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Pleasant weather ahead for fishing and boating

By CAPT. GEORGE TUNISON - | Jan 19, 2023

Capt. George Tunison

Looks like pleasant fishing and boating weather ahead with low 80s predicted for the next several days. Longtime residents might remember a different weather pattern back in 1977 when it snowed on Jan. 19. This record cold snap caused an estimated $350 million crop loss across the state.

Even with this nice warming trend upon us, the water is cool and so are the fish, so using a fast retrieve or lures that require medium to fast retrieves won’t help you connect with chilly fish. Think slow presentation baits like plastic shrimp or suspending twitch baits like MirrOdine’s. Fly anglers also can do well using lightweight flies that can be worked slowly through the water column.

Winter’s cool water also means much clearer water, so think lighter lines, longer fluorocarbon leaders and get rid of snaps and swivels that wise old fish easily see.

With a warming trend, simple inshore wind drifting slowly across a dark flat occasionally correcting your course or slowing the drift with the electric motor is a good plan. Drag a couple of shrimp under floats along or have one crew member cast and slowly pop the float back in while others cast and slow retrieve fake shrimp, live or dead shrimp on jig heads, paddle tail grubs or flies. If you find a wad of fish, power pole down, stake out or spike anchor, so you don’t drift out of range, but then keep quiet in the boat as you cast so as to not move the fish away. Heavy footsteps on a hollow hull are magnified and become quite loud underwater, definitely scaring away noise sensitive fish like seatrout.

With so many near-shore reefs plus inshore bridges, piers and dock structures to choose from, finding some tasty winter sheepshead shouldn’t be that difficult. Ask around or consult local tackle shops and guides as to where they are being caught or simply put in your time and hunt. Not all sheepies require vertical presentations, big docks and bridges to host them, as anglers are often surprised by double digit flats specimens on mangrove island points and, of course, oyster bars. My biggest inshore sheepie surprise of nearly 11 pounds was taken in Matlacha Pass on a mangrove point using a gold redfish spoon.

Sheepshead tackle can be as simple as a chunk of shrimp on a jig head, to a whole variety of weighted rigs with You Tube as a great resource to explore to figure out what rig you might want to employ. Whichever you choose, the use of strong, ultra-sharp, thin wire hooks will definitely help get a hook in the gums of these delicious fish that all come factory equipped with human-like teeth.

Top baits for sheepshead include shrimp, fiddler crabs and oyster bits. Cover hooks and jigs with small bits of bait not big pieces. Careful line watchers do best with this these tricky biting fish and if you’re new to the game, be prepared to lose bait to these champion bait stealers before you get the hang of hooking one.

Sheepshead are smart, line-shy, hard-fighting, seemingly armor-clad fish, and best of all good on the plate. Eight fish daily limit per angler with a 12-inch minimum length to harvest.

The world record is a jumbo, 1982 caught Cajun fish of 21 pounds, 4 ounces, caught on a shrimp, while the long-standing Florida record is 15.2 pounds taken in 1981.

Although our local inshore waters at times offers world class fishing for a variety of fish large and small, don’t neglect the near-shore reefs. Florida has approximately 3,800 artificial reefs in state and federal waters with many close to our coast and easily accessible by small boats. From Boca Grande Reef, Edison, Belton Johnson, Sanibel, Causeway Reef, there are many choices to explore. Check MyFWC for reef location maps and GPS numbers.

Watch out for manatees!

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. You an contact him at 239-282-9434 or via email at captgeorget3@aol.com.