Wintertime is Shad Time
by Capt. Tom Van Horn
As we usher in the New Year, it’s once again time to reflect back on the events and accomplishments of 2016. It’s also time to think about what stands before us in the year to come. My resolution last year was a simple one. One I knew would be easy to accomplish, good for my health, broaden my horizon, and would be extremely enjoyable. It didn’t involve any major life style changes or hard work. I simply resolved to spend more time on the water, to watch more sunrises, and to catch more fish.
This year, I’m making a commitment to myself to expand on last year’s resolution by enlightening others to the rewards I’ve experienced.
Winter on the Indian River Lagoon coast of Central Florida is not defined by any specific dates, but rather the temperature difference generated by passing cold fronts. These temperature variations are subject to change from year to year, and they are hard to predict. Average daytime temperatures usually range from the 50’s in the morning to around the 70’s in the afternoon.
Likewise, water temperatures average in the upper 60’s, but they can drop as low as the 50’s with extended periods of cold weather. On warm sunny days, water temperatures will increase as much as four degrees on the sunny shallow flats and sandbars. All of these factors greatly affect species targeted and method used.
Although the majority of my fishing is saltwater, low sodium becomes my preference in January when the St Johns River system recedes within its banks bringing the micro baitfish and grass shrimp off of the flooded plans into the main river channel. To me fishing is fishing, so in the winter I love to downsize my tackle and target the American shad run and the spawning season of largemouth bass, crappie and brim.
This year the current river conditions are perfect and the bait is heavy, so on those windy pre and post frontal days, the protected areas of the St Johns will not only save the day, but they will also provide for some excellent light tackle fishing. Oh by the way, the shad are starting to show up with several nice shad photos being posted.
On the flats of the north Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon redfish and trout will seek the warmest water they can find. Work the deeper edges of flats in the morning and then move into warmer wind protected flats around mid-day to afternoon.
An early start is not a requirement this time of year. Both redfish and trout love to sun themselves in the shallow water sand pockets in grassy areas. On colder days, fish the deeper holes utilizing a slower presentation. Other species encountered in January are black drum, flounder, ladyfish, bluefish, and sheepshead. January is the best time of year to find large black drum tailing on the flats, especially on the Banana River “No Motor Zone”. Shrimp, small chunks of fresh blue crab and clams are the preferred bait for these fish, but they will take both artificial and fly if presented properly.
Inlet fishing has been hot this past week with Sebastian being the most productive. There are still reports of flounder in the cut, but the bite has slowed. Good numbers of pompano, ladyfish, jacks, and sheepshead have been reported, and these fish should remain plentiful through January.
Near-shore, the tripletail have started to show up on the Port Canaveral buoy line, and the numbers will increase as the month progresses. The other hot ticket near-shore has been the run of kingfish we’ve experienced this past week. Once the seas subside, king mackerel in the 5 to 10 pound range will be holding along the near-shore reefs in 70 to 90 feet of water. Last week anglers experienced some of the best kingfish action of their lives on 8A Reef out of Port Canaveral. My preferred method of catching these fish is with live bait, but with pogies (Atlantic menhaden) hard to catch this time of year, slow trolling dead sardines dressed in a king buster skirts works well.
Again, the primary factor in catching central Florida fishing in January is temperature. So keep an eye on the forecast and plan your day accordingly. As always, if you have questions or need information, please contact me.
Good luck and good fishing in the new year,
Captain Tom Van Horn