At this point, with the combination of weather changes and the holiday season, I’d have my gear ready and waiting for those few short openings. By that, I mean waiting between the fronts for those perfect days that make living in southwest Florida special. And even though I need at least a sweatshirt , now I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn. In fact, I like to wait till late morning to let the sun warm things up. Like last month, I’ll continue working the same pattern; but now, I’ll even push farther up my favorite backcountry creek systems.
Basically, I’m following the fish. With reduced rain and cooler water, salinity and oxygen increases back here providing good habitat as well as a refuge from the windswept open flats. Also, after a cool night the sun will warm the shallow water over the darker mud and sand bottom quicker here than on open flats. The combination of low clear water will increase sight-fishing opportunities as there isn’t enough water for fish to get deep into the mangroves.
I like a late morning or early afternoon incoming tide coming off a negative low. Fish will work their way with the tide to warm up and feed. I’ll look for them laid up off the shoreline in deeper sand depressions. If there’s enough water, I’ll still pole shorelines, but it’s the sand holes off the shoreline that hold the best numbers of fish.
The baitfish so prevalent most of the year is scarce. Scaled sardines migrate offshore looking for more stable water temperature. Being a natural nursery, these estuarine creek systems provide a decent array of prey albeit of a smaller source like silversides, killifish, shrimp, and crabs. As a result, I’ll throw small, #1 or #2, baitfish and shrimp patterns.
Most days, dealing with a strong northeast breeze, I like to work areas that provide as much lee as possible. Out of Punta Gorda, I like to concentrate within Charlotte Harbor State Park on the east side between Alligator Creek and Pirate Harbor. Here, the labyrinth of creek systems can keep me busy all winter. I’ll even push as far back as the mosquito ditches. North, towards the top of the harbor, I also like extensive area that includes the Myakka Cutoff, Tippecanoe Bay and Muddy Cove.
Sheepshead are a good bet around docks and piers. If the wind is really cranking, the Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte canals hold good numbers. When calm, the artificial reef outside Alligator Creek is a great spot. Cut shrimp works well.
Lastly, when the wind permits, take a run over to the hard bottom off Cape Haze Point where pompano like to hang out and get in a few cast with a ¼ ounce Nylure jig.