Similar to the close of 2015, 2016 ended with an exceptionally warm December. Water temperatures lingered in the high sixties to low seventies, creating a great mix of fishing. The large yellow-mouthed trout of winter arrived right on schedule...around Thanksgiving Time...and after a week or two of hit or miss fishing, flooded St Joseph's sound. December concluded with only one Tampa Fishing Charter ending without a limit for all anglers, and this was on a day where a mild cold front arrived the day before. Some days provided non stop hook-ups for an hour or longer. Catching these big trout is a reasonably predictable event....targeting strong tidal movement with good weather. Whitebait has remained available which has made catching big trout fairly effortless. A hard cold front, which arrived over the last weekend, may have put an end to this bait bonanza however. Cold fronts, which arrive approximately once a week this time of year, are the kiss of death to this fishing. The harshness of the cold determines the number of fish-less days to follow. Extremely strong fronts may kill fishing for up to three days.
The only drawback to really good trout fishing is that Tampa Fishing Guides will hear the following question about an hour into the trip "Well, what else can we catch?". During a normal December, the trout fishing is generally good but the other primary inshore species, such as redfish and snook, can be challenging. Also, mixed with in with the trout may be hard pulling 2-4 pound bluefish, Spanish mackerel and flounder. The bottom line answer is..."There are other species to catch but the most "rod-bending" will occur right here where the trout are. Prepare to work a lot harder for significantly fewer bites if the choice is made to pursue these other species." Customers on most Tampa Fishing Charters will, at some point however, want to target other species. On warmer days, the backwaters are holding snook and persistent chumming, assuming that whitebait is available, can trigger these fish to bite. With generally lower tides, redfish are more difficult to target, but can be found in deeper potholes on local flats as well along some of their normal high tide hangouts on the strongest of winter tides. Shrimp may be the best bait choice for these winter reds but cut baits will still produce strikes.
The exceptionally warm December weather offered some lucky anglers a one-two punch of great fishing, however. Instead of toughing it out to pursue snook and redfish inshore, some Tampa Fishing Guides chose to run offshore to target still present kingfish schools. Early cold fronts pushed kingfish off the nearshore hard bottom 2 - 3 miles out, but continued warmer than average waters kept them around, just a little further out. On several mid month charters, anglers were able to experience non stop trout action, followed immediately by excellent kingfishing. Slow trolling large whitebait was highly productive but, on some occasions, when decent concentrations of kingfish were located. anchoring and chumming proved to be highly effective. These late fall fish seemed to average a bit smaller (8 - 15 pounds) than some of the fish caught in November, but they still provided great light tackle sport.
With winter weather now here to stay, big seatrout will remain the primary game in town, with other species such as redfish, small black drum, sheepshead and maybe the very occasional snook, playing supporting roles. Although the variety of available species to catch is less this time of year, the warmer days provide some of the best weather of the year, making it a great time to be on the water. A few other local activities that may be of interest over the next month include The Picker Place Market, a great location for those looking for mid century collectible items. Or, if finding a reason to sit on a beach is of more interest, attend the Treasure Island Kite Festival and get a glimpse of a wide variety of kites. Good luck and good fishing.
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