by Capt. Greg Stamper
December is the month of big changes around South Florida. Most people up North are jealous of our weather, but we do chill off from time to time. On average we can see afternoon temperatures in the mid to high 70’s, with the possibility of morning temperatures in the high 40’s to 50’s. Of course, dropping into the 40’s is rare for us here. Occasionally we do get the tail end of cold fronts though, giving us a taste of that chilly air.
Guides up and down the coast will be planning out their trips based on when or if these cold fronts come through our fishing zones. We will start fishing winter patterns now and will continue through mid-March. Winter will set in sometime before month’s end making water temperature a topic for guides and fisherman at the early morning dock talks.
So, what are winter fishing patterns, and when do they become relevant? Water temperatures usually start in the low 70’s at the beginning of December. Hopefully we won’t see temperatures get below 65 degrees, as that’s when it gets tougher. Keeping tabs on what the water temperature is daily will give you an indication of what to expect while fishing. A slow drop in water temperature won’t affect the bite much. However, a sharp drop in water temperature over a day or two will definitely make things difficult.
Typically, you’ll hear guides talking about low and slow when the water temperatures are cold. This theory holds true for the days when the water temperature has dropped significantly over the course of a day or two. The fish that live in shallow waters begin to hang out in their winter homes. These homes are often the creeks, rivers, canal systems, and deep-water holes nearby.
You’ll start seeing a lot of sheepshead pictures soon, as that’s a popular target when it does get cold. Targeting them around rock piles, docks or on the local reefs is most common. Using small jigs or hooks with a small piece of shrimp on them works well. Sheepshead typically nit-pick your bait, so giving them as little of a piece of shrimp as possible works best. They’re not referred to as a convict fish for no reason.
Tripletail will be another big target this month, as the crab traps are well-seasoned now. The big fish arrive in Southwest Florida from now until April. This is one of the things cold fronts help us with here. The colder the water gets in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, the more tripletail we have pushed South right into our backyard. Last year was an epic year for tripletail with fish weighing up to 31lbs. Search for them around any structure whether it be buoys, markers, a piece of floating debris, or even bridges. Fishing for them with live bait, flies, or lures all works well. The best part of tripletail fishing is clients get to see the fish, watch it eat, and then fight it.
We’ll begin to see a big push of pelagic fish with this cooling water. Bluefish become a common catch especially in the passes on moving water. Pompano love the cool water and will be happy to bite. Flounders begin to show up, to about 22”. Groupers begin to move into the shallower waters within 9 miles of shore, where you’ll also find kingfish, bonito, and occasionally big bull reds. We should also continue to see decent amounts of bait available both in the bays and the Gulf.
Tight lines Capt. Greg Stamper