Early cold this year shortened the kingfish season dramatically. It's as if the fish heading south through our region never stopped swimming...just breezed right on through. Back to back to back cold fronts were the culprit. November is a month where Tampa Fishing Guides typically head outside for grouper and kingfish action but this disturbed weather, as well as a recent red tide just to our north, turned November into a largely "inshore' fishing month. Early on, snook lingered in residential canals and around spoil islands and were caught on occasion. After the first week or two passed, some big winter seatrout began to show up. Their early arrival was a fortunate occurrence, allowing for some productive trips in between the fronts. Whitebait was key to catching larger numbers of fish, making the hunt for bait early in the morning one of the most important parts of the fishing day. Bait has come and gone over the last few weeks but is available in pockets for those willing to search. Free swimming baits seem to most effectively locate fish and trigger strikes. On some days, these trout are somewhat finicky, so allow the fish plenty of time to take the bait. An effective technique used on many Tampa Fishing Charters, is to cast out the bait, reel up the slack created by the cast and then open the bail. Let the bait swim freely, taking up slack or letting out line depending on the bait's movement. The key is to stay in communication with the bait, minimizing slack, while not directing the movement of the bait. When a fish takes, give line for several seconds and then reel down until tight to the fish and then set the hook. Trout often grab a bait sideways, especially a larger bait, and take a few seconds to turn it head first before swallowing it. As most anglers hook baits through the nostrils, this allows time for the hook to get positioned in the fishes mouth. This reeling down technique is used primarily when using circle hooks. When whitebait is not available and the bite on large shrimp is slow, try artificials. These winter seatrout are one of the few fish that, on some days, will actually hit an artificial bait as well as live bait. The "artificial" advantage is that a lot more water can be covered.
Redfish action remained sporadic for larger fish, as is typical for this time of year. Smaller fish in the 15 to 18 inch range are fairly abundant around proven residential docks and certain oyster bars. It's an interesting phenomenon, every year where, in October, many of the larger redfish leave St. Joseph's sound and are almost immediately replaced by smaller ones. These "rats" are caught most effectively on shrimp and are often found in small groups so, if one is caught in an area, stick around as others will likely follow. Another fish caught primarily in the winter, usually when targeting redfish, is the redfish's cousin, the black drum. Most of these fish are within the slot limit (14 - 24 inches) when caught out from under docks, and are actually quite tasty to eat. The meat is white and firm.
Looking forward into December, Tampa Fishing Charters should see success on large seatrout...again with the best days being immediately in advance of approaching cold fronts on the bigger tides. Small redfish and an occasional quality fish can again be expected on days with good water movement. As of the writing of this report, the weather is beautiful with daytime highs just short of 80 degrees. The water's clear and a fresh seatrout dinner is possibly only a few casts away. Fish a morning tide, fillet a few seatrout, cut them in strips, roll them in Redfish Magic and then flash fry them in olive oil. Lunch will be ready in minutes.
There are a few other local opportunities to consider in the coming month. From December 4th through 7th, go check out the largest boat show on the gulf cost of Florida, the St. Petersburg Power and Sailboat Show. Or, on New Year's Day, make plans to be at Raymond James Stadium for the Outback Bowl. Merry Christmas to all. Good luck and good fishing.