This has been one of the coldest Januarys that I can remember. While the temperature only dipped below 40 degrees a few nights, this entire month was significantly colder than our average January. A local news station reported that both the lows and the highs were a full eight degrees cooler than normal. Eight degrees does not sound like much, but Baby, at 35 mph it surely is!! On some of those cold mornings, I felt like I was being punished for something I must have done in the past. I never did figure that part out, since I believe that I have been living right. A few hardy (very hardy) anglers who came in sandals and light jackets also felt the pain!!
Many sub-tropical species of fish, particularly snook, are very sensitive to cold water. Rapid changes in water temperature can send them spinning on the surface stunned if it does not kill them out right. Hundreds of snook have been seen doing simultaneous doughnuts on the surface after a winter blast. The old timers call them "Bay Grouper" and would net up the spinners and sell them to local markets as groupers. Hence, the closed winter season. Hopefully, that is a thing of the past. Many in the professional guide community thought that we would loose a pile of fish, particularly snook, on several occasions this month when the thermometer was expected to plummet. However, it appears that the sustained water temperature drop over the last six weeks acclimated the fish enough so that they were not "shocked" by the "colder" snaps. That was good thing.
The cooler water definitely changed the pattern of fishing in this area. That was a bad thing. However, getting a handle on the new pattern was a very good thing! The cold water has driven the bait to places unknown. The fantastic mackerel fishing we had until late December went away with the bait. The cobia went away with Mackerel.
However, the speckled trout fishing gathered steam as the fish fell into the holes and deeper passes. It is not uncommon to catch 50-60 fish in a single tide. Sheep head, large sheep head, are all over the place and easy to catch. Small black drum and the redfish are plentiful and predictable. "Keeper" sized grouper are in the passes. The snapper bite has been really good. with the inshore fish, plentiful but small. Offshore, however, it is has been pretty dog-gone easy to jig up a limit 17-18" snapper. The trick is too catch the weather right to get out there.
There are still piles of snook around but the cool water temperatures has seem to curtail their appetite and made them very finicky. They feed, but not until "Sky Boss" sounds the feed horn and then they tend to feed all at once. On most trips, however, we are able to coax a few fish to bite.
The outside has been producing some excellent sight fishing on these schools of snook, especially for the "double-haulers" who have been fly fishing. The cooler temperatures have dramatically reduced the algae and plankton significantly improving the water clarity. You can definitely see the fish laid up in the shallows, but they can see you to ... "Stealth Mode" only!!
Fishing the inside has been excellent. On Chokoloskee Charters annual New Year's Fishing/Camping trip the creeks really went off. What was planned to be a simple camping/fishing trip this year turned into quite a "to-do" at Watson's Place in the Chatham River. New Year's Eve, Bruce Hitchcock, the "Wizard" and I slipped off to Wizard Creek. Named for the no-so-famous, Harry, "The Wizard", Ramsey from Tampa. Throwing 12-Fathom, gold metal flake swimming shad tail, dragged over by a Cotee red-headed Jig, we managed to catch approximately two dozen snook, some approaching 20 lbs in about an hours time.
The Wizard was bowed up on a nice fishing about 12 pounds when we heard them. They were moving down the creek, feeding hard. Boom, boom, boom ... black drum, lots of them, big ones for the back country ... coming right at us. I sent the jig to the bottom and swam it along the creek bed slowly. You could here the fish pounding around us ... it was exciting. On the second cast, I was wrestling a 25+ pound drum on eight pound spinning gear. After too many close calls with the mangroves, we released the fish and within minutes Bruce had his turn. We released three nice fish, but the last drum was but 13 pounds and fit into the live well. The poor thing had to endure handling and photos with about ten youngsters before were able to release it at our campsite. Remember, always, I mean always bring a camera ... it is much easier on the fish!
As a note, the first permit of the new year was caught by John Charleton of WPB. (Guess who forgot the camera?) The permit fishing was excellent last year with over 280 releases. It looks as though it is starting again! Chokoloskee Charters is starting its permit release club this year. John is the starting member!!
If the Weather Guessers are right, the next 10 days should be in the mid 70's significantly warming the water. This should really turn on the fish both inshore and offshore. There is lots of action out there, but I would still bring your jackets (and a camera)!!
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