Repeated cold fronts: This winter has been a test for most local shallow-water fishermen, especially those using a fly rod. Most flats species engulf a shrimp impaled on a hook in front of their nose but don't expend much energy to chase a fly.
Tactics: Always consult tide charts. They are reliable but affected by winds. Southerly winds speed the incoming tide and slow the outgoing tide. Winds stir up the gulf and cause incoming tides to lack water clarity. In dirty water, use large, bulky flies that push water, allowing fish to notice their presence at greater distances. Darker patterns using black, purple and brown are more productive. Work flies slower and incorporate some weight to put the pattern at the targets' level. A perfect fly presentation close to the surface gets little interest from a cold, lethargic fish hugging the bottom in 4 feet. Use sink-tip fly lines, which are available from most manufacturers.
Tips: When wading, kayaking or in a boat, seek warmer water by carrying an inexpensive pool thermometer. We have found water temperatures on productive flats several degrees warmer than similar locations that seemed devoid of active fish. Afternoons with weaker tides have been much more productive lately because the sun has warmed the water.
Fly fisherman Pat Damico runs charters in lower Tampa Bay and can be reached at captpat.com and (727) 504-8649.