It was bound to happen, we just weren't sure when. Only a few days into the new year and we finally got our first real dose of cold weather after a long stretch of unseasonably warm days. The sudden drop in temperature, plus the strong north winds shocked both fish and anglers for a few days. I registered an eighteen degree drop in water temperature in Matlacha Pass over a three day span. With the water remaining warm for so long this was a sudden change that out fish had to adapt to. The good news, by mid week the sun was shining bright and the seas were almost flat calm and our fish again regained their appetite.
When the water temperature drops in January we get excited about our inshore sheepshead fishing. One of the only local fish I know of that thrive in the cold, with the drop in temperature many big fish moved from the nearshore gulf to inshore waters with anglers boating impressive catches. Sheepsheads up to six pounds were found up and down Pine Island Sound with the larger fish caught near the Passes around structure. Direction of the tide really didn't seem to matter as long as it was flowing steady. From shore, anglers found sheepshead biting from the Sanibel Pier, the Sanibel Rocks near Bowman's Beach, Blind Pass and the bridges in Matlacha. For bait it's hard to beat a small piece of fresh shrimp threaded on a 1/0 or smaller hook and fished on bottom. Sheepsheads are tricky to hook and notorious bait stealers, it takes time, patience, and a lot of bait, but the reward is catching a great fighting fish that is also excellent on the table.
Sea trout season reopened just in time for the sudden cool down, early in the week reports were sparse but the bite was getting better with each warming day. In southern Pine Island Sound trout were found in four to six foot sand potholes near Galt Island and across the Sound north of the power lines. Fish averaging from thirteen to seventeen inches were hitting live shrimp under popping corks and also Berkley Gulps suspended under rattling corks. Farther north in the Sound trout were reported in five to six foot depths on the west side of Cabbage Key, and also near the fish shacks, and in Burgess Bay. Again, live shrimp under a cork was the most popular bait for action. A few pompano and flounder were also taken in the northern Sound.
Sheepshead fishing is good. Jennifer Wayson visiting from Waterloo Iowa with one of many nice sheepsheads she and her husband, Blake caught while fishing with Capt. Bill Russell. These tasty fish were taken to the Lazy Flamingo in Bokeelia who prepared a great meal for the vacationing couple.
With the cold brought some really low tides, once the wind settled the morning tides were perfect for pursuing redfish in the shallows. Reds were sighted in north Matlacha Pass, along the eastern shore of Charlotte Harbor, and in the Sound south of Pineland. Hand-picked live shrimp and 3 inch Berkley Gulp shrimp both rigged weedless worked best. With both baits, (as the reds in the extreme shallows are pretty skittish) it is best to present either well ahead of the fish and just let it sit and allow them to pick up the scent and hone in on the stationary offering. This tactic worked for redfish from seventeen to twenty-six inches.
Only offshore reports for the week were of red grouper up to ten pounds thirty miles of Sanibel and a few tripletail caught a mile or so off Blind Pass.
Our water temperature was really warm for this time of year, the cold front last week was a sudden jolt for our fish. Now the temperature is about where it should be and fish have adapted. It was kind of strange, just before the front we fished on New Year's Day with a live well slap packed with live pilchards and the mackerel were thick in the Harbor, just like the warm months. Now with the cooler temps we can finally settle into more of a winter pattern and target our fish accordingly.