by Capt. Greg Stamper
Wow, where did 2017 go? As we welcome the new year and a bit of cooler weather we’ll be targeting species that like just that. Now for most 50 to 60-degree days are a welcome relief from the bitter cold up North, but to fishing peeps throughout South Florida we’ll be bundled up and ready for a snowmobile ride most mornings. With that said Happy New Year and get ready for a great 2018.
During January we’ll be targeting several species. During the really cold days we’ll go after those that like that stuff, and broadening our horizons during the days things warm back up. The days right after cold fronts usually means we hunker down and target things that don’t mind the cooler temperatures. These fish are primarily sheepshead, trout, pompano, bluefish, mackerel to name a few inshore; and tripletail, kingfish, sheepshead again, bonito and groupers in our nearshore waters.
Sheepshead go full speed this time of the year as they spawn in our back bays and nearshore waters. These spawning fish can easily get to the 6 to 8-pound class and are also great to eat. We target them along docks, oyster bars, and on reefs and wrecks regularly for about 3 months. Sheepshead will take a variety of baits such as sand fleas, crabs, barnacles, and shrimp. When targeting this bait stealing convict fish try downsizing the bait and hook so they are forced to deal with the sharp part immediately. Inshore I’ll use small jigs tipped with bait, and nearshore I use more of a chicken rig with size 1 hooks.
Trout and pompano are two of the other fun ones to go after during cold spells, that are also good to eat. However, we’ll find lots of other snowbirds like the bluefish and mackerels that come in heavy during this time. There can be tons of action when going after these species and depending on where you are, you may find all in the same area. Typically, I’ll target the trout over grass flats using popping corks worked aggressively in 2 ½ to 5 feet of water. When near the beaches, passes, or nearshore I prefer jigs of many varieties and weights. Sometimes the fish are toward the top of the water column sometimes down, so you’ve got to try different techniques and jig weights.
Now on the nice days when its not windy and temperatures are tolerable to a Floridian, we can target snook, redfish, tripletail, and other species. Usually it takes a few days post cold front to get these fish eating. We can run and gun out along the trap lines and markers for the tripletail, or we can fish in the back bay and target reds and snook. Typically, I’d recommend using live baits like shrimp, crabs, or whitebaits when available. One thing for sure if your using artificial is to slow things down. These fish will not be as aggressive and keeping baits near them longer usually works out well. Cut baits like ladyfish, sardines, or mullet can also be very effective. The cut baits work better in poor water quality conditions and the live stuff works better in clean water.
So that’s January in a nutshell here in SWFL.
Tight lines Capt. Greg Stamper,