Cooler weather requires changing tactics for fishing success

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Jeremy and Brayden Lobo, visiting from Durham, Connecticut, show off a pair of black drum — also wintertime visitors to the AMI area waters — caught on a live shrimp Dec. 2 while on a fishing trip with Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters.
Roger Danziger of Holmes Beach shows off a 26-inch, 12-pound mutton snapper at his dock. He caught the snapper on a homemade speed jig tipped with squid in 140 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico 40 miles off Holmes Beach. Danziger says a blue streak under the eye confirms it is a mutton snapper.

As Anna Maria Island receives its first taste of winter, fishers in-the-know are changing tactics to achieve success on the water.

With water temps lingering in the mid- to high-60s, fish such as the catch-and-release snook and redfish are going to be searching for warmer water for refuge during the winter.

It’s time to start patrolling your old wintertime spots. And small creek mouths and residential docks and canals are good places to start. Anywhere where the water may stay slightly warmer than normal is ideal. Even a couple of degrees warmer can make a difference. And you won’t only find snook and reds in these areas — flounder, black drum and sheepshead also migrate to these slightly warmer sanctuaries.

Another factor to keep in mind for fishing success is your choice of bait. Although shiners are available, you may want to opt for live shrimp. You’ll find — especially as water temps drop even more — that fish like snook and redfish will prefer the live shrimp over a tasty shiner. These fish are looking to conserve energy. Chasing a live shiner may cause them to exert too much energy, where shrimp are a much slower target. Plus the black drum and sheepshead love eating shrimp — and so do the redfish.

For those who like targeting spotted seatrout, this time of year can be most entertaining. Try using soft plastics combined on a jig head to fish deep sandy potholes and entrances to canals and the Manatee River. A slow retrieve and the right color soft plastic can be deadly to trout in the winter, although the species is catch-and-release only. These fish tend to school up in the potholes and canals, which means if you find one, there’s a good chance you’ll find a bunch of them.

While you’re working that jig, don’t be surprised to come across pompano that are foraging over the grass flats.

So, although we’re settling into winter, don’t think fishing is over. It’s definitely not.

Island living means good fishing all year.

Capt. David White is working inshore due to strong winds and choppy conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. Targeting species such as sheepshead, black drum and pompano in the nearshore waters in the Gulf is keeping White’s clients busy. The live shrimp as bait is proving to work well for White. Live shiners are still producing some action on catch-and-release snook and redfish, although a little more work and patience is required to get the fish to bite.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is fishing nearshore structure in the Gulf of Mexico for a variety of fish, including hogfish, mangrove snapper, flounder and Key West grunts, with all of the species reacting to live shrimp as bait. In the Intracoastal Waterway, live shrimp is producing the bite. Lowman says casting around residential docks is resulting in sheepshead, black drum, flounder and catch-and-release redfish. The flounder and catch-and-release reds are being caught on soft plastics combined with a jig head.

Jim Malfese at the Rod &Reel Pier says despite the cold, windy and rough waters at the pier, fishers are finding success. Using live shrimp as bait is yielding a variety of species, including sheepshead, black drum, flounder, catch-and-release redfish and even a couple of catch-and-release snook. Most of these catches are occurring when a live shrimp is cast under the pier on a bottom rig.

Keep in mind, casting around the pilings under the pier means your leader and line are subject to all kinds of barnacles and other snags that can easily cut you off.

This means you need to plan ahead for your rigging. Be sure to use heavy enough line and leader to withstand being rubbed against the pilings. You’ll also need gear stout enough to control a bigger fish around all that structure. If you only have lighter gear, try casting shrimp tipped jigs out away from the pier to hook into pompano, whiting, jack crevalle and ladyfish.

We want to hear from you. Send your high-resolution photos and fishing reports to fish@islander.org.