The full extent of the damage from this past week's deep freeze is not yet known. I have heard reports from many sources and none of them are good. Nine days ago I was catching tarpon on soft plastic swim baits in the Cape Coral canals, now it's hard to believe that a week later those same fish may be dead. People have been sending me backyard snapshots of piles of dead snook to shots of tarpon floating together like so many logs. Even tough as nails catfish were affected and I saw several spinning, disoriented, and dying.
Today (Thursday) I walked along canals in Punta Gorda and observed the bottom littered with dead and dying fish then spent the afternoon boating in Matlacha Pass and found more of the same. Our snook and resident tarpon population has really taken a hit and I would not be surprised to see a snook season closure for a year or two, a closure that I think most would support.
The effects on juvenile fish, bait fish, invertebrates, and marine plant life, has yet to be tallied. The old saying that Mother Nature can be a cruel mistress is true, as the millions in poverty stricken Haiti can attest to as well. The upside is the sun is shining and the waters will slowly warm and fishing will resume, minus thousands of our finny friends.
Even though the snook population has taken a huge hit, hopefully the trout and redfish population fared better and trout fishing should come on strong as it's been the past season. In Punta Gorda I did see lots of dead sheepshead which are a more cold temperature tolerant species, which further illustrates how really cold these waters got. On Thursdays Matlacha boat ride, I did find some dead sheepies but observed hundreds of them in seemingly good condition. Being in the tropical fish business for fifteen years I also know that delayed mortality will also be a factor and fish will continue to die in the coming weeks from the thermal stress they just endured even as the waters continue to warm. I also understand that the tropical fish industry in Florida was heavily damaged as well as the fruit growers.
January is a traditionally good month for catching trout, cobia, tripletail, sheepshead, and skinny water redfish. Look for trout on three to six foot grass flats on sunny afternoons. Trout can be caught with a variety of methods but it's hard to beat a popping cork and a live shrimp as you wind drift the flats. The Berkeley GULP shrimp is a great substitute for a live one. If you find a concentration of trout quietly anchor and try a variety of jigs, small plugs, top waters and flies. I like white or yellow flies with a flashy strip of Mylar.
For tripletail, run the crab trap buoys and spot them floating on or near the surface around the buoy. Quietly drift back and free line a choice shrimp to the fish and be prepared to get the fish away from the buoy line. These odd looking fish come in all sizes and may be the tastiest fish in our waters as well as hard fighters.
While looking for tripletail keep an eye peeled for cobia in the same areas and be ready to throw a colorful jig, plastic worm or eel, a jumbo shrimp, or pinfish if you have them. Cobia fight very hard and taste mighty good.
For sheepies, go to docks, bridges, pilings, channels and fish bits of shrimp, fiddler crabs, and clams on a two foot piece of fluorocarbon leader with a small #1 hook. Use just enough weight to get the bait down. Hard to clean, tasty on the table.
Use stealth when hunting reds. Long casts with gold spoons on the flats and oyster bars along with shrimp tipped jigs crawled on bottom in the channels.
Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Flying Fins Sportfishing.