Oh boy, it’s getting cold out around here! Short days and north winds bring us those arctic-like temperatures that can reach an unbelievable low in the low sixty degree range. While the rest of the country is truly freezing their unmentionable extremities off, we are also experiencing some of our most wintery weather. When the wind is blowing chilly air across the flats, what can we do to stay warm with some action? Where there is smoke, there is fire!
I was recently flying home to Key West, and the flight pattern was such that I was able to have a great view of the Lower Keys from my seat. In many of the basins, there were long patches of milky water being pulled by current into channels and up onto some flats. It looked like the way wind carries smoke through the air. This is the tell-tale sign of big schools of mullet disturbing the bottom and creating a “mud”. Any time of year, when the mullet move, the predators follow. In the winter here, we get a variety of fish chasing and feeding on these schools of bait. Big jack crevalle, ladyfish, bluefish, and blacktip sharks are among the cast of characters that travel with the mullet. Others, like pompano, sea trout and redfish, are pushed south with the bait schools by the colder temperatures.
It is usually not too difficult to find some mudding fish this time of year. There are spots where it is very common for it to happen. I suggest cruising around the basins in your area to start; looking for the “smoke”. A big mullet mud is not difficult to see.
There are a variety of ways to fish these “mudding” scenarios. The most common is to set a drift upwind, or up current, and do what my brother-in-law, Bo, likes to call, “spray and pray”. Basically, making long casts in every direction and working whatever lure you have, back to the boat. Commonly, jigs with plastics are a go to bait. I prefer to use paddle tail swimmers. Others really like jerk bait style tails. I stay away from the grub tails as they tend to get chewed off easily and lose some of their action. But, when you get onto a hot bite, most anything bouncing through the water column will cause a reaction.
The action is not limited to below the surface. Everyone loves a top-water bite. This is a great opportunity to get multiple explosive bites on the surface. Local guide, Pete Heydon, took me to one of his favorite places to find mudding fish. We began our drift fan casting with buck tail jigs--ladyfish and jacks readily ate our baits. Pete handed me a fly rod with a small chartreuse bait pattern on the end. In a few casts, some nice sized jacks came to the boat. These fish are an absolute blast on an 8 or 9 weight rod. I then made a long cast (ok, long for me) and a nice sized bluefish started running off my fly line. My fly rod “trash can slam” was complete!
It is always good to have a heavier rod rigged with wire and a circle hook ready to let drift behind the boat while casting. Pete says, “Float a ladyfish back there, and you have a good chance at catching a shark. But, if you put a bluefish back there, buddy, you’re in shark city!”
If a bent rod and lots of action are what you’re looking for, fishing muds is a sure fire way to stay entertained. It is a perfect way for the youngsters to practice casting and hooking fish as well. Just head out there and find your own piece of the smoke on the water!
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