December has been so good to us with what seems to be some of the nicest days of the year coming 2-3 days after a cold front pushes through our area. Post front conditions bring cooler air and brings blue bird skies which gives us optimal sight fishing conditions for redfish and spotted sea trout. When the water temperature drops below the 65 degree mark, the water in the bay becomes crystal clear and we have to start to down size everything to entice the fish into cooperating when sight fishing. Now due to angling pressure, I’m beginning to notice fish seeing heavier diameter butt and mid sections in tapered leaders along with the braid even when tied to a fluorocarbon leader. In order to get around this, we have to begin to fish longer leaders than normal and constructing them our of almost entirely fluorocarbon. This will not only aid with visibility but it helps more with keeping the fly and leader on or close to the bottom. The biggest obstacle we encounter when sight fishing with artificials is knowing where the lure/jig is located and it can be avoided by using high visibility braid. Long leaders are a must as a lot of times we see redfish group up on or around moon phases and with the clean water, they can be especially spooky.

Now that we are in the full swing of winter and the water temperatures are consistently in the 60’s, redfish will be primarily concentrating on 3 things that will make up their diet for the next couple months. Lug worms, mud crabs, and mantis shrimp are the big three and they all live their lives in mud/sand/grass that makes up the majority of the shoreline that surrounds Tampa Bay. What that tells us, is how we are going to be stripping and presenting our fly. On the bottom and SLOW is the recipe for making it look real in our winter months. Fish that are moving/transitioning on or off the flat are going to be our best targets because it will allow us to lay everything way out in front of the fish without him noticing, making it his idea. The most common mistake for fly anglers is to strip too fast when a fish turns to eat the fly (nothing we’re imitating moves quick and if anything burrows into the bottom when threatened/retreating). Artificial anglers do best with either a 1/8th to a 1/4 ounce jig slowly dragged on the bottom or lightly hopped when sight fishing. The goal when selecting any fly or artificial for a flat is to match the color of the bottom. Everything on the flat that makes up a redfish’s diet in the winter months is going to be camouflaged.

Coming across stationary redfish is a regular occurrence and the term used a lot is “laid up.” This behavior is something they do for a couple different reasons but actually something they are forced to do when everything is living on the bottom. Due to the fact that everything they eat lives in the sand/grass/mud this time of year, they are forced to stop and survey for any movement or disturbance. Nothing on the menu is big and rarely exceeds a quarter size making it a challenge for even predators to find, especially when buried. Fly anglers are almost always met with frustration on stationary fish but light tackle anglers are often rewarded because of their ability to softly bring their jig from a distance into play. In the moment, waiting for the fish to move is always the best call but every situation is different. So take your time, go slow, and have fun!

Spotted Sea Trout fishing has been the best it’s been in a while due to the season being closed for almost 4 years in May. There are nice fish littered everywhere on the flats and when trying to target redfish, it can almost make it more challenging because they’re spooking into our normal target. Shallow water trout demand a long cast and a soft presentation. They will hop all over a crab fly or lightly weighted clouser minnow when moving but become almost un-catchable when stationary. Light tackle anglers have no problem targeting/catching trout in shallow water because of their ability to make longer casts and cover more water. Leaders in the 12-15 pound range are pretty standard this time of year and 1/8-1/4 oz jig heads with either a paddle tail or jerk bait is hard to beat.

Winter fishing has it’s up and downs due to the weather and how volatile it can seem. Just after the front we can always count on big north winds and sometimes it’s unbearable and on other occasions, it can be epic. Two things happen post front when timed with new/full moon low tides. 1. The tide continues to go out longer than projected 2. The tide gets MUCH lower than projected. Tides that were supposed to reach the -0.1 foot mark could potentially reach -1.1 depending on the strength of the wind and it’s direction. Getting out on these lower than projected tides, gives us a better understanding of where the holes and depressions of the area we are fishing and often times, it’s the only spot the fish can be! We’ve all heard the term, “fishing in a barrel.” With all that being said, the opposite can happen just before the front, when we receive a big south wind and high tide!