Tactics: Plummeting temperatures will usher in a major shift in the patterns of inshore fish. In the North Suncoast, scaled sardines likely will be gone for quite some time. Artificial bait will be key to success.
Tackle: My favorite lure for winter flats fishing is a soft plastic jerkbait rigged on a weedless worm hook. By adjusting the hook size, you can add or subtract all the weight you need for skinny-water casting. Moving up from a 2/0 hook to a 4/0 or 5/0 will keep a surface darter closer to the bottom with no sacrifice in hookup ratio. Some anglers add lead weight, but this drastically changes the speed and neutrality that make a jerkbait so different from a jig.
Tips: I was one of the last local guides to come around to scented soft plastic bait, but I am now a believer. I had a gentleman who wanted to cast his giant artificial shrimp though we had live bait out. His first cast produced a backlash, and while he was untangling it, a redfish ate the lure and he landed it. "Fluke," I thought. The next cast with the lure produced another redfish while our live bait were ignored again. Nowadays I don't leave the dock without a pack or two, especially when the water is cold.
Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs and can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 944-3474.