By Capt. Rick Grassett
You may find reds along with big trout concentrated in potholes, along the edges of bars or tailing on shallow grass flats on negative low tides this month. This is a good month for catch and release snook action around lighted docks in the Intracoastal Waterway. Some lights will also have trout and reds making it possible to get a dock “slam.
There may also be some action in the coastal gulf with tripletail, depending on conditions.
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 to 19 inches with one allowed per vessel over 19 inches. I feel that it’s important to protect these larger trout, which are usually female breeders.
Snook remains closed to harvest in the Charlotte Harbor area.
Full regulations and details can be viewed at myfwc.com.
Catch-and-release snook fishing around lighted docks at night can be good in December and January, unless it gets too cool. I won’t target snook following a strong cold front or if the water temperature dips below 60 degrees. Since they may be stressed at that time.
However, it can be very good under normal conditions. Larger baitfish will thin out and snook will gorge themselves on glass minnows and small shrimp in the ICW at night. I like docks that have a good tidal flow and deep water under them. Fly anglers should do well with sink tip fly lines and small white flies, like my Grassett Snook Minnow. Shrimp Gurglers on floating lines may work well when snook are chasing shrimp in the lights. Fish peak tidal flows for the fastest action.
You may find reds in potholes or along the edges of flats and bars when the tide is low. They may also tail on shallow grass flats of lower Tampa Bay or Gasparilla Sound on negative low tides. Lightly weighted flies, like my Grassett Flats Minnow, will work well in that situation. Weed guards are also important when targeting reds on shallow grass. Spoon flies are another good choice when hunting for reds although you may need to add a small (#10) black barrel swivel ahead of your bite tippet to prevent twist in your leader depending on the style of spoon fly you use — some will wobble while others may spin if stripped fast.
You may also find reds around docks this month. Use a sink tip fly line and a weighted fly to get your fly into the strike zone for reds. You may find big trout in skinny water this month in many of the same areas where you find reds. The same flies and techniques that I use for reds will also work for trout in the same areas.
You should also find trout on deep grass flats this month along with blues, Spanish mackerel, flounder or pompano. Blues and mackerel will sometimes feed on the surface in the bay, so bird activity may give their presence away. Pompano may skip when you drift or run past them and when that happens, circle back upwind and drift through the area casting ahead of your drift. Flounder prefer a mix of sand and grass, particularly in potholes or on the edges of bars. Fly anglers should score with sink tip fly lines and weighted flies, like Ultra Hair Clousers or my Grassett Deep Flats Bunny fly, which behaves like a jig with a shad tail.
I tie Ultra Hair Clousers on long shank hooks, leaving a portion of the hook shank exposed, when toothy fish are around. I like the shallow flats of the south shore of Tampa Bay and Gasparilla Sound for reds and trout and deep grass flats that are close to passes, on points and along sand bars for trout, blues, flounder and pompano this time of year.
There should still be some action in the coastal gulf with Spanish mackerel, blues, false albacore and tripletail. Look for terns either diving or hovering low over the surface of the water to find albies, blues and mackerel feeding just below the surface. Once you’ve found them, cast glass minnow fly patterns, poppers or Crease flies to them. Fly poppers may draw fish to the surface, especially over structure.
You’ll need to add wire or heavy fluorocarbon to your leader when blues and mackerel are around. Look for tripletail around crab trap floats or channel markers. Once you’ve located a fish, work back into the wind or current with an electric trolling motor to get into casting range and cast a lightly weighted fly to them.
Weed guards are important to avoid hooking the crab trap lines.
There should be lots of options this month, although weather becomes more of a factor. When conditions are good, I like to fish the coastal gulf for tripletail or albies.
If you’re able to choose when to fish, fish ahead of fronts or on the strongest tides for the best action. Shallow-water action can be very good on low winter tides.