The cold causes trout and redfish to abandon flats and move into the somewhat warmer potholes, and sustained cold can be fatal to one of our prized game fish, snook.
Nearshore grouper fishing suffered a temporary setback this week as temperatures plunged, and many retreated to depths of 80 feet and more. Those that stayed aren't interested in eating.
We caught a couple dozen silver trout Tuesday, and though they are not generally considered very temperature conscious, those we caught were a bit lethargic. Tipping tandem-rigged jigs with squid or shrimp can help. When fishing along the gulf beaches for silvers, use your depth recorder to help locate the most productive areas. We found more fish in 16 feet off Redington Beach than in the usually productive 12-14 feet depths.
For those willing and safely able to get offshore, amberjack are ready to rumble on springs, reefs and wrecks in more than 100 feet. On Wednesday, B.J. Young wore out his clients battling amberjack while drifting a wreck in 150 feet southwest of Pass-a-Grille. If you go, live bait is a must, the bigger the better. Blue runners would be the first choice if you can find them. Pinfish will do, as will many others so long as they are frisky. When fishing far from shore, catching and caging bait the day before your trip can get you a head start.
On cold days, don't overlook Tampa Bay. The warm water run-offs from power plants are a good bet during winter, but they are often overcrowded.
From the Sunshine Skyway running inside the bay, several miles of the shipping channel are lined with a defined rocky edge. This time of year many species roam that edge looking to ambush a meal. Sheepshead will often cruise the edges, using it as their highway to the gulf to spawn. Key West grunts are a mainstay and can often be caught with pieces of squid.
Some mangrove snapper hang out all year, but whitebait, their favorite, can be rare in the winter. Shrimp is a good alternative for bait and also draws strikes from flounder, sea bass, sheepshead, triggerfish and other bottom fish along the ledges.
Not all grouper leave the bay in cold weather. Patient anglers can often lure a keeper or two out of the rocks with a dead sardine or cut shad.