Cool means hot: The cooler weather we're getting should lead to hotter fishing. We are right at that special time of year when the fish are in a sort of prehibernation state. While they don't necessarily hibernate like other animals, one thing is for sure: They eat, eat and eat. Fish need to fatten themselves up for the winter when bait is less abundant and they are more lethargic due to the low water temperatures. Now is a great time to target inshore favorites like snook, redfish and trout as well as one of my favorite, flounder.
Bait: One key to fishing this time of year is giving the fish options as far as bait goes. Baitfish are on their way out and shrimp will soon be the go-to bait, but having some of both as well as your favorite artificials on hand can really help your catch ratio. The key to fishing any of these baits is to slow down your retrieve. As the water gets colder, fish move slower and your bait should as well.
The Rivers: The East Bay and South Shore have several of the best rivers in our region as far as fishing goes, with the Little Manatee and the Alafia being two of my favorite. As temperatures drop, many fish begin to move into the rivers and will call them home for at least the next three months. The first mile or so of these rivers will produce the best right now, especially for snook. A key to finding these fish is to identify areas where you have good tidal flow as well as some sort of cover for them to ambush their prey. Focus your attention on oyster bars, docks, and deep water mangrove shorelines. The redfish action has been really strong along the outside of the rivers. Focus on mud bottom flats, because mud will hold heat much better than sand. A live bait or lure fished around the outside of a mullet school is sure to generate some interest from foraging redfish and trout.
Clear water: The water in Tampa Bay has already begun to clear up, and this will only continue through the spring. I personally like fishing clearer water as it allows for a more visual experience. The downside is, as you can see the fish better, they can see you better as well. The key is to scale down your tackle. My basic winter setup is 10-pound braided line tied to a 3-4-foot section of 10-20-pound fluorocarbon leader and a size 1 to 1/0 circle hook. Concentrate on staying farther away from your target and making longer casts to avoid spooking wary fish.
Captain Matt Santiago can be reached at (813) 205-2327 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is fishingguidetampa.com.