As the inshore waters continue to cool this month, baitfish begin to vacate our waters and shrimp become the primary diet for most fish. With the exception of mullet, there are not any fish I can think of in our coastal waters that won't eat a shrimp; in fact, shrimp is the mainstay for most inshore species diet, especially through the winter.
Cooler temperatures should give a big boost for catching sheepshead as the larger pre-spawn fish move inshore. Look for sheeps-head, with many scaling over 5 pounds, hanging around structure, including dock and bridge pilings, rock jetties along the beach, around oyster bars and nearshore reefs. Most anglers opt to use shrimp; however, some sheepshead experts that target only big fish catch their own bait including fiddler crabs, tube worms or sand fleas. If you don't mind fishing in the cold, then this is your fish - the colder the better for sheepsheads.
Pompano are similar to sheepshead in the fact they prefer not to eat any type of baitfish, but feed primarily on small crustaceans, including shrimp, crabs, sand fleas, etc. Small nylon jigs tipped with a small piece of shrimp can be deadly on pompano when properly bounced across the bottom. Popular colors are white, pink and yellow. Silly Willy-style jigs have also gained a lot of popularity since introduced. Both sheepshead and pompano have relatively small mouths so it is important not to use a large hook, if you are unsure of the size, stop in at your local tackle shop and let them hook you up.
Ruth Hofer of Austria with a nice sheepshead caught on a cool December day. She was using a small shrimp and jig head while fishing with Capt. Bill Russell in Pine Island Sound.
Trout fishing should remain steady to close out the year. Look for fish moving off the shallow grass flats to deeper protected areas as temperatures drop. Deep areas around oyster bars, creeks, canals and potholes are good areas to target. You might have to release a lot of undersize fish to get the bigger ones, but there should be plenty of larger fish. Redfish and snook can be found from the same area, plus larger reds can be sight-fished on the lower tides over shallow flats adjacent to deeper water. Again, shrimp is the best bait, either the real thing or any of the many imitations. Extreme low tides will offer good opportunities for targeting tailing reds over the shallow flats.
Snook season is closed, catch-and-re-lease only. If the weather is relatively warm there could be some great snook fishing. Just ahead of an approaching cold front is also a great time to get on a good snook bite, as they often feed heavy before hunkering down.
We should have days between cool fronts with calm seas allowing for comfortable offshore fishing. Look for good bottom fishing for grouper and snapper with the larger fish further offshore. Near shore reefs should produce a wide variety of fish including snapper, sheepshead, mackerel, grouper and cob, just to name a few. A lot of fish are moving down the coast heading south for winter, you never know what you may run into.
As we approach the holiday season and the craziness begins, there is no place like a day on the water to get away from the madness. There will be some great fishing opportunities as we end the year. Some days fishing will be great other days not so much, but even if the fish aren't cooperating, I still can't think of a better place to spend the day than on the water.
Have a safe week and good fishin'.
As a native of Pine Island, Bill Russell has spent his entire life fishing and learning the waters surrounding Pine Island and as a professional fishing guide for the past 18 years.