The weather so far this month has been typical – cool one day and warm the next. Water temperatures have dropped into the 70s and leveled off in the mid-60-degree range. That’s perfect water temperature to fish the creeks and rivers that empty out into Tampa Bay.
The bite in South Shore waters is a bit slow a day or two following the passage of a cool front, but then it picks up after a few days until the passage of the next one.
Our most consistent bite has been small redfish. Most are in the 15- to 18-inch range but occasionally we do get one that measures 18 to 27. We’ve been catching redfish in all parts of the South Shore area – from Bishop Harbor north to around Apollo Beach.
A good tactic to use is to drift past the many oyster bars, mangrove shorelines and sandy potholes that dot the grassy areas along the shore line. This is a great time of year to use your favorite artificial bait. One of mine is either a 1/4-ounce or 1/2-ounce gold spoon. This seems to do the trick for me.
My other favorite is a soft plastic tail. DOA out of Stewart has a great assortment to choose from. My favorite color is white but don’t be afraid to switch up if a particular color isn’t working. The general rule of thumb when selecting a color is to use dark colors in dark water and lighter colors in clear waters.
If you’re fishing with live bait, try approaching your spot with the wind at your back so that you arrive with the least amount of noise. If one spot doesn’t work, move on to the next and repeat the process until you find fish. Moving just 75 yards can make a big difference in your catch ratio. It’s all about being quiet and moving to the next group of fish.
Shrimp seem to work best right now. Remember that as the water gets cooler fish like a slow presentation of either live or artificial baits.
This is the time of year that big sheepshead school up for their spawn. Sheepshead seek out structure, such as rock piles, bridge pilings or deeper mangrove shore lines. The best bait is shrimp or clams with a little bit of weight on the line. The weight allows the bait to sink deeper into the water column.
Set up in an area of deeper water that has some type of structure, then cast the bait toward the structure and hold the line tight. When a sheepshead bites, you will feel just a slight tapping on the line. When you feel the repeated taps, pull your line tight and hold on. Remember to take plenty of bait. You’ll need it for these fish. The old saying about sheepshead is, “If you feel the bite you’re too late.” Chances are your bait is gone.
The South Shore waters of Tampa Bay have some of the best fishing Florida has to offer, and December and January can be great months for fishing as long as it doesn’t get too cold. If you can, get out and enjoy this great place we call home.
Danny Guarino is one of three Ruskin-based fishing guides and charter captains who share this column. He can be reached at (813) 956-2010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.