Back to the backcountry
by Capt. Michael Manis
Change is in the air. We’re approaching a winter pattern around the harbor as sporadic northern fronts combine with seasonally low tides. As well as contributing to cooler temperatures, these winds also push water out of the harbor escalating these tides. Typically, I’ll turn my attention to redfish and spotted sea trout. Both species tolerate cold well.
As we get away from summer rain, our water clears up, cools down, and salinity increases. Consequently, I’ll start pushing into the backcountry and getting up into some of our many creek systems. As the oxygen and salinity increases, fish will begin moving in as well. As the water cools, a favorite prey species, scaled sardines, move offshore looking for more stable water temperatures. This forces the reds and trout to rely on shrimp and small crustaceans that these creeks provide as well as a refuge from erratic conditions.
Therefore, I’ll begin throwing smaller clouser type patterns. I like the way it emulates the motion of a jig and gets down in the water column where small crustaceans hide. Unlike some patterns, it doesn’t stop moving during the retrieve when the angler is not stripping. A sinking bait is a good representation of fleeing prey.
I like creeks that hold deeper edges off points and bends. If possible, I’ll pole in on a low incoming tide as fish will take advantage of the early tide stage to forage for previously unavailable and vulnerable prey. Fortunately, there are plenty of options. Out of Punta Gorda, the east side south of Ponce Park all the way to Matlacha has more real estate than most of us have time to explore. At the top of the harbor, Hog Island and the Myakka Cutoff provide another expanse of mangrove creeks. Lastly, the west wall incorporates enough of these areas to keep anyone busy all winter.
When the wind lays down, pompano provide a change of pace. I like looking outside the bar along the southern end of the west wall and off the hard bottom outside Cape Haze Point. Here, a clouser is perfect as a ¼ ounce Nylure jig is the artificial of choice on a spinning rod. It’s not unusual to find them jumping your boat wake while running outside the bar along the wall.
Sheepshead is a good bet. In fact, from shore, it offers one of the best opportunities all year. Docks, piers, and seawalls are all good. The Placida Trestle is very popular. The bait of choice is cut shrimp and fiddler crabs.
Until next month, good tides.
Captain Michael Manis
Punta Gorda Fly Charters