Warm Winter, Hott Fishing

January usually brings us some of the coldest weather of the year, but this year has been milder than usual. Cold fronts have pushed through, bringing winds and waves, but water temperatures have not fallen below the mid-60’s for any length of time.

Fishing has been good for the usual winter-time species. Spotted Sea Trout have not been dominant since the season opened, mostly smaller fish landed in the mornings and evenings. The larger, legal-sized fish above 15 inches seem to show up late at night. Shrimp and grubtails have worked to target them.

Some nice Sand Sea Trout have been seen from just before sunset till later at night. Some of these Sand Trout have gone over 15 inches, and there is no size or bag limit. Sand Trout have been partial to shrimp and shrimp-like lures.

Silver Trout have been showing up in droves, with the Silvers biting all day, but then even better after dark. They have been running  from 6 to 10 inches, and they like shrimp bits or small lures.

Silver Perch, aka Butterfish, have been around in the daytime also, but seem to really start biting an hour before sunset into the evenings. Butterfish like shrimp, but will also take bits of squid. Multiple-hook sabikis tipped with bits of bait work wonders on them.

Whiting have been running good size, with many fish of a foot or so. Mixed in are smaller fish, but there have been plenty of them to go around. Whiting will take shrimp pieces, but also will bite on the tougher longer-lasting squid. Rigging with the weight at the end of the line and the hook or hooks spaced upwards from that allows anglers to feel the bite easily. No size limit or bag limit on Whiting, so fishermen cull their catch of smaller fish before they expire. Some fishermen have been getting full 5-gallon buckets of these tasty fish.

We have seen a fair number of Flounder here on Pier 60 in January. Fish have been running from under the size limit of 12 inches to fish in the 18-inch range. Flounder like live shrimp best, or a lure that looks like a little fish or shrimp.

Sheepshead are feeding around the pilings, and can be targeted with a small hook, very little weight, a bit of fresh shrimp, and a deft touch. Their diet of crustaceans imparts their flesh with a flavor not unlike crabmeat. These striped members of the Porgy family can be sight-fished, and we have seen some chunky Sheepies come over the rail this month.

This warmer-than-usual winter has brought us some unusual sights here on Pier 60. Schools of Roe Mullet have been balling up in preparation for a second run to the Gulf to spawn. These fish are full of eggs, and attract numerous predators. The Mullet is a vegetarian, so fishing for them with a hook is problematic, but snatching is a legal way to harvest them. The schools have been so tightly-packed that it is truly a sight to behold. I have not seen this many Mullet since the gill nets were banned in the 90’s. Good to see they are making a comeback. The Dolphins have been putting on a show as they drive into the schools, splashing and playing with their food.

We have also seen some True Hammerhead Sharks, the ones that follow the Tarpon migrations. I have had reports of Tarpon hook-ups, and break-offs around the pilings. Unusual for this time of year, but entirely plausible given the warm winter.

Anglers, please remember to follow State fishery laws. It is your obligation to know your fish, rules, and only keep legal-sized fish. Law says you must have a measuring device when keeping regulated species. Wildlife Officers do visit and check the Pier, and will write tickets with hefty fines for violators. If you are fishing on Pier 60 with a paid fishing admission, then you are issued an armband identifying you as such. With the armband you do not need a Fishing License, as you are fishing under the protection of our Pier license. If you are fishing without a paid fishing admission, then you do not have the protection of our license.

Good Luck Fishing!