How cold does it have to get before fish stop biting?  Generally speaking, when cold fronts arrive in the winter, the initial significant drop in temperatures signals the end of productive fishing for a few days. With inshore water temperatures likely dropping at least ten degrees in the last week, fish such as redfish and trout won't be real interested in eating until temperatures stabilize..  Although the temperature range going forward will average lower, a new normal will be established and fish will eat at these lower temperatures...usually once warmer weather starts to return and a slight uptick in temperatures is seen. Many Tampa Fishing Guides can attest to the fact that large schools of trout and redfish, that have been located after these fronts, simply swim away from live baits, such as select shrimp, that are dropped right on their noses.  It's not hard to understand when thought about from a human perspective though. If someone was thrown into an icy lake, their focus would be to get out and get warm long before the thought of "what's for dinner".

Clearwater Winter FishingSo, with this said, what fishing opportunities present themselves in January? While most Tampa Fishing Guides will simply talk their customers into canceling on the coldest days, for the customer that just has to go, there is always one fish that will eat...the Sheepshead. Jetties, bridge abutments and other rocky, oyster-filled areas will usually hold these fish in the winter and any crustacean will get their attention.  Oftentimes, fishermen with go to these areas with a bucket of crushed oysters (or bring a hoe to knock resident oysters off these structures) to create a sheepshead chum slick.  Drop a weighted shrimp to the bottom next to the structure and wait. The sheepshead bite is a sharp thump generally.  Be ready to react as they are excellent bait stealers. 

As temperatures begin to warm a bit, seatrout will became the target of choice.  The bad news about strong cold fronts is that they shut off the bite. The good news is that they bring in a fresh batch of trout. Winter warming trends can offer spectacular fishing with some Tampa Fishing Charters producing 20 to 40 big trout in just a four hour trip. Although these fish are among the smaller gamefish targeted during the year, the action level is high (good family fishing), the fish caught are the largest trout of the year and a plate of Panko fried trout is hard to beat. Cooler waters may have chased whitebait away for a while so select shrimp will likely be the bait of choice in the near term.

Once a large trout limit is secured, most Tampa / Clearwater Fishing Charters will try and add a redfish or two to the fillet pile. The approach to winter redfishing is different than during the warmer months.  Methodically fishing residential docks is probably the most dependable approach as, even if legal fish aren't encountered, usually under-slot (rat) redfish are found.  They still pull reasonably hard and add a little variety to the trip.  Another technique is to pothole fish on the flats on the lower phases the tide...hoping a few quality fish have dropped into these holes to wait for incoming water.  On some days, the technique produces a few quality fish. Sheepshead and black drum can also be caught on the docks, as long as shrimp is used as both of these species prefer crustaceans. There is always the chance to hook other stray species while chasing trout....bluefish, Spanish mackerel and jack crevalle will show up from time to time.

Cold Water Fishing for Snook and Redfish in TampaDuring stretches of warm winter weather, snook can occasionally be caught up in some of the residential canals and bayous.  Over the last month, several midsize fish were caught.  The recent cold has probably put an end to this near term but fish will return once they are convinced that they won't be frozen out again. Whitebait is the best approach on these fish as chumming with this bait is often what turns on less active fish.  A large shrimp, hooked thru the horn and floated under a bobber will occasionally be rewarded as well.  

There are numerous other activities to take part in this time of year. First, if you'd like a day outdoors in a beautiful and historical environment, visit Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay. If you're preference leans more toward drinking beer, join one of Tampa Bay's biggest Parties and take part in the pirate invasion know as Gasparilla, on January 27th. Good luck and good fishing.








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