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Getting back to more normal winter fishing

By CAPT. GEORGE TUNISON - | Dec 30, 2022

What’s next? Not too many weeks ago a porta-pottie actually flew by my house at easily over a hundred miles per hour ending up in my neighbor’s tree 10 steps from his mostly glass front door. The past holiday week of 80 degree weather suddenly turned Arctic cold in time for Santa. Talk about climate change! Hopefully by the time you read this stable sunny Southwest Florida winter weather will have returned so we can get back to fishing.

As the water temps naturally drop, so should your retrieve speed. One of the hardest things to teach a casting angler is the ability to retrieve a lure slowly. I mean slowly. Certain baits like plastic shrimp are always deadly, slow retrieve lures and in winter, use them even slower for maximum success.

Spend some time observing shrimp in a large bait tank as they slowly swim in a straight line through the water column. No radical moves, jumps or spasms. Now, if suddenly freighted, they use that broad tail to instantly jump or dart away from the danger otherwise they move slowly and deliberately from place to place.

The following two retrieves always work great for me.

Cast out then imitate that super-slow, straight line, swimming retrieve for 10 feet or so then let the bait fall naturally to the bottom while keeping a close eye on your semi-taunt line as the bait falls towards cover. Any tics or jumps of the line means you have a customer so set the hook! One big mistake fake shrimp anglers make is to not let the bait settle all the way to the bottom like a real shrimp seeking cover in the grass.

The other successful wintertime method is to cast out and let the bait slowly fall into the bottom cover then gently pop it up realistically with the rod tip just once, then let it settle to bottom again on a closely watched line. Take a few slow turns of the reel handle then stop reeling and repeat this “panic” and fall retrieve all the way back to the boat. Going to a Hi-Viz colored line like white or yellow is a great angler aide for this type of line watching fishing and doesn’t bother the fish one bit, especially using a 36-inch or longer fluorocarbon leader in winter’s clear waters.

Mastering the deadly ultra-slow slow retrieve using these shrimp fakes is very difficult in today’s fast paced world. Plastic shrimp are one of the hottest winter lures and produced by several manufacturers in a rainbow of colors although clear natural and glow are my two go-to colors. Force yourself to slow down, and using lower gear ratio reels can also help. One thing for certain, a cold snook isn’t going to be chasing down your summer speed-retrieved lure, but might pull the trigger on a slow hopped shrimp swimming close by.

The coming weeks forecast of 80 degree temps and light winds looks great for that near or off-shore run out to a bunch of hungry bottom fish looking to eat your offerings. Kingfish and gag grouper will still be hitting trolled plugs unless the cold snap chased them away. This time of year you don’t have to go to the horizon to catch these grouper as they come into as little as 30 feet of water to eat your Mann’s Stretch series lures.

Inshore look for the trout bite to continue to heat up along with the sheepshead. Fish those trout under a bobber with shrimp or better, break out the ultra-lites and cast 3-inch soft plastic paddle tails on lite jig heads. Trout like minnow imitating flies as well as popping bugs on the surface on warm winter afternoons.

Sheepies love fiddler crabs, shrimp and oyster bits, on small, thin wire, ultra-sharp hooks.

Hope everyone has a safe, healthy and happy New Year.

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