What a winter we have had. I've found myself wearing sandals and shorts more often than not on recent charters as we edge into December, but as we head into mid-month and beyond, I look for the weather to swing toward the colder side.
Colder weather means water temperature will start to dip closer to the low 60s, and some species of fish will move into deeper canals and troughs and hug the bottom looking for warmer water columns.
This isn't bad; the cooler temperatures tend to put some urgency for fish to feed a bit more.
Fishing the deeper water columns around the rivers and docks will be a very productive method to use throughout the winter. The bait of choice is still greenbacks, which continue to hang around in the bay. Most range markers and towers are holding schools of bait, but for some reason the bait has remained smaller than normal this year. So I've had to stick with throwing my 10-foot, ¼-inch mesh net.
As the weather continues to cool, look for bait fish to push toward the mouth of Tampa Bay and hug the Sunshine Skyway fishing pier.
When fishing on cooler days, it's a good idea to move fishing trips later into the day. Sun is your friend, and you can see a five- to six-degree warm-up on the shallow flats just from the sun beating down.
Another great tip is to fish spots that have sunshine if it's a cool day. Snook love to come from the deeper waters and lie up on the banks and soak up the heat. If you choose to throw artificial baits, this is the absolute best time of year to do so.
Trout fishing has been great this year using both artificial and live bait, and as the bait eventually pushes offshore it will only get better. I know I sound like a broken record when giving my recommendation for the bait of choice, but I don't like to venture off from what works.
My favorite bait to throw for trout this time of year is the 4-inch paddlerZ or 3-inch Shrimpz by Zman matched with either an 1/8-ounce or ¼-ounce jighead, depending on the water depth. When fishing shallow waters with lots of grass, shift to the 5-inch StreakZ Texas rigged to keep from getting hung in the grass.
Sheepshead are also starting to move into the bay. Capt. Danny Guarino did some sheepshead fishing last week and said the fish weren't real thick but are starting to show up. Guarino said that by the end of January they will be on just about every piling and wreck throughout Tampa Bay. There are many ways to fish for them but I like to keep it simple: a Daiichi No. 1 circle hook matched with a small shrimp and the adequate weight to keep it down.