Updated: Dec 31, 2020
The cool weather has found its way to south Florida and the inshore fishing has been tremendous. This transition period and time of the year is one of my favorite when targeting the backcountry with artificials. Snook, trout, and redfish are all the main targeted species but you can find a lot of Juvenile tarpon as well. By now the fish have moved to there spots and areas where they will stage up for the winter time. These areas are going to be flats, mangroves, residential docks and canals, and backwater bridges and bays. I also find creeks and saltwater ponds to be very successful this time of the year especially if it gets to cold out. All of these areas consist of darker warmer water, which is very inviting for each of these inshore species. Live bait is always a good first choice for anglers and if the weather continues to be consistently warm then bait can be very plentiful in most areas. However, as the weather becomes colder each week most live bait can become difficult to catch and locate. As an inshore angler, whether live bait is available or not I find throwing artificial this time of the year to be very successful.
There are a lot of positives when throwing artificials this time of the year. The obvious would have to be not wasting time searching for live bait. As bait becomes scarce in the later months anglers can turn to artificial baits and still expect to catch fish. Pilchards, pinfish, shrimp and cut baits work very well but as the weather becomes cooler these baits are always moving around searching for warmer areas making it tough for anglers to locate. This is very time consuming especially when the bite could be hot during the time you waste trying to catch bait. However, having cut bait on you to chum an area or dead stick a bait on the bottom while you throw an artificial around works very well. When throwing artificial lures an angler has unlimited casts compared to live bait which dies within the first few retrievals. If you're live wells are lucky enough to be blacked out by bait then this might not be an issue. For the most part an angler who throws artificial has the ability to be at all the hot spots first because no time was wasted on searching for live bait. With the these big negative tides this time of the year getting to an area as quick as possible can make all the difference between fish or no fish.
During this time of the year because of the cooler air the water clarity along the flats and bays really cleans up and is crystal clear. The winter time is a perfect time to sight cast fish along mangrove shorelines and flats. Using soft plastics and weedless rigs an angler has the ability to sight cast in shallow clear water and find fish in sandy potholes. This is a very popular method for targeting big trout, redfish and snook on artificial. Another reason why sight casting is popular is because of the consistent blue bird skies Florida has this time of the year. A lot of these inshore species depend on that because the sun can then warm up a lot of shallow areas along the flats. A lot of snook, redfish and trout take that opportunity to warm themselves up by laying up in sandy potholes and troughs. Anglers who throw artificial this time of the year use the weather, tides and other factors to locate laid up fish. Not every spotted fish is a guaranteed catch but anglers have a big advantage by being able to be stealthy and throw an artificial bait on the nose of a fish. Sometimes if the water is to clear then fish could be really spooky and along with the cool air already making them lethargic the bite could be slow. Like I said earlier an angler can at least make the unlimited amount of cast with artificial to try and produce awesome skinny water action.
Anglers also have the upper hand when throwing artificials because soft plastics and hard baits can be manipulated to entice a fish. During the cooler days fish tend to be a little more lethargic, however by using artificial baits an angler has the ability to work a bait as slow as possible to create a strike. This is a big plus with most baits especially with the quality and amount of options out there nowadays, artificials are as close to the real thing as possible. During the warmer days anglers can speed up the retrieval and produce awesome strikes up in the water column. Top water lures are also very exciting to use when the fish are hitting the surface. The biggest factor to me with artificial baits is the ability to work all of the water columns. Anglers can bounce the bottom with jigs when the fish are pushed into deeper water when it’s cold. When fan casting the flats in a little shallower water anglers can use hard baits and soft plastics to cover a wide area in search of snook, trout and redfish. When sight casting or skipping the mangroves anglers can throw weedless baits. This allows soft plastics the ability to still look natural in a heavily weeded or covered area without snagging anything. With these massive high and low tides this time of the year being able to fish the different water depths makes all the difference between catching the targeted species and not. Another upside is the ability to mimic what the predators are feeding on. For example if fish were blowing up on the surface I would use a top water or a hard bait that worked in the upper water column. These baits can imitate pilchards, finger mullet and other lively baits. There are a wide variety of soft plastics and hard baits that match the hatch perfectly. When an angler is fishing deeper water there are many different types of artificial shrimps, jigs and other baits. These baits can be used to act like shrimp, pinfish and other bottom dwelling baits. With weather getting colder by the week a lot of baits that these predator fish feed on are usually very small. In recent years I have really learned that small baits can be better then big baits. Another scenario to prove this is fishing dock lights at night. Most of the baits you'll see in the lights this time of the year are tiny and small. There are tons of soft plastics and even hard baits that match perfectly and I can guarantee the smaller the bait the more fish you'll catch on dock lights. A quick example of my new favorite lure for this situation are the mirrolure mirrordine minis. The stereotype has always been the bigger the bait the bigger the fish and this is true a lot of the times. However, as an angler it’s always important to match what the predators are feeding on and I guarantee you a better hook up ratio with the targeted species.
Along with matching the size of the artificial lure to what the fish are feeding on it’s also important to match the color of the bait to the water clarity. This allows the soft plastic or hard baits to look as natural as possible when it comes across the path of a predator. Like I mentioned earlier the cooler air really cleans the water up along the flats and mangrove shorelines. This makes the water very clear so using natural colors, olive and colors like a glow white and pearl work really well. When targeting areas in the backcountry when the water is darker and brown the best colors are brown/chartreuse combos, new penny colors and pearl works extremely well. For me the best all around color for both conditions would have to be purple or purple combinations. This works really well with all inshore species and juvenile tarpon seem to love the color as well. These colors work best for me but obviously there are a wide range of color combinations nowadays so it’s always best to get out on the water and test the artificials yourself. Another easy way to decide colors for baits is by matching the color tone to that of pinfish, mullet, pilchards and shrimp. For example if you're fishing around mullet use something to resemble a mullet and the same goes for pilchards and pinfish. Also I have learned to not overthink and overcomplicate my artificial choices. There are so many lures out there and to be honest a majority of them work. I have tested out a ton of baits in my fishing career and I have gotten to a point where I only carry a few options around with me. I always have something for every situation and every scenario. What I mean is I have baits to throw in shallow water, deeper water, throwing into structure and baits I can work on top. My go to soft plastics are the infamous Zman baits. I love D.O.A and these two companies are the exact same however, I do think the plastic by Zman is a lot more sturdy and it last a while. I always use the Diesel minnows in the 4 and 3inch size and the pearl color literally catches everything all year around. I also throw olive and new penny colors in these baits and they are all my confidence lures. I use 1/8oz and 1/4oz jig heads on these baits. Another favorite is the Monster 3x shrimps. My number one favorite from this brand is there version of the glow shrimp. It is probably the most sturdy bait on the market and when thrown with a 1/8 or 1/4oz jig head it is very close to a life like shrimp. My favorite hard baits are the mirrolure mirrodines. There new C-Eye collection has worked really well for me and they have every color you could want. For topwaters I like the spooks but I also use a brand called Flats HQ and I have had nothing but success. But most topwaters are the same so its really preference at that point.
Overall there are a ton of options so it’s really about testing out baits yourself but at least from the options listed above you have a jump start! As always for an angler it is about test and trial and exploring areas and trying news baits and techniques. There are going to be plenty of days with success but to get there you're going to have to fail a little bit first. Never ever be discouraged just be patient and figure out the fish in your area! Tightlines!