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River is a gold mine in the cold

January 30, 2010

During cold months in Florida novice or visiting anglers often ask where is the best place to catch a nice snook, tarpon, or even a big jack.

I usually tell them to head to Costa Rica or Belize. Then I tell them the obvious - find warm water. In Florida that could mean a power plant outflow, a deep cut, a deeper creek, a deep water marina, canal systems, or far upriver. These locations are safe bets during most Southwest Florida winters, though our recent freeze and the thousands of dead snook sadly shows that all creatures have limits. The trophy snook kill I witnessed two weeks ago in a deep creek off Matlacha Pass was heartbreaking.

I am a big fan of the Caloosahatchee all year, but during the cold months the upper river can be a gold mine. Big and ultra-mean jacks roam the railroad trestles and the I-75 bridge pilings waiting to test your gear. Traditionally, the Franklin Locks hold tarpon and snook.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

Reds and trout can be found up and down the river. Like any other fishery, you have to pay your dues by investing your time searching and probing here and there, in likely or past productive winter spots.

On a cold weather upriver excursion take a variety of baits and lures. Substitute Berkeley GULP products if bait is not your thing. Plugs, plastics, spoons, jigs, and fly rods all work at one time or another and it pays to have a variety of offerings available.

Learning to slowly fish the classic D.O.A. (deadly on anything) Shrimp lure in gold sparkle will pay off big time on river outings and will catch everything. The D.O.A Shrimp is the most natural swimming soft plastic shrimp imitation on the market today. It's extremely versatile and can be fished countless ways from surface to the bottom. Learning to skip cast this lure back under long docks, overhangs, boat houses and mangroves is a great technique to master and will pay off big time.

Let the lure hit the water and slowly sink. Reel back slowly in a straight line with short hops or twitches every two to three feet, then let it free fall. The key is to go very slow and watch your line. Sometimes a big fish will inhale this lure and all you may see is a subtle twitch of the line. Using high-vis line like yellow Power-Pro braid (with a fluorocarbon leader) really helps.

A good tip is to load a small jar with D.O.A's and fill it with Berkeley GULP juice. If I am fishing strictly on the bottom I will use the GULP Shrimp, otherwise I'm a D.O.A. guy all the way. Again, take a variety of lures, flies and baits, and experiment. You never know what ones will be the hot ticket that particular day and what species you might run into. Versatility is the ticket.

Two years ago clients were having a ball catching big February jacks on fly rods, close to the I-75 bridge and we saw a young man jump a near-50-pound tarpon by speed reeling a gold Rattletrap lure on an ancient Zebco closed face reel, in February. I guess no one told him, or the tarpon, that's a summertime technique for catching largemouth bass in freshwater. Go figure.

Capt. Dick May reports with the warming water temperatures, trout are catchable on the flats in four- to six-feet of water. Fish slowly near the bottom with shrimp. They are not everywhere yet, so you may have to cover a lot of water to find them. The sheepshead fishing should improve each day as we get into February. Redfish reports are spotty, mostly shorts with a few keeper mixed in.

Don't forget to keep monitoring and changing out your water separating filters to keep ethanol problems to a minimum. There are cheap ethanol/fuel testing kits available and worth every penny.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at, or Flying Fins Sportfishing.



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