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Warm week brings anglers a mixed bag of winter fish

By GEORGE TUNISON - | Feb 11, 2021

Capt. George Tunison

While many up North are scraping ice off their frozen windshields and sliding around on deadly black ice, we are enjoying the 80s and hopefully will lock into the same fantastic warm winter weather pattern we enjoyed last season.

This past week inshore anglers caught and released a typical mixed bag of winter fish. Trout after trout, sheepshead, rat reds and small snook were the main players with a few delicious pompano mixed in.

After releasing a boatload of trout, one angler wanted to spend the rest of his time looking for just one nice picture-sized snook before driving back to Frostyland. One was found near St. James City; a fat 3-ixnch dock-bound fish that couldn’t resist a fat kicking shrimp under a float suspended right in her face.

Using floats to suspend baits around lethargic fish that are using dock structures can really pay off. Worth repeating is to anchor up tide and use the current and rod to steer your float back to the dock exploring each piling in the structure. Spend a few minutes with your bait parked next to each one in your target area and stay ready.

When you get the bite, lock down and work the fish away from danger then lighten up and enjoy the fight. This is not a place for 10-pound test and wispy rods. If you enjoy spending a sunny winter day or lit dock night “float docking’,” a basic outfit would sport 30-pound braid equipped reels with 50 to 60-pound fluorocarbon leaders.

If you are really serious about a trophy, then tackle requirements go way up using rods big enough to lob cast 12-inch mullet or ladyfish with accuracy and being able to turn rampaging snook that are determined to stay home, away from their structure. Hundred-pound braided lines with 100-pound-plus leaders are the norm for some nationally known big snook guides that reside on Florida’s Gulf coast and that specialize in helping customers catch trophy class snook around seawalls and dock structures especially at night, when the giants roam.

Inshore during winter fished alone on jig heads, freelined or under a float, Mr. Shrimp is the top bait.

If you’re on foot or in a small boat with no livewell, you don’t really need aeration. Pack a dozen shrimp in a jar, plastic container or sealed bag without water and place it in a small ice packed cooler. Make sure no ice water gets into your shrimp bag as the chemicals and fresh water in the melting ice will kill the shrimp. As long as the shrimp remain very cold and away from the water, they will live a surprisingly long time.

If you are livewell equipped, have two standpipes for your live well. A shorty for shrimp so that the water level in the operating well is typically 6-8 inches deep, the taller pipe for baitfish.

Because of virus isolation boredom and weight gain, I had a heavy duty, tamper proof, time lock installed on my fridge, allowing it to automatically self-unlock for just 3 minutes, then quickly close and re-lock, just 4 times a day. Fifteen dollars a month for monitoring.

If you gave a mandatory, emergency man overboard swimming test, to all boaters returning to the dock on a typical winter weekend in Southwest Florida, I would guesstimate that 35% of them couldn’t get from the bow to the transom and manage to get back in their own boat, while wearing coats, shoes and long pants, especially in smaller craft with no boarding ladders.

Wear your life vest and get an auto inflatable one for the best protection! A manual vest requires you to pull a handle to inflate. If you’re knocked unconscious when falling or thrown out, an auto-inflating vest gives you a chance to recover.

Most of the large outdoor retailers sell Auto/Manual vests starting around $99.99 and worth every penny.

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