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On the Water: With cooler weather, shrimp becomes the best bait

By Staff | Dec 13, 2017

Warm weather brought good inshore fishing for sea trout over the past week. Roger Long of Cape Coral had  a good morning of action, including this 22-inch trout. He was fishing in Matlacha Pass with Capt. Bill Russell. PHOTO PROVIDED

There are two times I look forward to each year fishing: first, when the water warms after winter and bait fish return to our waters, and second, when the water cools to the point as we approach the winter season that the bait fish vacate our inshore waters. I love fishing live bait through the warms months, but it’s a lot of work and time consuming netting them, not to mention the mess you start the day with.

December is that month when the transition begins and shrimp become the primary diet for most inshore fish. With the exception of mullet, there are not any fish I can think of in our coastal waters that won’t eat a shrimp; in fact, shrimp is the mainstay for most inshore species diet. When the water cools to the point that the bait fish leave our shallow inshore waters, then shrimp becomes the go-to bait.

As the water temperature drops, it should give a big boost for catching sheepshead – big fish move inshore with the lower temperatures and in good numbers. Look for them, with many scaling over 5 pounds, hanging around structure, including dock and bridge pilings, rock jetties along the beach, on oyster bars and most nearshore artificial reefs within sight of land. Most anglers fish shrimp on a jighead or a small, very sharp hook with just enough weight to reach the bottom. If you don’t mind fishing in the cold, then this is your fish – the colder the better for sheepshead.

Pompano are similar to sheepshead in the fact that they will not eat any type of bait fish, but feed primarily on small crustaceans including shrimp, crabs, sand fleas, etc. Small nylon jigs tipped with a small piece of shrimp can be deadly on pompano when properly bounced across the bottom. Popular colors are white, pink and yellow. Silly Willy jigs have also gained a lot of popularity. Both sheepshead and pompano have relatively small mouths so it is important not to use to large of a hook. If you are unsure of the size, stop in at your local tackle shop and let them hook you up.

Inshore sea trout fishing was good in November and should remain steady through the month. Look for fish moving off the shallow grass flats to deeper protected areas as temperatures drop with arriving cold fronts. Deep areas around oyster bars, creeks, canals and potholes are good areas to target. Redfish and snook can be found from the same area, plus larger reds can be sight-fished on the lower tides over shallow flats adjacent to deeper water. Again, shrimp is the best bait, either the real thing or any of the many imitations.

Offshore, look for action with mixed species around nearshore reefs. Bottom dwellers like sheepshead, snapper, flounder, grouper, grunts, pompano and permit are a good possibility. Also, Spanish and king mackerel, barracuda, big snook and cobia are likely to get in on the action at any time.

As the craziness of the holiday season builds, there is no place like a day on the water to get away from the madness.

There will be some great fishing opportunities as we end the year, but even if the fish aren’t biting, I still can’t think of a better place to spend the day.

If you have a fishing report or for charter information, please contact us at Gulf Coast Guide Service at 239-283-7960, on the Web at www.fishpineisland.com or email gcl2fish@live.com.

Holiday Gift Certificates are now available!

Have a safe week and good fishin’.

As a native of Pine Island, Bill Russell has spent his entire life fishing and learning the waters surrounding Pine Island and as a professional fishing guide for the past 18 years.