Winter has settled in, so what’s the hot bite? Near shore artificial reefs can produce some hot action in the winter if you know what you are looking for. My recommendation for target species for the next few weeks would be sheepshead, flounder, grouper and snapper. Sheepshead are a great choice for fun fishing as well as excellent table fare. My preferred method for these crafty bait thieves is simple. Live shrimp is a must because frozen shrimp will fall off the hook as soon as it hits the water. I’ll pinch off the fin part of the tail and hook it with a ¼ oz jig head so that the point of the hook is hidden in the mass of shrimp legs. Drop it down on those nearshore reefs and wait till you feel that tap tap and then stick him! Look for flounder around the nearshore reefs, bridges, creek mouths and passes by bouncing butter bean bucktail jigs and ¼ to ½ oz jig heads with live shrimp.
Further out I’m catching red and gag grouper within 10 miles of our beaches. Find some hard bottom and if the wind isn’t blowing too hard, try drift fishing. A word of caution when drift fishing. There are rocks down there, that’s why the fish are there! What you want to do is “hop” the weight as you drift. I have my reel in free spool and have my thumb on the spool (or if I’m fishing spinning gear) flip the bail open and closed. I’ll drop it on the bottom and have my rod high and follow it back down as you drift then lift it off the bottom for a few feet as I swing my rod forward and drop again. Sometimes you’ll need to let out a little more line to get it back on the bottom. If you drag it you will get hung in the rocks.
For inshore, check pot holes in the backcountry for reds if you can find enough water to float the boat. Redfish are hitting scented soft plastics as well as chunked lady fish. Look for them in shallower water with dark muddy bottom because they will seek out a warmer spots to soak up some heat as the sun warms the darker bottom, you’ll find them in the potholes at low tide. Cover the bases and pick up some shrimp. Trout are still very abundant in the same pot holes area as well as sheepshead. You’re more likely to find fish around shorelines and sandbars with deep drop offs. They like these spots as it provides an easy transition from deeper water for finding food into shallower water for warming up. I recommend deeper grass flats for these cooler months for trout. I would start with live shrimp on a light wire 4/0 circle hook under a Bomber saltwater grade paradise popper with 20 lb fluorocarbon. You will want to fish mid to lower part of the water column. Remember the water temperature is hovering in the low to mid 60’s, warming in the latter part of the day. Most of our fish like it a bit warmer before they really get aggressive, so slow down on those retrieves. The good news is that most of the fish are easily accessible on most of the sandbars, island drop offs and oyster bars. Look for the bait schools and birds diving along them; always a good indication of how the bite should be. Don’t get too close to the bars and drops or you’ll pass over the fish. Somewhere around 4 ft of water is what we’re fishing. Trout, jacks, ladyfish and pompano are all mixed in there together, sometimes ya just gotta weed thru them to find the ones you’re looking for. A good, simple rig for winter time fishing is a live shrimp on a 1/4th or 1/8th ounce jig head. I like to remove the “fin” part of that shrimp’s tail. Then feed the hook right where the fin was removed on the tail. Remember live shrimp don’t naturally swim upside down, so make sure he’s right side up when you put him on the hook. Finding moving water is a must if you’re gonna be successful in these cooler months. These fish are looking for the best bang for their buck.
So happy fishing from Kelly and me here at Florida Inshore Xtream charters and remember if you’re ready to get out and see how we do it you can call us or find us on Facebook, Instagram or my web page. Well folks, you know the deal...gotta get on out and get my FIX on!