Everything Eats Shrimp
Cold weather finally arrives and it is a breath of fresh air for anglers all over the Upper Keys, signaling the beginning of some great shallow water fishing opportunities.
If you have ever spent any time down here during the winter, then chances are good that you have heard about the shrimp runs we experience in the Upper Keys. Shrimp move from the ocean side to the bay side in big numbers, usually triggered by the arrival of a strong cold front, full moon, or drastic temperature drop. Everybody has their own theory about what triggers it, but when this happens, just about everything that swims eats shrimp. But the shrimp are not alone; those catching shrimp are also catching crabs, jellyfish, assorted small fish, and, every so often, small eels. The shrimp run attracts tarpon, snappers, snook, grouper, jacks, and many more species to these areas looking to capitalize on the event. While shrimp usually run during the night time hours, the fish will hang around the areas where the shrimp will run during the day. So needless to say, there is some great fishing to be had close to the ramp.
I spend a good amount of time this month fishing the dirty water areas around Cape Sable, with live and dead shrimp, catching redfish, black drum, snook, seatrout, snappers, and, the almost unavoidable, saltwater catfish. While everybody has there favorite set up, I fish chartreuse ¼-3/8 ounce jig heads tipped with shrimp or 2/0-3/0 Owner MUTU light circle hooks with removable split shots for weight. On the colder days, the bite can be very slow with fish eating, then not moving. Half the time we reel in our baits to check, we find out that there is a fish already on the line. Artificial lures will work, but are most effective during the warmer days. Gulp shrimp tipped jigs in the molting and new penny colors are long time favorites among local guides.
When fly-fishing this time of year, shrimp pattern flies can be the most effective flies in your box. Patterns like epoxy shrimp can cover a wide variety of species successfully, making the next question quite obvious. How many do you have? Pretty much everybody throws floating lines, but there are those special situations that require a line with an intermediate sink tip or a sinking line, perfect for dredging murky deep-water areas.
While the fishing in the backcountry is good, closer to home the ocean side flats have bonefish, permit, and small tarpon waiting to be given the opportunity to eat a well placed fly or shrimp. Again, live shrimp and shrimp pattern flies are a must have-- especially when fishing the cleaner waters of the ocean side flats. I only fish live shrimp for bonefish and tarpon; my favorite rig is a 2/0-3/0 Owner Mutu light circle hook (depending on the size of the shrimp) with 20-30 lb. fluorocarbon leaders to 10-15 lb. braided lines. Cold weather pushes bonefish south with every passing front, so some of the best days can be just after a passing front with cold temperatures and 20+ mph north winds.
It is hard to keep ahead of the current changes to our fisheries. Always keep a copy of FishMonster Magazine handy with the most current regulations.
Remember, if you plan on going fishing in the backcountry this month, don’t forget the shrimp!! 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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