Published: Dec 25, 2002

It’s an ill wind that does not blow somebody – good. For coastal anglers, who generally hate strong winds, the big blows of the next few days may offer exceptional fishing, provided they know how to play the breezes. With the coming of the front, forecasters call for winds of 20 to 25 knots out of the west and southwest. For inshore anglers, that will translate into tides 1 to 2 feet higher than normal in many areas. And as these strong tides come pouring shoreward, they will cause fish to stack up against mangrove islands, oyster bars, and points that sit across the direction of the flow. It’s as if the water forms a conveyer belt, pushing food to the fish. The effect is most pronounced on west- and south-facing shores. When the front passes, the wind will die for a few hours and return, blowing even stronger out of the northwest, north and then the northeast. This wind has the opposite effect on the tides; it pushes them out fast and drives them down to very low levels. Water levels can be several feet lower than normal low tide for the given moon phase. What this means to fish is they have to leave many of the shallow flats and moderate holes and settle into the deepest cuts, sloughs and drops simply to find water deep enough to float them. Miles of flats that normally have a foot or two of water may turn to exposed sand on a sustained northeast wind of more than 20 knots on our coast. (On the east coast of Florida, the results are opposite: Southwesters blow the water out, northeasters stack it in.) Live bait often is the best bet on the rising tides; a shrimp or sardine fished under a cork can be drifted with the current and allowed to bump down a shoreline with the flow, following the course of any natural food carried on the current. And with the wind behind you, you can readily make long casts to the feeding zone, so the boat can be anchored well away from the alleged hot spot. On low water, the boat will probably have to be left behind; many of the best holes can be reached only by wade- fishing, though anglers such as captain Scott Moore get at them with “scooter” flat-bottom boats that run in only inches of water. Captain Pete Greenan of Sarasota likes to fish the Bull Bay area of Charlotte Harbor with flyrod on the strong northwesters of winter, often wading a quarter-mile or more through ankle-deep water to reach potholes that are almost landlocked because the surrounding water is too shallow for the fish to escape. “Most of the holes have a slightly deeper slough down one side, just beyond where the grass ends and sand begins, and trout and reds often lie in that slough,” Greenan said. Greenan likes bead-eyed streamer flies about 2 inches long for winter pothole fishing, and typically tosses them on 8-weight gear. Moore typically fishes the holes with long-tailed jigs, jerkbaits or topwaters, which he said actually produce better in winter than do his beloved live sardines. “Sardines are hard to find most of the winter, and the fish don’t seem aggressive enough to run them down,” Moore said. “They take the artificials just about every time.” Moore advises loading 10-pound-test microfiber line on a spinning reel to make the long casts needed to avoid spooking fish. And he suggests approaching the holes from upwind when possible. “If you throw your lure high with the wind behind you, that wind will add 20 or 30 feet to your cast,” Moore said. For those wading on the low-tide days, one caution is to make sure you anchor your boat in water that will remain deep enough to float it. A few years back, fishing with Greenan, I joined in pushing his flats boat several hundred yards across a nearly exposed mud flat back to a spot where we could operate. The downside of strong winds is that they generate nasty seas in any open water you have to cross – never fun in a flats boat. But if you can stand the ride out and back, you may be well rewarded by the ill winds of this holiday season.