What's hot: With passing cold fronts over the next few months, many shallow areas become havens for fish seeking warmer water. South-facing shorelines warm quicker on frosty mornings as the sun travels over the southern skyline. These flats also are protected from north winds and will sustain heat longer. Speckled trout and redfish will lie in sandy potholes and be opportunistic feeders.
Tactics: Soft plastics work great at this time of year; they can be worked at all depths and are erratic in action. Darker colors, such as root beer and turtlegrass green, have a tendency to blend in with the terrain and help disguise the offering. Downsizing tackle is key during the winter because the water is very clear. Ten-pound braided line combined with 15- to 20-pound fluorocarbon leader works best because it allows long casts and a stealth presentation. When live baiting, try to get select shrimp from tackle shops. Tail-hooking the shrimp allows the weight forward and extra-long casts to weary game fish.
Finding fish: Two important tools in winter sightfishing for inshore game fish are polarized glasses and a quiet mode of transportation. A trolling motor or a push pole will allow anglers to quietly work a flat or edge where fish lie. Be sure to have the sun at your back when possible; this makes it easier to spot the desired species. On low tides, work the dropoffs of flats. Many fish will hold there to ambush prey in condensed zones.
Jim Huddleston charters out of Tampa, Palm Harbor and Clearwater, and can be reached at (727) 439-9017 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.