by Capt. Butch Rickey
florida fishing reports
It was another abbreviated work week, but a week of great fun with some great guys, fishing cold water with artificials.
The week began Sunday with John Ford, over from Delray Beach. We'd been blown out by the big cold front that had come through a few days earlier, and it looked like Sunday would be a descent weather day. But, with the water at 58 degrees, I wasn't real confident that we'd find much that would actually be willing to chase a bait down.
We took off at 0730 hrs. and headed over to the A span to look around for bait just for kicks. I did not expect to find any, and I wasn't disappointed. It didn't take long to realize we'd be better of thrashing the water with lures, instead of a castnet.
It was a cold, but gorgeous morning. The wind had just disappeared, and the water was like a mirror as we headed to our first stop of the day. I had hopes that we could dig some redfish and trout out of the deep, mud bottom waters. But, we were met mostly with lockjaw. Oh, there were plenty of fish there, and we got to see them. Several times large pods of big snook rose from the bottom like surfacing submarines dead in the water. They were not moving, just quietly rising to about a foot or so under the surface in order to soak up some sunshine. The first several times I saw the fish John couldn't see them. He was wearing prescription sunglasses, and the polarization may not have been as good as you find in Costa Del Mars.
We did manage to catch several small redfish, and nice trout, and a small snapper or two mostly on Rattletraps, but we were never able to get the fish to quit shivering and chase a meal. But, toward the end of our time there, another large pod of snook rose from the bottom right beside the boat, and John saw those fish for sure. And, once he'd seen them he had an easier time of seeing more. It's quite a sight!
With the sun up over the treetops and warming the flats, that exactly where we headed. We were going to fish the skinny water. And, it was skinny, flat, and gin clear. We were very visible. So, were the fish. And, we had redfish literally in every direction you looked, and lots of them. There were also lots of big trout mostly laying around the edges of potholes, but some were up in the shallows sunning as well.
Our problem was that we couldn't get close to the fish without moving them. I decided to tie on a Mirrolure Top Dog, which would solve two problems; staying out of the grass, and getting out to the fish without spooking them. As blown away as John seemed to be with all the fish he'd seen, I think he was even more blown away with the distance I could cast a Top Dog with my G Loomis Greenwater rod and Stella 3000 spooled with 15# Power Pro.
As bright as the sun was, and as clear as the water was, I didn't expect to get much attention, but I was wrong. We got some great hits. We had several redfish on, and a couple of nice trout on, and several follows that we were able to see, as well. But, in John's defense, I think the problem with keeping the fish hooked was more a problem with the fish just not being very aggressive when they struck, and therefore not getting good hooksets. We missed lots of fish, but that was OK. We were having fun.
Finally, as the tide tide was charging the flats with vengeance and the morning was slipping away, I decided it was time to take John to see if we could find a hot trout bite on jigs. After a quick ride to our pothole, we were almost immediately on the action, and were still surrounded by redfish up in the shallows. After having fun catching a bunch of trout, John told me he was supposed to be back by 2 PM to head back across to Delray. We didn't quite make it, but we were close. It had been a fun day with John, and he had gotten to see more fish in a morning than most folks would see in a lifetime.
After a few days of warming weather, another cold front was approaching along with my Thursday trip with Jim Szabo and his buddy Steve. We had a 30% chance of rain during the day, increasing to 60% in the late afternoon, and a south wind to 13. The barometer had finally come down out of the stratosphere, and I figured that if the fish were ever going to eat in the cold water it would be on this day.
Again, I stopped at the A span and the B span and looked for bait, but there was not a morsel to be seen. I hadn't honestly expected to see any with the water so cold. It is very slow to warm. We would be fishing with plastics, hard and soft.
I approached the first spot full of hope for a good bite. But, I was quickly snatched back to the reality of the very cold water when the only thing we could catch was a handful of small snapper. So much for a hot bite ahead of the front, I thought. We worked the area over well until the tide was about done with it's outward trek. As the tide died, we decide to ride!
I figured that if the redfish and big gator trout weren't going to eat, I'd best try to find my guys a good trout bite from fish in the slot. They wanted to take home some food, and had a few folks to feed. And, fortunately, from the time we arrived at the second stop we were on great trout action. We were catching very nice slot fish running for the most part 17 to 20 inches on both jigs and Rattletraps, but the Traps definitely seemed to be winning the day. I thought that a bit unusual for such cold water.
All good things come to an end, and as that bite died, I decided to moved to new potholes that were in shallower water. The holes are most always full of big 3 to 5 pound trout this time of year, but if they were there, they weren't about to eat what we were offering. So, it was time to move, again.
I reasoned that the water in those shallower potholes might be a tad too cold, and opted for some potholes that are 5 to 6 ft deep, as opposed to the 3 ft. we had been fishing. And, that was the trick. We soon found a good bite, and were back in the action. And, not only did we catch nice trout, but a couple of ladyfish that went into the well for bait, a nice pompano, a big flounder, and a bluefish. And, most of them were again caught on gold and silver Rattletraps.
With two ladyfish in the well, I was now just bidding our time and waiting on enough water to fish redfish with steaked ladyfish. Man, if the reds will eat anything in frigid waters, it will be a chuck of ladyfish laying on the bottom. Once our trout bite tapered off, we headed to the redfish. I really felt pretty confident that we could at least get a fish or two to quit sunning and grab some lunch. But, after fishing several spots right to the top of the incoming tide, we'd had one fish pick up our bait and take off with it, and somehow it didn't get the hook! We couldn't beg another bite.
By now, it was getting pretty late in the afternoon, and we headed to the dock with a boat full of fish. We had trout, flounder, and pompano, but no redfish. More importantly, we had a great day under our belts! It had been a blast with Jim and Steve, and earlier with John Ford.
It looks like I've got one more slow week, and then things will be picking up quite a bit. I'll be fairly busy as it looks now, during February, March, and April. But, there are still plenty of days available to fish.