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On the water: Fishing can change quickly in January

January 3, 2018
By Capt. Bill Russell , Pine Island Eagle

January will bring us some of the coldest days of the year on the water in Southwest Florida. Just how cold often determines how and where to fish. This month the primary inshore targets are sea trout, sheepshead, redfish and pompano. If you enjoy watching wildlife, it's a great month, seems like everywhere you look something is happening.

Over cooler days we will look to target protected areas like canals, creeks and deep water on the leeward side of Islands as fish seek shelter. It's also a good way to comfortably fish a chilly north wind. Often fish may be found ganged up in a deep hole, along a shoreline or sunning in areas protected from the wind. The coldest of days will yield some of the best sheepshead fishing of the year; they thrive and aggressively feed during adverse conditions. If the weather is mild for several days, the fish may be more widespread out on the shallower flats, bars and structures.

Shrimp are the top baits over the winter months. Shrimp are user friendly, readily available and everything eats them. If it's cold, think slow and low, meaning fish the bait at or near the bottom, either stationary or with a slow retrieve. One of the best ways to cover bottom and catch fish on a cold day is with a live shrimp/jig head combination. Take a live shrimp, bite or pinch off the tail and thread the shrimp tail first on 1/4-ounce jig head just like you would a soft plastic shrimp or shad tail. Now you have the best of both worlds - live bait that you can cover ground with, like an artificial. This combination will entice everything from big snook to pompano.

Article Photos

The Pohl family teamed up for a nice mess of snapper and sheepshead for the holiday week. They were fishing in 40 feet of water west of Captiva Pass with Capt. Bill Russell


With milder weather the same combination also works, however the fish are likely spread out over shallower depths, so a change of technique is often necessary. Look for fish holding in areas that is a short distance from the deeper protected areas; they often hold in areas where they can quickly get back to shelter when the next front arrives. Fish these areas with shrimp or shrimp imitations in soft plastic, rigged the same method described above with a little quicker retrieve, or suspended under a popping or rattling cork. Sometimes if you are looking for trout, redfish or maybe pompano, it's all about covering as much area as possible. Scented soft baits like Gulp shrimp are another great option.

Nearshore artificial reefs and ledges may offer great fishing when the weather allows. A mix of sheepshead, snapper, grunts, and other tasty bottom fish can be hooked while working shrimp or cut squid just off the bottom. Remember, gag grouper season is now closed, they must be released. King and Spanish mackerel, plus cobia or tripletail, are also a good possibility to hook into offshore.

No doubt there will be some cold days (at least what we consider cold in Florida), but also plenty of sunny, warm days. Like the weather, fishing can change quickly this month. To be successful you need to monitor the conditions and adapt your fishing strategy accordingly. Good luck!

If you have a fishing report of for charter information, please contact us at: Gulf Coast Guide Service, phone: 239-283-7960, Website: or email:

Have a safe week and good fishin'.

As a native of Pine Island, Bill Russell has spent his entire life fishing and learning the waters surrounding Pine Island and as a professional fishing guide for the past 18 years.



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