by Capt. Greg Stamper
I would have to say 2020 is a year we are all happy to be looking back on! However, as a friend of mine says, when we miss a fish “She Gone”! So, I raise my glass to 2021 for all the fun times and great memories to be produced. Now that we have entered a fresh start and the beginning of what guides call season, what will we be fishing for? The offshore fishing will be based on the cold fronts and timing out the wind associated with them. Nearshore fishing gets good for many of the pelagic species that much like the snowbirds, have decided to make Southwest Florida their home for a few months. Just like the offshore fishermen, the back-bay guides will also be watching what Mother Nature throws at us before making each days’ fishing plan.
Typically, during the Winter months, you can expect our lowest tides to be in the morning hours. These tides fluctuate considerably from the “Mean Low” and are often influenced by the wind. Understanding the region you are fishing, and how wind direction will either help or hurt a tide in those areas, is a huge piece of the fishing puzzle. Light winds rarely do much of anything to influence tidal change however, when the winds start to reach the 10-15mph+ mark, you better get your learn on. During these Winter lows in my area winds that blow hard from an easterly direction hold water out, not allowing it to come into the bays and creeks. This effect combined with already below mean low Winter tides, can make things tough for many boats that draft more than twelve inches.
In the back bays use these super low tides as a learning tool. Now you will be able to see every exposed oyster bar, sand flat, every edge, the tidal flow of the currents, and even where there is still a bit of water. If there is a bit of water in an area during these extremely low tides that means at a standard mean low, you will be able to run through those areas safely. Your knowledge of where the deep holes are now pays off big time. Since there is no water in many areas the fish must be somewhere, and that is in those deeper spots. Redfish, snook, sheepshead, trout, and even black drum will be the typically targets during these times.
Nearshore the negative lows do not bother things much. The only thing that matters now is relatively low winds and some decent current. In between the fronts that push through, the water can get mucked up a bit. No worries though typically the water will clean up after a few tides come and go. On clean water days tripletail fishing becomes a fun thing to do. Running trap lines or fishing stationary structure, such as pilings works well for these prehistoric looking fish. Cobia will also be a big target for many anglers. Ironically even those who have no idea what they are doing will stumble into a cobia these days, simply by fishing public wreck numbers.
The offshore bite will be great in as shallow as 80 feet for red groupers and 30 feet for gag grouper. Jigs or knocker rigs with grunts, pinfish, or squid will work most of the time. Many anglers will also troll big plugs in 25- to 50 feet of water and catch the gag grouper. Anglers trolling out deeper will certainly find kingfish, barracudas, AJ’s, and even sailfish. Mangrove snapper, lane snapper, and an assortment of other fish will be in the 50- to 80-foot range. Those that are targeting snapper should bring pilchards and shrimp with them.
Capt. Greg Stamper
Fort Myers beach, FL