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Fish are now looking for warmer locations

By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON - | Dec 31, 2020

Capt. George Tunison

My Christmas tree branches are already starting to droop under the weight of so many lures. For the person afflicted with the fishing disease, this is a fun way to decorate but obviously not recommended for households with small children or tree climbing house cats.

When looking for inshore winter gamefish in 2021, remember that prolonged cold fronts will push fish off the chilly flats into warmer channels, holes, creeks, marinas and canals. Like us, fish like comfort and on really cold days, finding waters just a few degrees warmer can make your angling day.

Sun warmed, tree protected, dark bottom bays and creek banks are good places to concentrate your day’s search.

Make long casts parallel to the creek bank with a plastic or live shrimp and work it back along the drop-off. The secret is a super slow retrieve keeping it near bottom. A subtle rod tip twitch makes it rise and a semi-slack lines lets it fall back often into a set of waiting jaws. Glue your eyes to the line and set the hook at the slightest twitch or pause. Again super slow is the ticket to success.

Plastic shrimp like DOAs are made from a shrimp scented material but in winter adding gel scent products may add that little extra to your bait.

Sheepshead action is happening near a dock or bridge near you and will only get better as it gets colder. Using an ultra-sharp, thin wire hook gives the angler a better chance of getting a good hook-set between those human like teeth. I use a small split shot on a fluorocarbon leader above an OWNER 1/0 SSW bait hook loaded with a small shrimp. Even though I’m an OWNER fan, I’ve also had good results using a 1/0 sized hook called a VMC FASTGRIP OCTOPUS Live Bait #7109. This is a great, really sharp, offset shrimp or dead bait hook that has three small barbs to grip your bait allowing for a more powerful cast without snapping off your bait.

Small bits of shrimp or fiddler crabs are top baits and if you’re fishing bridge pilings, take a square point shovel with you to scrape barnacles off the piling hopefully getting the bite going under you.

If you’re new to the sheepshead game, you’ll probably lose some bait before getting the hang of hooking these sly bait thieves.

Not all sheepshead live around vertical structure when they arrive for the winter visit. Early on, nearshore reefs host them as well as inshore along deeper mangrove shorelines especially around points. My biggest double digit fish was caught on a gold redfish spoon on the flats of Matlacha.

Sheepies are delicious and best handled with a fish glove and electric knife when cleaning them for dinner.

Minimum legal size is 12 inches and you can harvest up to eight fish per angler.

Find roaming grouper offshore on your favorite pile of rocks or nearshore as they move in close, surprising inshore anglers casting spoons or soaking ladyfish chunks or shrimp for redfish.

Chino Island in Pine Island Sound has produced several surprise grouper for me over the years when casting lures for redfish and snook along its shorelines.

Large mangrove snapper are also on the bite when dropping baits below and often these same reef anglers are surprised to find a school of large snook gathered on a near-shore reef this time of year.

I’ve had quite a few baby tarpon rolling behind my home lately but they area always hard to catch this time of year. If you need to get your local winter tarpon bite going, a traditional spot has been upriver near the Franklin Locks and around the power plant.

An alternative would be to haul the skiff down to the 10,000 Islands for laid-up tarpon in the shallow warm bays there.

Happy New Year! Let’s hope 2021 brings virus relief.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or captgeorget3@aol.com.