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On the Water: Like the weather, fishing can change often in January

January 4, 2017
By Capt. Bill Russell , Pine Island Eagle

January will bring us some of the coldest days of the year on the water in Southwest Florida. Of course our cold days aren't really that cold in comparison to other parts of the country, but after a very mild December cooler days are bound to come. Just how low the thermometer drops often determines how and where to fish.

This month the primary inshore targets are sea trout, sheepshead, redfish and pompano. If you enjoy watching wildlife, it's a great time, seems like everywhere you look something is happening.

Over cooler days we will look to target protected areas like canals, creeks and deep water on the leeward side of Islands as fish seek shelter. It's also a good way to comfortably fish a chilly north wind. Often fish may be found ganged up in a deep hole or along a shoreline.

Article Photos

Look for sheepshead fishing to improve with cooler weather in January. Tom Chang  of  Simi Valley, California, closed out 2016 with some nice sheepshead that were caught in Pine Island Sound fishing with Capt. Bill Russell.


The coldest of days will yield some of the best sheephead fishing of the year; they thrive and aggressively feed during adverse conditions. If the weather is mild for several days, the fish may be more widespread out on the shallower flats, bars and structures.

Shrimp are the top bait over the winter months. Shrimp are user friendly, readily available and everything eats them. If it's cold , think slow and low, meaning fish the bait at or near the bottom, either stationary or with a slow retrieve. One of the best ways to cover the bottom and catch fish on a cold day is with a live shrimp/jig head combination. Take a live shrimp, bite or pinch off the tail and thread the shrimp tail first on a small jig head just like you would a soft plastic shrimp or shad tail. Now you have the best of both worlds - live bait that you can cover ground with, like an artificial. This combination will entice everything from big snook to pompano.

With milder weather the same combination also works but likely the fish are spread out over shallower depths so a change of technique is often necessary. Look for fish holding in areas that are a short distance from the deeper protected areas. They often hold in areas where they can quickly get back to shelter when the next front arrives. Fish these areas with shrimp, rigged the same method described above, with a little quicker retrieve, or suspended under a popping or rattling cork. Sometimes if you are looking for trout, redfish or maybe pompano, it's all about covering as much area as possible. Scented soft baits like Gulp shrimp are another great option.

On the good days with calm seas, making a short run to nearshore reefs is a good option for action and a variety of fish. There are a number of artificial reefs well within sight of land and the numbers or locations are available to the public. You never know from day to day what a reef may hold but chances are good at hooking sheepshead, snapper, mackerel, grouper, grunts, sharks and possibly tripletail or cobia, plus many other species.

No doubt there will be some cold days, but also plenty of sunny warm days. Like the weather, fishing can change quickly this month, to be successful you need to monitor the conditions and adapt your fishing strategy accordingly. Good Luck!

If you have a fishing report or for charter information or to purchase a Holiday Gift Certificate, please contact us at 239-283-7960, on the Web at or email:

Have a safe week and good fishin'.

As a native of Pine Island, Bill Russell has spent his entire life fishing and learning the waters surrounding Pine Island and as a professional fishing guide for the past 18 years.



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