Go-To Lures for Winter Kayak Fishing
Our “winter” months are here. (Don’t laugh - 60 degrees feels nippy to us tropic dwellers!) Water temps are cooling down, and the fishing is changing. Bonefish, tarpon and permit are less likely to be prowling the backcountry, but the jacks, barracuda, mackerel, redfish, speckled sea trout, snapper and grouper all should be around in good numbers. This time of year I find myself steering away from crabs and shrimp for the “big three” and using a lot more artificials. This month I thought I’d share a few of my favorite “go-to” lures for approaching these wintertime fish from a kayak.
First, some thoughts on colors. Generally speaking, shades of brown are what I like for all purpose backcountry fishing. Tan and copper fall into this category. There’s a reason those are the colors that disappear from Keys tackle store shelves first, the guides are buying all of them! Gold and gold flakes also work pretty well if you want a bit of flash. So other than the notable exception of brightly colored tube lures for barracuda, I leave the hot pink and lifesaver orange baits to someone else. In low visibility conditions, I will use something white or yellow. But overall, I’m down with browns.
Live shrimp have to be considered one of the most used baits in the Keys, so in my artificial lure box, I always have some shrimp imitations, with the 1/4 oz size getting the most use. Redfish like it. Sea trout crush it. Barracuda and mackerel shred it. It casts reasonably well, can be effectively worked in different depths, and while not completely weedless, is weed resistant. If you want to work one of these soft shrimp in stronger current, a small, split shot sinker will usually get it down without having to tie on a new, heavier lure.
Jigs are always very popular because they catch fish. My favorite inshore type is a bucktail, flat-headed style in 1/8 and 1/4 oz. It sinks more slowly than jigs with round or bullet shaped heads - important since us yakfishing folk are many times fishing really skinny water. They work well by themselves, but adding a bit of shrimp or other scent can help turn on the bite if the fish are being picky. Again, a fairly weed resistant bait, and the 1/8 oz enters the water more quietly in calm conditions. It’s not the easiest to cast for distance because of it’s shape and light weight, but is a very useful and durable lure in close to the mangroves.
And now one of my favorites - an old stand-by - the weedless, 1/4oz gold spoon like your gramps had in his tackle box. It casts a country mile, even into a stiff wind, and with practice you can even learn to “fly” it, or curve it into and around structure. That alone makes it fun to fish with! And it’s great for covering a lot of water in a hurry. I normally rig it with 6 inches of #2 wire and a swivel between the wire and main line, to protect against the slashing, razor sharp teeth of cudas and mackerel. Mix up your retrieve (slow, medium, fast, smooth, jerky) and see what the fish like on that day. Big jack crevalle love it. Sharks will hit it. And redfish will eat it, even with wire leader. In addition, I’ve caught quite a few gray snapper on this time-tested lure. If I could only take one lure with me, this would probably be the one.
Cooler weather brings a lot of cooperative fish into the Keys backcountry, so skip the stop at the bait tank and get your lure on!
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