Every angler longs for the day when conditions are textbook. After all, fishing is hard enough without having to deal with extremes of weather. Unfortunately, those days are few and far between, especially this time of the year. Besides being hard to find, there is no guarantee that good conditions will yield decent fishing. In truth, I’ve found many beautiful days to be particularly challenging, whereas some of the most difficult days have proven to be especially rewarding.
This was the case last Friday, when a trip that my friend Hunter Parrish and I had planned was looking questionable. A cold front had pushed chilly temperatures and high winds into the area, and combined with a weak tide were conspiring to make us question going out. Since we had been forced to cancel the outing on several other occasions, we resolved to give it a try.
The cold front had dropped water temperature a full 10 degrees, and the incoming tide wouldn’t make any kind of move until mid-morning. In order to allow it to warm up a bit and to let the tide start in, we decided to begin at 10 that morning.
We launched on the north end of Longboat Key and ran to the eastern shore of Sarasota Bay near Tidy Island. I reasoned that the flats there would be relatively warm and that the eastern shore would provide some protection from the wind.
We had originally planned to fly fish, but because of conditions, elected to start the day using spin tackle. I set us up on a drift in six to eight feet of water over deep grass on the outside edge of the deep grass on the outside edge of the flats. Parrish tied on a DOA Shrimp, while I elected to use a top water plug hoping to attract the attention of a bluefish.
We had only drifted a short distance when the DOA started to produce. I wasn’t having any luck with the top water plug, so after a couple of drifts, I switched to a tandem chartreuse jig.
Surprisingly, I didn’t get much response from the tandem rig, so I tied on a DOA Shrimp too. That did the trick. The fish weren’t big, but action was consistent for both of us. The trout ran 10 to 12 inches with an occasional 14- and 15-inch fish mixed in.
After catching fish on every drift for better than an hour, we elected to move to the north and explore the flats closer to shore. The tide was rising, and we wanted to find a redfish, snook or perhaps some larger trout. Now that the sun was high and clear water was moving onto the flat, we hoped to be able to find some fish by poling the shallows.
Our next stop proved a bit disappointing. There were a lot of small sheepshead on the flats, but we only saw one decent trout of about 24 inches. A bit further to the north near the Cortez village things started to improve.
Although we didn’t hook up we had numerous shots at redfish to 30 inches, several trout that ran to 22 inches and saw a couple of snook that pushed 40 inches.
Whenever I’m faced with tough winter fishing conditions, there are a few things I always keep in mind that have proven to be effective.
First and foremost, I look for protected water in the lee of an island or other landmass. Protection from cold wind gives the sun a chance to warm the water, creating conditions that are more comfortable for gamefish and the angler. Next, I vary my presentation, making sure to slow it down and work my lure close to the bottom.
I try to think like a fish, being on the lookout for an area that might attract predator and prey. A good example is a shallow bay where the water warms up during the day and drains out on a late afternoon falling tide. Under the right conditions, it produces consistently.
For the balance of our short day, we poled the flats getting some good shots at quality fish. While we didn’t hook up, we enjoyed being on the water, spending time together and even found a couple of areas that we will definitely return to. At the end of the day, we were glad we had committed to going out.
It wasn’t a banner day, but against the odds we had located some good fish and landed a few as well. Best of all was time on the water with a good friend.