During the limbo time between the middle of winter and spring, many Nature Coast anglers find themselves sitting on the couch instead of hitting the water where they can find excellent opportunities to catch great numbers of Redfish, Black Drum and especially Sheepshead. Even though our local waters have seen their fair share of unseasonably cold weather days this year it still hasn’t seemed to affect these cold hardy species. Some anglers have even reported seeing Redfish swimming the flats with their tails protruding through the ice. 🙂 🙂 🙂
Now I know the ice joke is exactly that, but as most venturing anglers have found out in recent weeks a cold weather strategy is a must to put a bend in a rod. When cold weather hits the Nature Coast, Redfish especially seek deeper canals, holes, and channel edges where they can find more comfortable and stable water temperatures. Lucky anglers who consistently find Redfish in the winter can usually catch them for days, as their movements are minimal. As temperatures warm Redfish will move into a more active feeding phase where they will feed regularly instead of during a certain portion of a day. Frequently, when a person hooks a Redfish during this warming phase, numerous other fish often will rise up and try to steal the bait or fly out of the hooked fish’s mouth. “WE LIKE THIS!”
Seawalls, rocks, docks and other solid objects can absorb solar energy and radiate heat throughout the water column. In cold water situations, Nature Coast Redfish often seek out hard structures such as oyster bars, limestone flats, rip-rap seawalls, and mangrove laden shorelines in search of these warming areas. The dark bottoms of Crystal River and Yankeetown also absorb solar heat within their shallow waters and are perfect staging grounds for hungry fish. For a cold-blooded creature, just a slight change in water temperature could make a big difference on a chilly day.
During the next few months when the tides are less than ideal, many anglers will find that fishing deep rock piles and ledges will be ideal for targeting the hard fighting and tasty Sheepshead. The preferred rig to use for targeting these finicky biters is a slip-sinker rig, made up of a ¼-1/2 oz. egg sinker and #1 hook. The depth of the water and current often determines the size of the weight needed and as with most fishing styles, the lighter the rig the better but anglers need to make sure they do what ever it takes to get that live shrimp within the strike zone.
Although a Sheepshead can tolerate water down to about the freezing point, even the most hardy of “jail birds” can get lethargic in the winter. When water temperatures turn frigid and fish can’t find a comfortable structure, often they just hunker down on the warmest structures around. Regularly they will half burying themselves in shallow sea grasses to keep warm. In extreme cold water situations, Sheepshead move very little. A lethargic Sheepshead characteristically won’t chase any prey, as these movements would consume too much energy. Baits presented, as close to the desired structure as possible is a must, especially during the winter months. PATIENCE IS THE KEY!!
“DON’T BE A COUCH COMMANDO!!! GET OUT AND ENOY THE BEST OF THE NATURE COAST!”
Capt. Kyle Messier