Until now, we've been spoiled. Pull up to a flat, make a throw or two with a cast net and be on your way with a well full of bait. Each passing cold front makes it a bit more difficult. Much of the bait has abandoned the frigid flats and settled into deeper water. "Blind throwing" a cast net is an option but can get old in a hurry. Anchoring and chumming the scattered baits to within your range can be more productive. There are number of premade chum concoctions on the market. I like my own: a mix of bread crumbs, can of jack mackerel or cat food (imperative that it has fish as an ingredient) and a healthy dose of menhaden oil. Threadfin herring, or what I call greenbacks, don't chum. Scaled sardines, pilchards, or what I call white bait, respond well. Thankfully pinfish are available year-round and make great live bait. They can be caught in traps, cast netted or hook-and-lined with pieces of shrimp or squid. They, too, will chum. Frozen bait works well this time of year. Cigar minnows, sardines and northern mackerel produce well in the winter. Open those boxes before you buy them. You want them to look good and not freezer burned. Whether you're fishing the flats or bouncing the bottom, the No. 1 go-to wintertime bait is live shrimp. Everything that swims eats them and except in the most severe weather conditions, they are almost always available.
Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 321-2142.