By Rick Grassett
You may find reds and big trout concentrated in potholes on low tides this month. Action with trout, blues, Spanish mackerel, pompano and more on deep grass flats can be good, depending on conditions. There should also be good catch-and-release snook action in rivers, creeks and canals, although fishing docks for snook and other species is also a good option.
It may be worth checking the coastal gulf for tripletail, false albacore (little tunny) and more if it’s warm.
Spotted seatrout has reopened to harvest in southwest Florida with a three-fish-per-person bag limit and a six fish boat limit. Trout must be from 15 inches to 19 inches with one allowed per vessel larger than 19 inches. In my opinion it’s important to protect larger trout, which are usually female breeders. Snook remains closed to harvest in the Charlotte Harbor area. Full regulations and details for all species can be viewed at myfwc.com.
Use tackle heavy enough to catch and release snook quickly with as little handling as possible. Since snook are temperature sensitive, I won’t target them if the water temperature dips below 60 degrees. However, fishing lighted docks in the Intracoastal Waterway at night with flies can be very good this time of year.
I often also find big bluefish mixed with snook, particularly around bridges. Small white flies, like my Grassett Snook Minnow, Gurglers and shrimp fly patterns fished on intermediate sink tip fly lines should work well. Fish peak tidal flows for the best action.
You should also find snook in rivers, creeks and canals this month. Fish deeper water in outside bends to locate snook where you may catch them with wide profile flies fished on sink tip fly lines. You may also find reds, tarpon and even largemouth bass in the same areas depending on salinity.
Reds should be a good option this month. You’ll find them concentrated in potholes when the tide is low. Fly anglers should score with lightly weighted flies fished on a 10- to 12-pound leader with a floating fly line. Reds feed on crustaceans this time of the year, so crab and shrimp fly patterns should work well. They may tail on shallow grass flats of Gasparilla Sound, and lower Tampa Bay when the tide is low.
You’ll need flies with weed guards when targeting tailing reds since they are usually in thick turtle grass.
You may also find reds around docks, along with snook, sheepshead, flounder and more. Little Sarasota Bay has numerous oyster bars and docks that often hold reds, snook and sheepshead in January. Use floating fly lines and lightly weighted flies to fish around oyster bars and sink tip fly lines to fish docks. You’re likely to find big trout in many of the same areas that you find reds. The same flies and techniques that are used for reds will also work for big trout.
You may also find trout on deep grass flats along with blues, Spanish mackerel, pompano, flounder and more depending on conditions. I like to drift and cast ahead of my drift with Ultra Hair Clouser or my Grassett Deep Flats Bunny flies fished on an intermediate sink tip fly line.
Since trout can sometimes hold very tight to a particular spot or area, try to cover as much water as possible to find them. Once you’ve located fish you can shorten your drift or anchor on them. My favorite deep grass flats all have a good mix of grass and sand with a strong tidal flow.
Even though there may not be much happening in the coastal gulf this month in the way of sight fishing it may be worth a look when it is warm. Migratory species such as king and Spanish mackerel, cobia and tripletail probably have moved further south, however they could reappear during warm ups. Also look for false albacore (little tunny) when it’s warm since they may move from offshore to inshore depending on where baitfish are located.
This can be one of the toughest months of the year to fish. However, if you are able to choose when to fish based on tides and weather, it can be good. Action is usually good as weather fronts approach. Following fronts, fishing may be tough for a couple of days so afternoons may fish better then.
I’ll let the stage of the tide determine where to look for fish. When the tide is low, look for reds tailing on shallow grass or reds, trout and more in potholes or around docks. Look for reds or big trout cruising on shallow grass flats on sunny afternoons when the tide is high.