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Slow down retrieval in cold water

December 6, 2013
By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

It seems like just a few weeks ago that the water temperature was in the 90s. Now we're already talking about catching sheepshead.

Good news is we're only mere months away from May!

After a long season of thrilling tarpon jumps, snook attacks, and redfish rumbles, sheepies seem kind of dull, till you catch a 10-pounder in your favorite redfish hole. Big sheep on the flats fight really hard. I look for overgrown mangrove island points with current-swept deep water on the end. Docks on points with current, depth, and shade/cover draw sheep as well as other gamefish.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

Fish fiddlers or shrimp on bottom.

My biggest flats, double-digit sheepshead hit a gold redfish spoon - go figure. With that flat, broad muscular body it fought pound for pound as hard as any tough redfish. What sheep lose in the glamour department they make up for on the plate. Tough to clean, good to eat, think gloves and an electric knife.

A friend fishes one speed and basically one lure year round. He's a spoon man and he fishes fast. Because of that he catches more in warm water than cold and refuses to slow down which is fine with me as it leaves more fish in the water and usually helps me maintain my friendly bragging rights over him at the end of the day.

Folks get into certain habits and mindsets and often forget or refuse to adapt to changing conditions. These anglers are going to make the fish adapt to them. Really? Lure guys that excel in winter understand the need to match the metabolism of their quarry.

Sixty-four degree snook aren't crazy about sprinting around chasing your lure wasting energy that's being used to keep their subtropical heaters on. But they will take a big shrimp or piece of cut bait lying on bottom or even a live ladyfish suspended in front of them.

For those raised on North run-and-gun style largemouth bass fishing, slowing down can be tough. Time and time again I ask winter clients to cut their retrieve speed in half or more, only to glance back moments later and see them resume a summer retrieve. Hardheads, fishless ones.

Often changing to a slower gear ratio when you pick your reels for a winter day can help if you are a speed cranker. I often make that choice when bouncing soft plastics across a flat for reds and trout in winter.

As it continues to get colder choose lures that can be worked ultra slow, that suspend, and that are scented or easily hold applied scents. The imitation shrimp lure is king on my boats during winter, versatile, and can be fished top to bottom and ultra slow. A DOA Shrimp with added scents or when it gets really cold I go to GULP products,

Cast out and let your shrimp settle into the grass then give it a pop with the rod tip, let it slowly fall back to bottom, mend your slack and repeat all the way back. Slowly. Your retrieve should take minutes. Line watchers excel as winter strikes can be quite subtle even by huge fish. If the line twitches, set the hook. Don't fear brightly colored hi-viz lines which aid your sight fishing tremendously, especially with old eyes.

Ultra clear cold water calls for light line and long, clear, fluro leaders with 10-15 pound braid and 15-20 pound fluro leaders.

This winter slow down. If no takers, go much slower. No action? Fish bait. No action? Fireplace and TV time.

During the cold water period redfish aren't as bothered and continue greedily feeding.

Christmas morning 2011 a departed friend silently poled me to within 10 yards of a school of very happy Matlacha redfish, tails sticking up and heads down grubbing along the bottom all around the boat. No one told them it was cold.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or, or



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