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January fishing in Southwest Florida

By Staff | Jan 1, 2020

Members of Brooks Fishing Club in Estero closed out the year with a nice mess of snapper, sheepshead and grunts for a big holiday fish fry. They were fishing on a two-boat charter a few miles west of Captiva Pass with Capts. Jason Ramer and Bill Russell. PHOTO PROVIDED

January will deliver some of the coldest days of the year on the water around Pine Island and Southwest Florida. Just how cold often determines how and where to fish. If you enjoy watching wildlife, it’s a great month — seems like everywhere you look something is happening.

Over cool, windy 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, along a shoreline or sunning in areas protected from the wind. The coldest of days will yield some of the best sheepshead 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 baits 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 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 jig head. 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, however the fish are likely spread out over shallower depths, so a change of technique is often necessary. Look for fish 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 or shrimp imitations in soft plastic, 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.

Days with calm seas allow for great opportunities to fish gulf waters. Structure, including artificial reefs, ledges and hard bottom well within sight of land, are holding a variety of fish. Again, live or fresh shrimp is the top bait. Two popular bait rigs include knocker rigs with an egg sinker free to slide above a small hook and previously mentioned bare jigs heads rigged with shrimp. Both combinations work great over nearshore artificial reefs and hard bottom. Make sure and use enough weight to keep your bait on the bottom. All of the fish featured in today’s photo were caught with these two methods.

Sheepshead will become the target for many anglers in nearshore gulf waters, but you will hook into other fish that may include snapper, grouper, grunts and permit, to name a few. When fishing offshore, it’s a good idea to drop down a live bait if you catch baitfish like a pinfish, grunt or sand perch. This is a great way to hook into a big grouper, cobia, king mackerel and, of course, sharks

No doubt there will be some cold days on the water (at least what we consider cold in Florida), 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!

Wishing all a safe and Happy New Year.

If you have a fishing report or for charter information, please contact Gulf Coast Guide Service at 239-410-8576 (call or text); on the web at www.fishpineisland.com; or via email at gcl2fish@live.com. Holiday gift certificates are available.

Have a safe week and good fishin’.

As a lifetime resident of Matlacha and Pine Island, Capt. Bill Russell has spent his life fishing and learning the waters around Pine Island and Southwest Florida, and as a professional fishing guide for the past 23 years.