CONDITIONS: Each week sees improvement in conditions as left to us by the hurricane. And, expectedly, as the seasons move along that improvement is enhanced by the change in seasons…….lower air temps which drive lower water temps; mix of fish change as they sense the cooler weather. The winter species begin to show……still a bit smaller than they will be in the pure winter months but definitely larger than in the screaming heat of summer hereabouts. So change is in the air and we are heading into a different, and in many ways a better, fishing season. This coming week will see morning air temperatures in the low sixties (WOW) which is turn will lower the water temps. Would guess by week end will see the water in the 74 to 76 degree range. But not all is good…..with that variation you’ll see winds kick up in velocity and afternoons will have gusts in the middle to high teens. That may roughen up the water and add a little more tannic clouding so the water, instead of being green is a coffee brown……still relatively clean but will throw the fish off their bite. The tides are moderate all week and heading to a full moon late week. They will pretty even both ways and fishable.
BACKWATER: Most evident change is that you will see some bigger winter species now…….not lunkers but a better than even chance for some take homes. The two species that become winter dominant here are the sheepshead and the black drum in the backwaters. These are both bottom feeders…..we will also see pelagic action especially in all the Passes (Capri, Caxambas and Hurricane) for Spanish mackerel and pompano as primary food targets and ladyfish, jacks and as “funners”. There will still be some of the summer favorites…the mangrove snapper hanging around but they will fade quickly as the water temperature chills down. If this winter plays out like most others the most dominant fish will be the sheepshead. At peak season it’s not unusual to land a 16 to 18” specimen that will provide a real tussle and a great meal. Technique is super important on these bait stealers. Here’s a quick primer: Best bait is just a tad of shrimp (give‘em a big whole shrimp they’ll take the part without the hook) or a piece of cut crab. Use a lindy rig and drop it vertically to the bottom. Then systematically lift the weight just a few inched repeatedly …..if you feel a tap do not try to set….just lift the line until you feel weight and then give it a compact (6-9”) set…..the sheepshead will be on.
NEARSHORE: The weather could impact here this week, particularly the wind. Doesn’t take long in shallower water to get a rough condition sea conditions going. Would think there is a better chance here than in the backwater for surface pelagic action on mackerel and other pelagics all along the first and second reefs as well as well as the inshore reefs such as the Walton Reef off Caxambas Pass. Technique is to cruise the area with the Fathometer on full sensitivity and drop a marker where you see assembled bait schools. Anchor upstream and get some chum in the water prior to begin working flashy tip jigs up tight to the surface……you’ll know pretty quickly whether you’ve got a action event. You might even drop some tipped weighted jigs down to the bottom. Always a chance that the bottom feeders are working the shredded bait from the pelagics. OFFSHORE: Ditto on concern for sea conditions out here. There is a couple periods forecasting T-storm action this week and you’ll want to be vigilant……most times you can’t outrun one of these thunder bangers. Target out here now should be focused on grouper action. Cool down (moderately) should activate the red grouper and have then inching eastward. The gag grouper will stay active and mobile just above the bottom structure the reds will stay tight to same. Reds on live pinfish / cut ladyfish tight to the outcroppings. The gags 10-15’ off the bottom and can even be had with a trolled live bait off a downrigger.