© St. Petersburg Times, published January 6, 2002
Though bay and gulf water temperatures are in the 60s, there's probably no better time for wading anglers.
Why, you ask? Well, it's mainly because of the tides. In winter, some of the lowest tides occur, exposing deep pockets or depressions that aren't normally seen. Spotted sea trout (speckled trout), red and black drum, flounder, snook and even sheepshead drop into these hollows for security and sustenance when the water drops off the flats.
The three or four days surrounding full and new moon periods are the time to find these hiding places. The lowest tides happen then.
Do a little scouting to find the productive holes. Look for ones thick with turtle grass and especially ones that have small feeder creeks that fill and drain the hole. (These creeks are great locations during high water periods as well.) Another way to locate fertile holes is to watch for diving birds. Brown and/or white pelicans give it away. So will least terns and a good concentration of cormorants.
Timing is the key to catching fish there. If the hole is drained too much the fish will have moved out. If the water is too deep the fish might not be there either. Getting to the hole at the right time requires a precise tide table. It's hard to go wrong two hours before low tide.
Artificial or natural baits draw strikes if presented correctly. Live shrimp is best for natural bait. Fiddler or rock crabs also work as will worms, but both are hard to obtain unless you know where to dig a bunch.
Freelining shrimp is the best technique unless the hole is too thick with grass. In that case, use a small cigar float to suspend the bait just above the grass. It doesn't matter if the shrimp are hooked through the head or tail. Sometimes, even fresh dead shrimp work if the water is extremely cold. Gamefish don't like to exert much energy for little nourishment when water conditions are not favorable. Chumming with little pieces of shrimp is a good idea.
Floating or diving topwater baits are good artificials as long as they are worked slowly. Light jigs dressed with a shad body or slug tail also produce. Imitation shrimp lures work too.
Natural color patterns are best for hard-body lures. Greenback, red head and white body are good choices. Root beer with red glitter, strawberry and electric chicken are excellent choices for jig tails. Fake shrimp in a clear body with red glitter and glow-in-the-dark color get the job done.
When targeting these holes, stealth is a must. The water is probably less than 3 feet and any unnatural noise will give the fish lockjaw. Try to approach upwind and have the sun in your face to keep from casting a shadow.
Since most of these holes are without structure that cut your line, 10-pound test line with a 20-pound leader is substantial. Lighter line can be used, but a decent size snook or cobia might be hanging in the hole to give you the surprise of your life.
Chest waders are a good idea if the air and water temperature are too much to bear. They'll help insulate from the cold, but they're also a hassle to walk in. Usually, wading or diving boots are all you need, especially if all the water has dropped off the flats.
-- Capt. Rick Frazier runs Lucky Dawg Charters out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 510-4376. If you've had a great day fishing from land and want to share it, contact the LUBBERLINE at (727) 893-8775 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.