fish.
As the sun warms the water, target shallow sandbars where both redfish and sea trout lay seeking the warmth of the sun’s reflection on sand. On colder days, target deeper locations where the water is a few degrees warmer and slow down your presentation. Lastly, fish metabolism slows as the water cools, so smaller baits and a very slow retrieval will increase your success in getting strikes.
On warmer days when the flats heat up, the feeding and tailing activity of redfish and black drum improves because the shallow water warms up faster. Another very important part of the equation is to match the hatch.
When targeting redfish, black drum, and sea trout during the colder months, I like to downsize my bait, slow down my presentation, and fish with a shrimp or crab imitation bait like the D.O.A. Shrimp or Crab.
In freshwater on the St Johns River - As the water temperature cools, both speckle perch (crappie) and American shad will move out of the lakes into the creeks and shallow river flats to spawn. Crappie typically spawns along the shallow edges around structure during the full and new moon periods and once located will present anglers with limits in no time at all.
American shad will stage in the deeper corners of the river, and move up on the sandy shoals to spawn when the water temperatures and conditions are right. Try slow trolling plastic crappie jig and lures like the Road Runner tipped with a minnow until you locate fish, and then concentrate your efforts matching the same techniques, depth, and area to improve your success.