January should bring us some of the coldest days of the year in Southwest Florida. Just how cold it gets will determine how and where to fish. Up until this point our weather has remained pleasantly mild but we should expect cooler days ahead. This month the primary inshore targets are sea trout, sheepshead, redfish, pompano and, if it's relatively warm, Spanish mackerel.
When it turns cold, looked to protected areas like canals, creeks and deep water on the leeward side of islands as fish seek shelter. Often fish may be found ganged up in a deep hole or along a shoreline. If the weather is mild for several days the fish may be more widespread out on the shallower flats, bars and structures.
For bait it's hard to beat live shrimp. 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 chilly 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 1/4 ounce jig head just like you would a soft plastic shrimp or shad tail. Now you have the best of both worlds, live bait but you can cover ground with like an artificial. This combination will entice everything from big snook to pompano. Sheepshead and pompano are primarily bottom feeders, it's imperative to keep your bait at or near the bottom if they are your target.
Look for inshore sheepshead fishing to peak this month. Pictured is Jimmy Brickey visiting from St. Louis Mo., with one of many he caught while fishing Matlacha Pass with Capt. Bill Russell.
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. If your target is sheepshead, concentrate around structure with deeper water such as oyster bars, docks, bridges, artificial reefs, etc.
Fishing can change quickly this month - to be successful you need to monitor the weather conditions and adapt accordingly. Most of us don't like to be cold, that's why we live in Florida, with the exception of sheepshead that thrive in the cold, our Florida fish are no different. When its cold we move a little slower. Learn that most of our fish react the same and you will be on your way to catching winter fish in all conditions.
Have a safe week and good fishin'.