This year's warm winter and water didn't allow many fish to settle into their normal winter patterns. For years in a row I've had certain very reliable winter hotspots for redfish. This year, they weren't there.
If you are having a hard time finding fish in your typical winter hot spot, resort to drifting the grass flats in three to six feet of water. Be quiet and set up a long drift using the wind. Employ popping corks baited with lively shrimp with 15-pound test fluorocarbon leaders adjusted to no more than a foot off bottom usually will get you in fish dinner territory.
Popping corks are noise attractors that call fish from a good distance. First tighten your line, then give the float a sharp tug causing a "bloop" sound. Give it a couple bloops then pause for a 5-10 count, bloop and repeat. The pause lets your live shrimp (soft plastic shrimp, GULP Shrimp, Mr. Twister, etc.) to slowly swim/fall naturally toward the bottom looking for a place to hide, which is when you will get the majority of strikes.
Capt. George Tunison
Adjust leader length and test to your depth and species. If you aren't getting a solid bloop when you tug, pull harder.
Casters, use light line and cast live shrimp on the lightest jighead that will allow you to tick the bottom. Reel ultra slowly and give occasional subtle twitches. Removing the shrimp's tail allows more scent to disperse and stops it from spinning on the cast.
This popping cork technique works on almost all inshore species in our area, including tarpon.
While fishing the Midpoint Bridge on a quiet, late night snook charter, we started hearing splashes and fish feeding. Suddenly, shrimp by the millions started running. I had never seen this phenomenon before and was amazed.
We had huge shrimp actually jumping (true) into the boat. The river was alive with shrimp and within minutes tarpon and snook were all over them. From our position we could see them feeding all along the entire length of the bridge, cashing in on this unexpected bounty.
Being an old crappie fisherman I quickly passed out corks, easily dipped some huge shrimp, baited a few circle hooks and instructed all aboard to cast to the shadow line caused by the bridge lights. Within minutes a 60-pound baby tarpon launched itself skyward followed by a doubleheader.
Mass confusion reigned and reels screamed as my Michigan guests (that previously only had small bass and panfish experience) were into the fights of their lives. They quickly jumped a lot of fish that night, landing two before the shrimp instantly disappeared and the river calmed. Nothing like catching 60-pound tarpon 50 yards from the launch ramp!
Find some structure and bait up with a tiny bit of shrimp. Lower it down with just enough weight to get toward the bottom and be very alert as Mr. Sheepshead comes calling. Sheepies will test your skills as they are supreme bait stealers. Docks, bridges, any structure will draw these delicious fish. For some jumbos head to Boca Pass and fish the structures there. Hard to clean but worth the effort as Sheepshead are very tasty.
Get out to the passes this weekend or not far offshore for Spanish mackerel fun. The Sanibel Lighthouse is a good place to start your mackerel hunt.