By RICK R. FRAZIER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 14, 2001
It is wintertime and it's cold, but there are plenty of fish around. Just dust off those waders and go.
Waders are the way to go when the water drops into the 50s, as it has. They are a little more cumbersome than wading with tennis shoes or wading boots, but they are a lot warmer.
Waders come in several styles from a short hip type to a chest/bib overall style. The hip wader is great for warm days when you will be in shallow water 1-2 feet deep. It's light and easy to walk in.
Chest or bib styles are better for deeper water and providing warmth. Waders made out of neoprene rubber, like divers' wet suits, are much warmer than soft-rubber waders. The neoprene is tight around the body, making it easier to walk than soft baggy styles. Neoprene also is more durable than soft rubber and won't develop cracks in the joints, where waders bend.
Chest waders come with or without boots. Either style works, but I like the boots for simplicity.
Whenever wearing waders, be cautious of the environment. They can fill with water in a deep hole and drag you down. It's always a good idea to wear a belt with the soft-rubber chest style to keep the waders snug.
Wading vests that carry tackle are handy and work well with waders. Most everything you need for wading can be stored in the pockets of these vests. There are several lengths available -- get one that fits your height and doesn't drag in the water, soaking expensive plugs and tackle.
Low tide is best in the winter. The tides are lower than normal, making it easier to read the water. Potholes, small cuts, troughs and oyster beds are exposed, making them easy to find. Low tide also confines fish in these small areas. When you find a place that holds fish, you usually won't have to move.
Some of the better areas are Fort De Soto Park, Weedon Island and Pinellas Point.
Fort De Soto is a wading angler's paradise. Mangrove islands, lush grass flats and deep potholes attract a variety of inshore species such as flounder, pompano and the big three: trout, redfish and snook. This area was used for a military bombing range years ago, and there are plenty of potholes to target. These holes are easy to find -- the park has put up signs warning people of possible hazards. Flounder lie on the sandy bottom of the holes, and trout hide on the grassy edges.
Light one-eighth ounce jigs are the best bet for artificials in the holes. If the water is dark, a motor-oil, strawberry or root-beer tail is the way to go. If it's clear, a pearl or white tail may bring more strikes.
For redfish and snook, check both sides of County Road 693 just north of the Bunces Pass Bridge. Look for head wakes, tails and anything out of the ordinary to locate fish.
Gold spoons are the ticket near the bridge. The trick to using a gold spoon in this shallow water is to begin reeling before the spoon hits the water. The spoon won't sink into the grass and get fouled. Keep the spoon just beneath the surface.
Work the beaches of Mullet Key for pompano with a heavy one-half to three-quarter ounce jig. The key is to produce a puff of sand when the jig hits bottom. Yellow or white tails are a good bet. If you don't mind carrying a bait bucket, live shrimp is always a good choice. Free-lined is best, but add a small split-shot for flounder and pompano.
Weedon Island is a snook haven now, and plenty can be caught at the right time. During these cold months, afternoon low tide is good because the water and linesiders have warmed. Concentrate on the west side of the island north of the pier. Floating crankbaits are great, and green-back, gold and silver patterns are good. Work the mangrove shoreline and oyster bars slowly. These fish aren't going to use much energy for a small meal, so leave the bait in their faces longer. Pinellas Point is loaded with oyster bars, docks, grass flats and holes from Bay Vista Park to the west along the point. There are trout along the edges of the grass, reds around the oyster beds and snook under the docks. Flounder are along the sandy edges as well, and don't be surprised if a cobia swims past.
The most versatile bait in this area is a jig. It can be bounced along the bottom or retrieved along the surface. The lightest weight you can cast accurately would be best.
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