Brrrrrr, it’s getting cold out there. It’s that time of the year, northeasters, grey skies and bone chilling cold. Guess it’s time for some of us to put up those fly rods till next spring’s flood tides, right? Heck no, are you crazy? We’re coming up on what is in my opinion the second best time of the year for fly fishing in northeast Florida. Yes it’s cold, and yes the fish are getting lethargic and not eating as much, but we do still get those glorious chamber of commerce, blue bird sky days that can put the fish into feeding mode. We also have the clearest water we ever get around these parts this time of year, thanks to that cold water killing off the blooms that add to the cloudiness of our already tannin waters.
Wintertime is a great time of year to take the fly rod with you on your next fishing trip when the conditions are right. You need a nice clear day with a low tide occurring mid-morning to early afternoon; this will help warm up those mudflats making the fish more active. The timing will also allow for better sight fishing in the shallows with the sun high overhead allowing optimal conditions for seeing those schools and small packs of cruising fish. You can usually find them on dark mudflats in areas that have either gone completely bone dry at low tide, or only hold mere inches of water. All it takes is a few degrees of temperature change to draw the reds to it as the tide rises.
When you find the schools of redfish you’ve hit pay dirt in a few ways, cause “Clark, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.” When you find that pod of fish they can now more than likely be patterned throughout the rest of winter. The fish will hang in the same places for most of the winter, saving you time searching when there is already a limited window of time and even fewer pristine weather opportunities to get in on this incredible cold weather fly rodding. You will want to keep your fish secrets to yourself though. Pick your fishing partners carefully, because the more pressure the fish get, the more likely they are to move on or get a severe case of lockjaw.
While the fish are going to be fickle, they will still eat. A well-placed fly is just the right sized snack for a slowed metabolism redfish’s small appetite this time of year. I suggest a 7wt or 6wt fly rod to make a more precise presentation. Don’t forget to also use a colder water fly line, especially if you have a tropical temp line on your reel already. Many fly patterns work and we all have our favorites. I like to use a small shrimp pattern in lighter neutral colors.
You can expect to see light crowds this time of year which is a blessing. The waterways will be especially bare on those really cold days. Don’t be afraid to break out your winter extreme wear and go enjoy your favorite creek to yourself when it’s really cold, because nobody else will be crazy enough to go. If the suns shinning, the fishing could be incredible, even on days the temp hovers around freezing for a high. Two winters ago I landed 7 redfish from 26-32 inches off the same shell bar, and all were caught on a 7wt buggy whip on a day the temps might have tickled 40 degrees. With all the advances in cold weather gear over the last 10 years, you can stay pleasantly warm even in the coldest conditions – – without being be bundled up like Ralphy’s brother, Randy.
So don’t pack up all your fly gear just yet. Wintertime is not the time to sit at your fly vise tying crab patterns and dreaming of tails waving in the grass. Winter is the time to get out and catch em up.
Capt. Sean Abbey
Capt Sean runs Native Angler Guide Service (nativeangler.net) in Jacksonville, Fl and is Co- owner of Overboard Fishing Rods (overboardrods.com). Native Angler runs charters out of kayaks and boats or a combination of both all over northeast Florida’s waterways.
Article from Coastal Angler Magazine