The good news is Southwest Florida cold fronts usually pass quickly and after a day or two the fish respond. Fishing hard just before a front's arrival can put fish on your hook.
Our winter season negative tides mixed with cold clear water can be a gift as these two factors force and concentrate fish into known locations and predictable patterns.
Once a winter hotspot has been identified, chances are you can successfully score at that location for years to come (unless you talk too much).
Capt. George Tunison
Once you've identified a (pattern) location that produces, dissect it and ID the conditions that make it a hotspot. Depth, current direction, time of day and tide when you scored, water temps, cover or structure and sun angle are all critical factors. Now go and scout another location plugging in these same components and chances are you can add another hotspot to your inventory.
Wednesday, several jumbo Matlacha sheepshead made short work of 40-pound fluorocarbon leaders as these brutes dove through the bridgework shredding line and leader after inhaling my crew's free-lined shrimp. As in offshore bottom fishing the first second or two of the fight often determines the outcome as veteran fish know that crusty, razor sharp barnacle pilings are their best friend. Best advice is to put your back into it and get them away from cover and coming your way on a tight drag otherwise you will be down yet another hook, line, and shrimp.
This is down and dirty combat so don't go in with fairy wands and 6-pound test line as we are talking big sheepies that are strong and in heavy cover. These boys laugh at light tackle.
There also are lots of big snook waiting for warm water resting under the same bridge that will inhale a shrimp that happens to wash by their mouth. Chances are they won't chase it, but if it's close they will suck it in.
If all you've caught are hand sized sheepshead your first 10-pounder around structure will change your mind about the fighting qualities of these tasty fish. A 10-pounder on the flats will fight as hard as most like-sized redfish and taste even better in my book.
Our best rig was a small split shot on fluorocarbon leader above an OWNER 1/0 SSW bait hook loaded with a small shrimp. Even though I'm an OWNER fan I've been trying a new bait style hook from VMC. It's also a 1/0 sized hook called a VMC FASTGRIP OCTOPUS Live Bait #7109. This is a great, really sharp, offset shrimp or dead bait hook that has three small barbs to really grip your bait allowing for a more powerful cast, increasing distance without flinging off your bait.
If you keep losing shrimp when casting, stop snap casting and learn to lob cast in a slow wide arc. Works every time and saves bait.
If the winds break offshore anglers will find grouper, snapper, bonito, Spanish macs and flounder on near shore reefs. Don't be shocked if you tangle with a huge snook or bruiser redfish. Not all snook head way up river or hunker down in local canals waiting out the big freeze.
Divers report huge schools on near and offshore reefs where depth offers thermal protection and food. I just hate the thought that over the next three months, 400-pound Goliaths are inhaling and getting pudgier on an endless supply of yard long silvery, yellow trimmed Slim Jim's.
This is a great time of year to change out your water/fuel filter. Cheap, do-it-yourself maintenance. Add ethanol treatment. The E problem persists and ethanol related repairs are typically 50 percent or more of local repair shops' bread and butter.
Check and add distilled water to water starved batteries and keep them on a decent charger full time to prolong battery life.