by Captain Tom Van Horn
Like November, December and January are months filled with outstanding fishing opportunities. The only significant difference is the impact cooler water temperatures have on the fishery and windy conditions, which are influenced by approaching and passing cold fronts. Fluctuations in water temperatures affect both fish behavior and angling tactics, so an understanding of where and how to fish can reward you with some memorable catches.
American Shad and Speckled Perch (Black Crappie)
Water levels are much lower this season on St Johns River system and good numbers of speckled perch (black crappie) are showing up in the upper St Johns River and the big lakes of Monroe, Jessup, and Harney. Fish structure or slow troll Road Runner jigs or live minnows near the bottom. Also, look for the American shad to begin showing up near the end of December on their winter spawning run. The American shad is an incredible species to catch on light tackle and fly, and if you have never experienced this fishery, you should give it a shot. American Shad fishing is as close as Floridian’s get to the salmon runs of the north and we are catching them during the winter when the northern rivers are frozen.
Ocean and Inlet Redfish
Near-shore and in the inlets, large redfish were consistent outside Ponce Inlet, Port Canaveral and Sebastian Inlet last month, and they should remain steady. At both Ponce and Sebastian, look for redfish chasing bait on the surface during periods of slack tide, or feeding along the bottom during periods of falling tidal flow. At Port Canaveral, work the bottom in deeper water just outside the buoy line along the channel ledges and look for concentrations of Atlantic menhaden (pogies) and muddy water spots in the 15 to 30 feet of depth. These breeder size redfish will hit artificial baits, but live croakers, pinfish, pigfish, pogies and finger mullet are more productive. Remember, these are large breeder size redfish, so please step up the size of your tackle and handle and release them quickly and with extreme care.
Snook fishing will remain steady in the surf and inlets, with Sebastian Inlet proving to be the most productive location. It is best to target inlet snook at night by drifting live pigfish and pinfish through the channel, or fishing bucktail jigs or large swimming plugs from the rocks and catwalks. This type of fishing can be quite challenging due to the number of anglers competing for the same fish and impatient and discourteous anglers, so please pay attention, be courteous, stay safe and enjoy the rewards. In areas north of Sebastian, the snook will move into protected backwater areas like creeks and deeper mud bottom canals to stay warm.
Bluefish and Spanish Mackerel
Large schools of bluefish and Spanish mackerel have been feeding on glass minnows (bay anchovies) along the beaches and outside the Inlets. When targeting these fish watch for bird activity and work small jigs or spoons very fast to avoid cut offs. These two species will attack a fast-moving lure chasing it from behind, thus missing the leader with their very sharp teeth if your lure is moving fast. A small trace of wire can be added ahead of your bait to reduce cut offs, but in some cases the keen vision of the toothy mackerel can reduce the number of strikes. Also, if you see pelicans diving on bait and then holding their bills down in the water to strain the water from the smaller baitfish before swallowing, you are in the right spot.
The Flounder run is on with good catches being reported from both Port Canaveral and Sebastian. Anglers utilizing jigs, live finger mullet or mud minnows fished on the bottom are experiencing the best results. My favorite technique is to slow drift the Inlet passes; bouncing DOA jigs combined with a 3″ DOA CAL Shad Tail on the bottom. This tactic allows you to cover more ground, and once you have located a hot spot, you can anchor your boat and concentrate on the area. If you anchor and there is a lot of current, use a heaver jig and make your cast up current and bounce your jig off the bottom as it drifts back. Flounder season opens December 1st.
Further off the beach kingfish can be found shadowing bait pods outside the Inlets. Either slow troll live baits on steel stinger rigs, or try dropping live baits into schools of bait in deeper water. This bite should continue if water temperatures remain above 74 degrees. As we progress into winter, the kingfish will move out to the near-shore reefs where the water temperatures are warmer.
Tripletail and Cobia
December and January are also the month when tripletail become a primary target on the Port Canaveral buoy line, and as the water cools the bite should improve. When water temperatures drop below 70 degrees, look for cobia on weed-lines, near-shore wrecks, buoys, and other structure. Once the water temperatures drop below 68 degrees, target cobia on the deeper wrecks and hard bottom where the water is a bit warmer. Some cobia will remain on the deeper reef and wrecks all winter, but most will follow the warm water south and then return on their northern migration in March when the water begins to warm up. In some cases, we experience a mid-winter warm spell and the cobia will move in from their deeper winter hideouts and we will have a mid-winter cobia run, but these occasions are infrequent. You just must keep a close eye on the weather and water temps, 68 to 72 degrees.
Inshore Trout, Redfish and Black Drum
On the inshore flats, both redfish and sea trout will remain in the skinny water as long as the water temperatures stay in the seventies. Fish in protected areas and sunny spots on cooler days, and look for fish to be holding in sand spots (potholes) until the sun gets overhead.
As always, if you have any questions or need more information, please contact me.
Captain Tom Van Horn
Mosquito Coast Fishing Charters
407-416-1187 on the water