A Multitude of Species
Historically one of our coldest months here in the Upper Keys is December. It is a very weather dependent month in regards to shallow water fishing. Typically as a front approaches, we experience generally warm weather with a building west wind and clouds. As the front passes, temperatures can drop twenty degrees or more depending on the severity of the cold front. A strong north wind will help keep temperatures down and the skies will be clear. After a few clear days of diminishing winds, the prevailing easterly winds will take over as we experience a warming trend until the next front approaches. Then rinse and repeat.
During periods of cold weather, most shallow water species will seek out deeper waters where temperature fluctuations are less severe. This is especially true for our more temperature dependent species like bonefish, tarpon and snook. When water temperatures begin to rise, the fish start to venture out from these deep-water areas but they do not go far. Ready to return when they feel the barometer begin to drop signaling the arrival of the next cold front.
Now I get a regular mix of clients this month, from the small family looking to bend a rod and catch dinner to the seasoned fly angler looking to hunt for bonefish, tarpon and permit on the flats. During the colder windy days the majority of my trips are into Everglades National Park fishing for redfish, snook, black drum, grouper and sheepshead on light tackle.
During these days I tell my clients to slow everything down. Most of the hits are very light because the fish move slower in colder conditions. Last year I had a client catch a 20lb black drum that at first we thought was just the bottom until it began to move around. I have found that these are the perfect conditions for circle hooks. My typical rig is live or fresh dead shrimp on a 2/0-3/0 Owner mutu-light circle hook, 30lb fluorocarbon leader, and just enough weight to keep your bait on the bottom.
When the winds die down there is always the option to journey past Park boundaries to the west in search of tripletail. You will know when you travel outside the boundaries due to the fields of crab traps that can be found there. Not every trap buoy will hold tripletail but once you find one, there are usually more around.
When most people think bonefish, tarpon and permit they usually think spring/fall but they can also be caught in December.
Since weather is such a big factor, I typically tell my fly clients that flexibility is a great thing to have in regards to picking the perfect day. The days preceding the passing of a cold front can produce some of the best sight fishing conditions of the year. A north wind means calm conditions on the ocean side flats where bonefish can be found in schools pushing south with every cold front that passes. Tarpon tend to be on the small side 5-10lbs locally and are typically the easiest to find out of the three. Shrimp and minnow pattern flies work great on these small poons, otherwise a small live shrimp will never be ignored. Permit can also be found cruising the oceanside flats most days looking for a live crab to come their way. I also catch a fair number of permit on the local rock piles and patch reefs just inside Hawks Channel during those calmer days.
December is also the last month you can keep grouper until May 1st, and just about every creek mouth, deep channel, reef, and wreck will be holding grouper. In the Upper Keys there are lots of shallow water wrecks, some in just 4 feet of water that will hold groupers up to 16lbs and more. Trust me, there are a lot of wrecks out there but only a few will hold groupers. However every wreck, reef and bottom structure will have something different to offer anglers. Species like snapper, sheepshead, mackerel, triggerfish, seatrout and even hogfish can be caught. As always-live bait is the thing to have but dead bait and artificial lures will work as well.
With such a diverse area and a multitude of species there is always somewhere to fish no matter the weather conditions. For those of you who know me, know that to me, fishing is more than just a game, it is a way of life. So fish hard and fish often!
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