Professional angler Ed Zyak doesn't have the luxury of taking a day off when the cold wind blows. Like most working guides, Zyak is out on the water, even when the fish aren't biting.
"You spend a lot of time looking around," said Zyak, who typically fishes the Indian River Lagoon on the east coast of Florida, home to the all-tackle world-record 17-pound, 7-ounce spotted seatrout. "That is how you figure out where the fish are."
Zyak, a big-trout specialist from the Jensen Beach area, knows fishing the winter months can be trying at times. But he has a few tips for frustrated anglers who head to Bradenton's Discount Tackle Outlet on Sunday as part of the Shimano Fishing Tour.
The seminar series, which brings the state's top fishing guides to local tackle shops, has drawn large crowds in recent years, thanks to professionals such as Zyak who aren't afraid to share a few secrets of the trade.
When the water temperature drops below 60, the algae suspended in the water column dies, increasing water clarity. While beautiful to behold, this creates some real problems for fishermen, especially those who target the shallow waters of Tampa Bay.
"The water clarity this time of year is exceptional," Zyak said. "So I find that if you want to get the fish to bite, you are going to have to downsize your leader."
During the spring and summer months, when Zyak often catches as many as 20 snook a day, he fishes with a stiff leader, 20-pound test or greater.
"But because it is so cold, we are not catching big snook," he said. "So we lighten up. You will still catch plenty of trout."
To improve his chances of a hookup on cold days, Zyak also alters his usual routine. Instead of meeting clients at the dock at the crack of dawn, he waits until the sun is high in the sky.
"From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when the sun is high in the sky, the water is going to be the warmest," he said. "Sometimes that is all it takes to make the fish bite."
Geoff Page has never been one to kick back and take it easy. The Sarasota angler, who has top-10 finishes on various professional redfish tours, will fish dozens of spots in a day, casting artificial lures more than 1,000 times.
But when the north wind blows, Page takes it down a notch.
"The water is so clear this time of year that some days I will just drive around and look for fish," he said. "I spend a whole day going along the edge of bars just seeing what's out there."
Every now and then, Page may motor upwind, then drift back over the fish. Sometimes, he leaves the spot alone and comes back the next day.
"You have to be patient," he said. "I'd say 90 percent of the fish that you come across will be hugging the bottom. So you have to fish slow and deep if you want to get them to eat."
Page likes to use soft-plastic baits with heavy weight (1/4 to 3/8 ounce) bounced slowly along the bottom.
"You can improve your chances by fishing places like marinas with dark, muddy bottoms," he said. "You can also do pretty well in the rivers and creeks this time of year."
The bottom line: don't get discouraged.
"I've seen a lot of anglers hanging their heads," he said. "But you don't have to. There are plenty of fish out there. You just have to know how to catch them."