The winter months bring a very volatile weather pattern that can make it hard to plan a trip but can also bring some of the best sight fishing conditions we get all year for redfish. Fooling a fish with either a fly or artificial and getting to watch it unfold is the most addictive scenario in flats fishing. Sight fishing in Tampa Bay is better throughout winter months because the cooler temperatures do two things 1. It prevents any sort of algae bloom from occurring or kills of any existing bloom 2. All of the grass that thrives in the summer months either shortens or dies off, giving the fish less to hide in ultimately.
Redfish feed with much more aggression and ultimately seem less focused on what’s happening around them when targeting them during a stronger tide. We all try to plan our days around good tide days but sometimes the wind can play a major roll and blow more water out of the bay (making the tide lower then projected and delay the incoming) or just the opposite. With more water moving, they’re more focused on the transition and what food might be in their path. As fish stage and wait for the tide to begin, they are much more sensitive to anything happening around them.
Example: Pre-front days have big south winds that bring the tide in much higher than projected and if we originally had a half moon incoming only supposed to rise to 1.2 ft, it could even reach a 3.0 depending on the strength of the wind. It can have a dramatic roll on your day and even the nasty ones can be worth fishing!
Visibility when sight fishing is the most important variable and in our cooler months, the sun is tilted to the south creating incredible visibility looking north. We all know the sun rises in the east so looking west/north-west is our best angle at the start of the day and east/north-east as the day comes to an end. Ultimately, we are always putting the sun at our backs and that may even mean working into the wind. Normally we get some clear skies 2-3 days after a front pushes through that give/provide the best light/sky conditions an angler can ask for!
Knowing where they want to go helps but without that knowledge it helps to spend little bits of time on points or depressions (knowing there is tidal flow). On an incoming tide, redfish will use depressions and round points to work their way to the shoreline and it can be used to our advantage. When/If the fish finally show, it’s good practice to ask yourself where they came from and where are they going for the novice/beginner so that the approach/position can be altered in the future! Productive flats to fish are always indicated by the birds and the species of bird often tell us whats under the sand/mud. Negative low tides expose these places, show us the topography, and tell us which flats are productive!
Speckled Seatrout have been littered everywhere on the flats and it’s incredible to see the numbers rebound after the season has been closed almost 4 years in May. The bigger fish have been on the flats and are a little different animal than when we find them in deeper water. Long casts and longer leaders are essential! Most of the time, they’re apt to eat our redfish flies and artificials. When targeted, they’re suckers for jerk baits and their mood or the bottom will determine whether we use an 1/8 oz jig head or a 1/8 oz weighted weedless hook.
Snook have been coming out of the cracks on days where the water approaches 70 degrees and most of the time aggressive because of the stimulating warmer water. With Spring knocking on the door, they’re going to begin feeding heavily as the water temperatures reach and stay closer to their comfort zone. They will be littered all over the flats just adjacent to deep water where they can seek refuge when the temperatures drop back down with passing cold fronts.