Tampa Bay is one the best winter fishing areas on the west coast of Florida, miles of backcountry, shallow flats, out flowing river mouths and warm water outflows from the power plants. Fish use these areas in the winter time as a refuge and feeding grounds due to cooling water temperatures in the bay.
As water temperatures start to fall rapidly, snook head up into the rivers, residential docks, and anywhere that the water temperature is a little warmer than the surrounding waters. Early winter Snook usually feed heavily to so they can survive during the extreme cold days of late winter. A frisky white bait such as a greenback, or thread fin on an Eagle Claw 1/0 circle hook with 25lb Fluorocarbon leader will be a meal no line sider can resist.
The big fish have moved offshore, but there are still plenty of slot sized reds hanging around. Water temperature does not affect Redfish as much as Snook so they can be targeted and caught year round. Look to find small pods still roaming the flats, but when the north winds are blowing combined with a low tide there is no water to fish here. I have had better luck around structure covered residential docks. Select size shrimp will work great tipped with 1/8 ounce jig head.
Trout are a top targeted species in the winter. Find a healthy grass flat matched with live or artificial shrimp under a small popping cork and you will have endless rod bending fun. I also like to use the SS minnow from Fish On Lures with an 1/8 ounce jig head. A slower than normal retrieve is sometimes necessary as cold temperatures make the fish slow down a bit. Remember try not to handle these fish if you’re not going to keep them. There are some tools that will make it easier on you and the fish, not to mention a good Christmas gift. A de-hooker tool and good set of needle nose pliers.
Captain Jason Prieto is a USCG licensed captain and an active member of the Florida Guides Association and The National Association of Charter Boat Operators.