With the recent colder water temps, some species have relocated from their normal haunts to some shallower locations. Some reasons: to find quicker warmth and a better comfort zone, especially around some hard bottom where the sun warms it up quicker than mud bottom. Or, to find and follow the bait and food source. Or, in some cases and species, to spawn. Don’t always assume that the colder water and weather sends everything to an abyss.
Let’s cover a few of these beauties that can keep the rod bending and reel talking in a little better than fin depth.
Starting with one of my favorite freshwater species, “specks.” Specks, or crappie, during the summer months are still in the same lake you caught them before. They’re just found in deeper water in the hot times and are more widespread thus harder to locate and catch. But the winter months and temps bring them in shallow for spawning, and I’ve caught them sometimes in as little as 12 inches of water. But mostly in the 2 to 6 foot depth. Look for bulrushes, lily pads, branches, limbs, or trees hanging in and around the water, and you’ll find the specks. I remember sometimes we as kids, even went around the neighborhood after Christmas and collected four or five trees that were thrown out, tied ’em all together to a block, and dumped ’em in our lake at the end of the dock. Makes good bottom structure and collector for the specks to do their thing. A lot of local lakes now even have “fish attractor” buoys with the same types of structure sunk at the bottom just for this. And listen. Let’s all do ourselves a favor. Don’t keep the little 6 and 8 inchers, let ’em grow up for next year. I always say, “if ain’t big enough to fillet, let it grow for another day!” Make it at least a voluntary 10-inch New Year resolution or something. If we don’t start conserving now, the state will do it for ya.
On the salty side:
Gag grouper are still in the 4 to 8 foot shallow water rocks. However, a lot of the baitfish for the most part have left, leaving the gags to take almost any offering that swims by.
Reds can be found in some skinny water this time of year, some even 6 to 18 inches. I’ve measured it one time, and a 27-inch 8-pound red can be totally submerged in just 7 inches of water, making for some of the best sight fishing of the year with the clearer water.
Mangrove (gray) snapper are gathered up around the same rocks as the gags and also around most any spring in shallow water or the rivers. If you can catch your five per person limit, you have found a honey hole and best keep it a secret. They must be 10 inches minimum, and most are cookie cutters, at
9 or 9-3/4 inches.
Sheepshead — or just sheepies as I call them — are also congregating around the shallows. Finding them around the many rocks, barnacle covered bridge pilings, oyster bars, and the like, in 1 to 8 feet will put ya on these black and white striped, convict, zebra resembled, fine eating table fare fish. They got a set of chompers only a mama could love. A kind of ugly funny looking face and mouth. Remember, beauty is only fin deep. But ugly is to the bone.
Mullet, or as we natives call them, the vegetarian chicken of the sea. The colder temps gather ’em up in the rivers and residential canals, in 2 to 6 feet by the hundreds. Space won’t allow, but if interested, email me for rigging and technique. Good ole shore bank fun, and better eating. No size, 50 per person.
You’ve already probably heard, and/or aware that the trout can be found in the not so deep, skinny water as well. For artificial I go with either three or four things. Topwater plugs. Weedless jerkbaits. Shallow running twitch baits, or plastic jigs under a popping cork. Or, for your bait and wait tactics, either fresh shrimp or cut mullet. Key word here being fresh. If that don’t get the fish hooked up when the water temps and tides are favorable, ya may as well take it out on em at the driving range. Or go shoot up some ammo at the gun range with some fish shaped targets. Lol. Too bad they don’t have fish shaped clay pigeons. Pull!
Enjoy some reel beauties of the nature coast. For your not so deep, pre and wintertime angling.
Be safe, and good fishing.
Capt. Rick Burns runs Reel Burns Charters out of Homosassa. He can be contacted at 352-201-6111 or visit his website at www.homosassafishingguide.com.