The Cold Weather Challenge
by Capt. Doug Stamper
Whelp, its 2017 so Happy New Year to all! January traditionally is the coldest month of the year. Besides having our Northern friends laughing at our snow ski outfits as they show up wearing tee-shirts, we’ve got bigger problems. Fishing in the cold weather can be challenging at times, however as guides we’re going either way. We’ve gotta catch fish regardless of the fronts, winds, and occasional rain.
We will have some blessed days in January usually a few days after the cold front blows through until the day the next front shows up, and we’ll also have those tough ones a few days after they initially come through. So, should you be fishing on the cold days, giving it some time to warm up a bit helps. So, what are we going to target?
Sheepshead are popular during the cold times, and traditionally show up in big numbers as they spawn in both the backcountry and around our near shore reefs. Targeting these conniving, shrimp stealing, buck toothed convict fish can be trip savers on the coldest of days. You’ll be able to find sheepies around docks, oyster bars, seawalls, and on the nearshore wrecks and reefs in good numbers. Try downsizing your hooks and using pieces of shrimp verse an entire one to land more of them. Fiddler crabs, shrimp, and even barnacles on a hook all work well. Barnacles you say? Yep in fact that’s one of the clues that the big boys are showing up. If you drive by a local bridge and notice what appears to be an area of barnacles that’s missing, that was the work of a sheepshead expert picking up some bait or chum. But don’t tell anyone about that trick please.
Trout fishing will remain steady during the coolest of days. Working water depths up to 6 feet, with a lower and slower presentation will help you get more takes. The grass beds being dark in color will hold a bit more heat so targeting them in those areas often works out well. Throwing around the sandy pot holes when working clear water gives you that transition line that can be very productive. Traditionally a popping cork with my go to DOA shrimp works out just fine. When corking experiment with leader length as a foot here and there can make a big difference.
Fishing the creeks and rivers systems in your area will be a smart move when it gets cold, and if you’ve been on fish in one area continue to push further and further back up those creeks till you can’t go any further. With winter, we usually have clear water so sight casting laid up fish is a possibility. These areas are usually snook, redfish, and black drum hangouts during the cold months. Although snook get a bit of lock jaw during the coldest of days as the water temperatures begin to increase in temperature a few days after a front blows through these estuaries can be a great place to fish. A variety of baits will work ,but in general smaller baits will work best. You can throw flies, plastics, and if you’re lucky enough to find some bait you’ll be in good shape.
When we do get beautiful days and light winds I enjoy running out to the near shore wrecks and reefs. I’m usually in no hurry if its cold out, so no crack of dawn runs needed. Now you can change things up and go after gag groupers, snappers, tripletail, and kingfish. Gag grouper come into the shallows when it gets cold out. Some areas will have them in as little as four feet. You can troll big plugs around which works well in the deeper waters say 15-45 feet, or you can drop a variety of baits down to the bottom. When trolling you’ll inevitably come across a kingfish while targeting your grouper. Make sure you pay attention while running out there, as tripletail can become a great bi-catch.
Tight lines, Capt Greg Stamper