December live bait Fishing Charters Challenges
December, Not unlike any other month, My charters start off with the all-important art of catching bait. Being a fishing guide in the Tampa area, I have to take extra care to insure that my charters have the best bait available for the species of fish that will targeted on that day. This is one of the most important aspect for any live bait angler.
On this particular day in December we start at first light. Knowing that December can bring extremes to the weather a little extra planning is important. This trip was booked months in advance without knowalge of what the actual weather would be so this trip just happened to fall 3 days past the passage of a fairly strong cold front. We anticipated morning temperatures to be in the lower 50’s but worming to near 70 by mid-afternoon, a bit cool for this Florida Cracker but pleasant for our northern visitors. Wind was a bit of a factor, north east at about 15 knots. My plan for the day was to run to the Skyway Bridge and catch enough scaled sardines for the day. Because of cooler water temperatures (62 degrees) I had a feeling bait was going to be deep, I was right and With an incoming tide, the wind blowing from the opposite direction, bait catching was not easy. In fact it took 2 hours to catch enough bait for the day. This problem was not totally unexpected .The day before I made arrangements to meet my client at 10:00 am at the Resort at Little Harbor. This gave me over 2 hours to catch bait and I used all.
My recommendation to start the actual charter later was not entirely due to the anticipated issues with catching bait. The prior three days had been cold and the water temperature had dropped into the upper 50’s falling from the upper 60’s just prior to the passage of the cold front. This rapid change in water temperature can make catching fish difficult. The later start time will give the sun time to work to warm the relatively shallow water we would be fishing.
My first stop was in Cockroach Bay. I chose this area because of the dark muddy bottom in about 3 feet of water. The dark mud tends to hold warmth a little longer than sandy areas. This area, in the past has been an excellent place to fish in the cooler months and is particularly good when the water temperatures are on the rebound as it was on this day. Unfortunately the spot was a bit disappointing and after an hour of fishing we had only managed 3 smaller snook with no signs of redfish or trout.
This prompted me to suggest that we head to the Little Manatee River and fish a few deeper spots. My thinking was that the water was still a bit cold and the deeper water may be a little warmer. So we were off making the short trip north from Cockroach Bay to the mouth of the Little Manatee River.
The first spot in the river was just horrible, by the time we arrived we had a very strong outgoing tide this, along with the river flow made it hard to keep baits in the strike zone. This particular spot is in the main part of the river with water depth of about 10 foot. On colder days fish tend to school up in the deeper water because of the warmth. I’m sure there were fish at this spot we just could not present our baits to them in an appetizing manner. When bait is presented to fish it should look natural.
I suggested that we move to another spot that was similar but not impacted by the fast outgoing current Again, we had no luck. If there were fish in this spot they did not want to cooperate. We were 3 hours into our trip and had only caught three fish. I told the group I was going to take a bit of a chance and move to an area that had direct sunlight in shallower water.
We made our way into a secluded area on the north side of the river. The water depth is only 2 feet and getting there at low tide can be a problem, fortunately, we had about 3 hours of outgoing tide and only about 2 hours before we had to head back to the dock. Believe me I was feeling the pressure.
Sure enough when we arrived the water temperature was tad warmer topping out at 68 degrees. I set the anchor and instructed the group to cast towards the banks near the mangroves. The whole area is lined with mangroves with oysters on the bottom. First cast and it was fish on and fish on for the next hour and a half. We ended up hooking about 20 snook with the largest being 27 inches. Turned out not to be a bad day, at least not in my book,
This is typical for December and my recommendation to all anglers is to make a plan taking into account Tides, Air Temperature, water temperature, don’t forget to have a contingency plan and by all means prey for a little luck. It worked for me this time.
Capt. Danny Guarino a lifelong resident of the Tampa area and full time fishing guide on Tampa Bay. 813-956-2010 Capt. Danny co-host the Tampa Fishing Outfitters Radio show on Sports talk Tampa Bay 1040 The Team each Sunday Mornings.
Be safe out there.
West Coast Vice President Florida Guides Association
Host Tampa Fishing Outfitters Radio Show
Mercury Pro Team
Southshore Tampa Bay Fishing Report
Best Bet Redfish and Sheephead
The weather so far this month has been typical. Cool one day and warm the next. Water temperatures have drooped through the 70’s and has leveled off in the mid-sixty degree range. It’s perfect water temperature to fish the creeks and rivers that empty out into Tampa Bay
The bite on the SouthShore has been a bit slow a day or two following the passage of a cool front but then picks up a few days after and up to the passage of the next cool front. Our most consistent bite has been redfish albeit on the smaller side. Most in the 15 to 18 inches range but occasionally we do get one that measures in the slot of 18 to 27 inches. We have been catching redfish in all parts of the Southshore from Bishop Harbor north to the Apollo Beach area. A good tactic to use is to drift past the many oyster bars, mangrove shore lines and sandy pot holes that dot the grassy areas along the SouthShore shore line. This is a great time of year to use your favored artificial bait, one of my favorites is a gold spoon either ¼ oz. or 1/2 oz. This seems to do the trick for me. My other choice this time of year is a soft plastic tails. DOA out of Stewart Florida has a great assortment to choose from. My favorite color is white but don’t be afraid to switch up if a particular color is not working. The general rule of thumb when selecting a color it to use dark colors in dark water and lighter colors when in clear waters.
If you are fishing with live bait, try approaching your spot with the wind at your back so that you arrive with the least amount of noise. If one spot does not work move on to the next repeat the process until you find fish and remember moving just 75 yards can make a big difference in your catch ratio. It’s all about being quiet and moving to the next group of fish. Shrimp seem to work best this time of year. Remember that as water gets cooler fish like a slow presentation of either live or artificial baits.
This is the time of year the big sheephead school up for their spawn. Sheephead will seek out structure such as rock piles, bridge pilings or deeper mangrove shore lines. The best bait is shrimp or clams with a little bit of weight on the line. The weight allows the bait to sink deeper into the water column. Set up in an area of deeper water that has some type of structure then cast the bait toward the structure and hold the line tight. When a sheephead bites, you will feel just a slight tapping on the line. When you feel the repeated taps, pull your line tight and hold on. Remember to take plenty of bait you will need it for these fish. The old saying about sheephead s if you feel the bite your too late chances are your bait is gone.
If you can, get out and enjoy this great place we live in. The Southshore has some of the best fishing Florida has to offer. December and January can be great month for fishing as long as it does not get to cold. Remember, it’s not the number of fish you put in the fish box that makes a successful trip. Measure you’re fishing success by the number of smiles you receive by going fishing.
Capt. Danny Guarino a lifelong resident of the Tampa area and full time fishing guide on Tampa Bay. 813-956-2010 Capt. Danny host the Tampa Fishing Outfitters Radio show on Sports talk Tampa Bay 1040 The Team each Sunday Morning.
Be safe out there.
Capt. Danny R. Guarino
SHPOINT@AOL.COM 813-956-2010 Cell