Capt. Ruby Delgado with the first snook of our trip caught on a Savage Gear topwater. Photo by Kelly Groce
This is the view surrounding each key island in the Everglades. A school of tarpon swam by shortly after this photo was taken.
By Kelly Groce
The Florida Everglades is a dream land for any angler. Its pristine waters, remote location and wide range of wildlife will have any fisherman questioning their flight back home before the trip is even over. With no cell phone service and miles upon miles of crystal clear flats glistening with shark fins in the distance, the opportunity to catch a bucket list or fish of lifetime are around every corner. I left that day with a new species to add to my list; my first tarpon.
Cindy Nguyen, Capt. Ruby Delgado and myself spent the first few hours of the day catching snook and speckled trout on a variety of Savage Gear topwaters thanks to Sam Root who poled us around on his Maverick skiff. The sloppier we worked our topwaters, the more the snook couldn’t resist it. Fishing with a topwater has to be one of my favorite approaches, especially when it’s for snook.
Sam Root had to get in on the snook topwater bite from his poling platform.
After eating lunch with a breath taking view of gin clear water, Sam poled us around a small key island. I pitched my small swim bait next to the grass beds. As my bait starts to drop down, a couple of 30 inch tarpon emerge from under the beds. I slowly start reeling it in and one takes my bait. He did an acrobatic dance for me as I shouted with excitement and high fives ensued. The silver king is a stunning fish to see.
In one day we saw schools of tarpon, manatees, snook, speckled trout, redfish, grouper, mangrove snapper, barracuda, stingrays, alligators, lemon sharks, nurse sharks, and more. Exploring the Everglades is like something out of a Hemmingway book; pure adventure. Its untouched beauty should make it a top place for any fisherman to visit.
Cindy Nguyen’s first cast of the day resulted in this beautifully spotted trout.
Our morning greeting to the beautiful Florida Everglades.
Ruby suggested I work my topwater a little sloppier and immediately I caught this snook.
After 51 years of living in some of the southernmost regions of the United States, its very safe to say that I’m not the biggest fan of cold weather. I have however, many years back, learned that I truly love winter fishing.
Once you can get past the initial shock of cold air and water, even the damp and cloudy days can be some of the best that we will see all year. Let’s take a look at why winter is often so good for anglers and how to capitalize on cold weather fishing.
As summer exits on the upper Gulf Coast, our abundance of baitfish and other food sources begins it dwindle. At first glance, this definitely doesn’t seem like it would lend itself well to better fishing. But if we think back to the dog days of summer, one of the most difficult parts of consistently catching fish would be locating the right areas. But when nearly every place that you would consider fishing is covered with mullet and other obvious signs, it can be confusing. I know it seems strange to think, but less abundant food supply can lead to better catches.
Why, you ask? Well, when there are food sources at every location, it becomes difficult to determine which area has not only the proper food sources, but also the predatory creatures we so desperately want to capture. During the cooler months, less can often equal more when it comes to catching redfish and trout. As food sources dwindle, they also concentrate! The resident populations of mullet and other fish now occupy much more limited areas of the bays, and remaining populations tend to become concentrated in areas of greatest comfort and reliable food sources. To less experienced anglers, this may still sound like it won’t help us locate fish. But as you begin to explore the bays in winter, it becomes evident that if you find concentrations of bait fish and other food sources, you will inevitably find concentrations of predators nearby. On the coldest, and most difficult days, never overlook the slightest presence of baitfish!!
Heddon Super Spook in Okie Shad.
Winter Lure Choices
Now that we have unlocked the key to locating predators in cooler water, we can get down to catching them! Hopefully. Winter is a “pick your poison” time of the year. My personal lure preference are larger mullet imitations for covering open water areas and structure. If I could only fish with one type of lure for the rest of my life, it would have to be a topwater. They prove deadly effective to the patient winter angler. Most won’t have the level of dedication and patience required to fully take advantage. If, by chance you are within the group of patient and you want to see some of the most explosive strikes that fish can provide us with, then tie on a Super Spook or She Dog and be prepared for some fun. Here are a few general rules for topwater fishing:
Make sure that you vary the retrieves!
Don’t assume tight cold water means you have to fish slowly to get bites.
Some days, what you think is slow, isn’t slow enough, so go slower
There are always those days when they trout and reds just don’t want to come to the surface to eat a topwater. Though these days disappoint me greatly, it’s a fact that must be accepted. Coupling this fact with the fact that I’m constantly searching for the bigger fish, I will continue with my larger baitfish patterns during winter. Subsurface finesse baits, such as MirrOLure Catch 2000, Catch 5, Corky original and Fat Boy are some of the most effective winter standards on the Texas Coast, and rank very high on the list of big trout and redfish producers. These subsurface baits, much like topwaters, require a great deal of angler input to be truly effective. But once you’ve mastered a few retrieves, they will astound you with their ability to pry open the mouths of fish in very cold water. The key here is to experiment and vary retrieves and learn some of the many things that these baits can achieve. And of course, just like in the case of the topwater, there are days when slow just isn’t slow enough, so go slower!
Another type of bait or lure that can prove exceptional during the cooler months of the year, and is equally effective in the hands of a dedicated angler, is the “Twitch Bait.” What I’m referring to here are floating or suspending lipped baits. The big brand names that we all know in this category would be Rapala, Bomber, and more recently Yo-Zuri, along with a host of others. This category of lures has been around for many years, and can be just as effective as the others mentioned above. They can do so many things once the operator has taken the time to explore various retrieves. When you’re just getting started with this category, just varying speed with steady cranking can be very effective. Of course, like every other lure type, there are so many options with start and stop, fast twitches, and definitely lots of pauses.
Cold water, though it can provide us with some devastating and explosive attacks from our favorite predators, can also frustrate us with horrifically slow and subtle bites. On these days, learning new retrieves is often the trick that can take a day from zero to hero. Fast, slow, in-between speeds, starts and stops, and often long pauses can lead to some of the best catches when water temps plummet. Winter’s coldest days are the ones that make some of the best anglers shine. These are the days where the average angler just gives up, but for those who possess patience and persistence, and of course, who are in the “right” areas, be prepared for some serious photo ops.
If you just aren’t ready for the “grind mode” and patience isn’t your thing, that’s okay. Soft plastics, such as “rat tail” or “swim tails” will still produce well. Bass Assassin Sea Shads or MirrOLure Lil’ Johns offer less angler input and will typically produce much better numbers when fished though concentrations of baitfish. These are perfect for the drifting anglers and can work just as well for a wade fisher. To be honest, the Sea Shad has become one of my staple baits for sight fishing year round. A small profile with a swimming tail is effective in so many situations. Add to this, these baits require very little beyond just a steady retrieve to catch fish consistently, making them great for those just getting into lure fishing.
Last but not least, of the fun things about winter fishing is the water clarity and potentially extreme low tides. Though for many of us these can make for tough fishing days and potential new oyster rash on our prized fiberglass fishing crafts, they also combine to give us some of the best bay learning and exploration days of the year. Get out there and take advantage of the clear water and low tides. Learn some new areas and expand your understanding of the areas you already fish. Take your time when exploring; make sure that you look for structure. Try to gain a better understanding of the tide flows in these new areas. Don’t get in a rush. Try some new lures and new retrieves, and don’t forget that some days, slow just isn’t slow enough.