After one of our early cold fronts moved through the area last fall, I was guiding a fishing trip in upper Tampa Bay. The morning was cool but comfortable, however the recent week of cooler weather had taken its toll and the water temperature had dropped considerably. When temperatures drop this quickly fish often, become uncomfortable as they’re adjusting to the new changes. You find this scenario in shallow waters places like Tampa Bay, because the waters seem to cool off even quicker; which makes the reds, snook and trout somewhat lethargic.
Sudden drops in water temperatures can also suspend feeding patterns putting them on the move looking for more tolerable temperatures.
We started out using live shrimp on the bottom and caught a few smaller redfish. Then as the tide turned we began catching a few medium size trout, but nothing to brag about. What we did catch was plenty of pinfish, lizard fish and grunts.
It was approaching noon, with water temperatures warming to somewhere around the mid-sixties. I’d had all the pinfish I could stand, so I suggested we switch over to artificial lures. The guy’s seemed somewhat hesitant at first, but I assured them if the fished them correctly, they would catch fish. Since we still had good moving water and if we fished the points, mangrove bites and creek mouths located throughout upper Tampa Bay we’d be ok.
Did we catch any fish on live shrimp? Certainly! But we caught just as many on Gulp! But unlike live shrimp, where we could only catch one fish per shrimp; we were able to catch several per soft plastic before having to change our lures. The soft plastics also helped us to cover more area by keeping our bait in the strike zone longer without losing it to pinfish.
Years ago on the Capt. Mel Berman radio show, I heard Exude products advertised and from that time on scented baits have always been a favorite. I’ve caught thousands of fish using them. I’m also a fan of the light weight wide-gap jig head. A few years ago a friend Capt. Dave Blanchard from Pumpkin Jigs created a weedless jig head, manufactured locally in the bay area. I use it exclusively and it works great around the grass flats.
The simplest way to rig, insuring the most hookups, is simply inserting the hook point into the head of the shrimp, thread it back to the carapace and bring it out the top. Another alternative, especially if you need extra casting distance is removing the tail, insert hook into the tail, threading back to just before the carapace and out the top.
Some anglers do not believe artificial lures catch fish especially when the water gets cold. However, it has been my experience they do. I’ve spent many winter days on the water tossing artificial lures, which confirms again that plastic and especially scented plastic does work.
It’s not live bait and using artificial lures is not a simple as dropping it over the side of the boat. You must fish it differently, especially in cooler water. Here’s what you need to do.
Cast toward and repeatedly target likely ambush and holding points, which also include depressions or sandy pot holes located on shallow broken bottom grass flats. Keep in mind the flow of current and try to work the lure in the same direction as the current is flowing. It often takes more than one cast to spark the interest of a fish. Remember the water temperature has them lethargic and the first cast may only wake them up, but the second or third could bring a drag screaming strike.
As a notorious twitch and jerk angler this is probably the most difficult thing for me to do when using an artificial shrimp is to slow it down. But when I do I certainly get more strikes. So, for that reason I’ll give the accolades to Merrill “Canoeman” Chandler for teaching an old dog a new trick. Merrill would always tell anyone that asked how to work an artificial shrimp. “If you think you’re working it slow enough… slow it down.”
I believe that live and natural bait will always be part of fishing; on the other hand I also know that the new generation of artificial lures both hard and soft plastics being introduced yearly will catch fish in almost any water temperature.