On the Water: December brings changes on the water
December brings cooler days around Southwest Florida and a change in the way many of us fish. As temperatures drop, it will push small baitfish south to warmer waters. Shrimp becomes the primary diet for many fish through the winter months. There are not many fish in our coastal waters that won’t eat a shrimp; in fact, shrimp is the mainstay for most inshore species diet, especially through the cold months.
The last month of 2020 kicks off the time year for targeting sheepshead. Big pre-spawn fish arrive in good numbers inshore and in nearshore Gulf waters. Unlike the northern species of the same name, our saltwater sheepshead are excellent on the table. Sheepshead are structure oriented as they hang around structure in search of their next meal. Areas may include dock and bridge pilings, rock jetties along the beach, oyster bars, creeks and submerged structure. Offshore, on good weather days, artificial reefs that dot our coast in 20 to 40-foot depths can produce some hefty fish.
Pompano are similar to sheepshead in the fact their diet does not consist of any type of baitfish. Small crustaceans including shrimp, crabs, sand fleas, etc., are the primary diet. Quarter or eighth ounce nylon jigs tipped with a small piece of shrimp can be deadly on pompano when properly bounced across the bottom. Popular colors are white, pink and yellow. Silly, Crazy, or hard bodied pompano jigs that have gained a lot of popularity over the years, are a great choice. Live shrimp suspended near the bottom under a popping cork is a good option as well.
Both sheepsheads and pompano have relatively small mouths, so it is important not to use a large hook. If you are unsure of the size, stop in at your local tackle shop and let them hook you up. I prefer 1 or 1/0 Owner Mutu Light circle hooks with a light 12 to pound fluorocarbon leader.
Snook, redfish and sea trout seasons remained closed. Snook will transition to deeper protected waters over the month where they spend the winter. In season or not, snook are always a blast to catch, just make sure and release them quickly. Extreme low tides over the winter months offer good sight fishing opportunities for redfish throughout the inshore grass flats. School-size sea trout are plentiful over grass bottom in 3 to 7-foot depths. Live shrimp or Berkley Gulp shrimp suspended under a rattling or popping cork will get their attention with an occasional twitch of the rod tip to activate the bobber.
Anglers look to take advantage of nearshore reefs on good weather days. Many of the snapper that frequented the inshore waters through the warmer months relocated offshore with their larger cousins. Bottom fishing with a shrimp/jig combination or shrimp on a knocker rig will get attention from tasty fish including mangrove and lane snapper, sheepshead, grunts and possible hog fish, permit and more. Larger fish including cobia, king mackerel, barracuda, sharks and others could show up at any time. Bottom fish with light tackle but keep a heavier rod at the ready.
Visit www.myfwc.com for all current Florida fishing regulations.
Finally, we reached the last month of 2020. A year I believe most of us would like to put behind us. Despite all the craziness of the year, fishing remained good throughout the year. After beautiful weather over the Thanksgiving weekend, it looks like December will arrive with much cooler weather. After the fish have a few days to adjust to temperature drop we can look forward to good winter fishing to close out the year.
If you have a fishing report or for charter information, contact Gulf Coast Guide Service at 239-410-8576 (call or text); on the web at www.fish pineisland.com; or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.