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Cold Water Flying

By: Capt. Jon Bull

Recently, temperatures have been barely rising above the mid 50’s. Nighttime temps are dipping below freezing in most parts of the state. Discussions of stunned or dead snook are consuming the online chat boards. Most anglers are deciding to stay at home rather than brave the elements. Many of those same anglers would say that it was time for the fly fishers to pack it in until spring approaches……they would be wrong. Winter time affords fly fishers a myriad of opportunities to get their tippets stretched on some of Florida’s most challenging game fish.

Cold Weather Fly Fishing for Redfish

The key to success is changing your philosophy and your strategy. I was recently asked what my strategies for winter time success were. This is what I came up with……

My strategy for this time of year is mid morning incoming tides. If it is low early in the morning (4:00-6:00), I would look for lee shorelines that are going to be exposed to the sun for the longest period of time during the morning and them hit them around 10:00-11:00….or later. I like my water depth to be between +0.5-1.0 ft. The redfish, trout, and sheepshead will be moving up the flats as soon as there is enough water to cover their backs. The sun exposure will warm the substrate and activate all the little creepy crawlies that they like to eat. Plus, that sun-exposed flat will have the warmest water on the flat…making it a natural spa….especially if it is dark, mud bottom. At the aforementioned water depth, I can pole my skiff and very easily sight fish from a distance.

I also look for wading birds to dictate where the fish will be. We see many egrets during the winter. Where they are wading is generally too shallow for my target species, but if there is a deeper trough or hole near them, I will bet the game fish are in there waiting for the tide to rise a little higher.

Crab Pattern for Sight Fishing with a 6 weight

In terms of gear, I like to scale down to a 6 wt. setup. The water is very high in oxygen content so the lighter rods will not cause any extra stress to reds, trout, and sheepies. They can handle it. In these gin clear water conditions, I also like to scale down my tippet size to 8-10#. I may even go to a 12# with no bite tippet. My flies will be “down and brown.” Think about what they are eating during this time of year, usually not greenbacks. Small shrimp and crab patterns will do the trick.

Always use loop knots to connect your fly to your tippet.
Make sure you allow extra time to adequately stretch out your fly line.

Slow retrieve caught this slot red

In terms of presentation, SLOW, SLOWER, and EVEN SLOWER THAN BEFORE. Things don’t move fast in the winter and shrimp and crabs do not move like a baitfish (fast). I like to strip my fly into position, let it settle, and then bump the fly as the fish approaches. Usually that will entice a strike….especially if there are multiple fish cruising together. I have found, recently, that the reds are hanging with the sheepies in groups of 2 or 3.

One last thing…..the “SLOW, SLOWER, and EVEN SLOWER THAN BEFORE” also applies to your POLING technique……NOT YOUR TROLLING TECHNIQUE. If you use your trolling motor in these conditions, forget it. You have to pole and you have to pole SLOWLY. These fish will be very spooky in those water depths and if you want a shot, you have to make like a hole in the water. Getting out and wading will also help if you do not have poling capabilities.

Waders make kayaking in the cold tolerable

So get out there and take advantage of the low angler/boat pressure on the flats. Just make sure that you add some extra clothes and a thermos of your favor Starbucks coffee to your gear list. And should the day’s effort result in fly fishing success, a flask of some other warming liquids wouldn’t hurt either!

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Allen Wyatt
Allen Wyatt


4 Responses

Capt. Jon Bull
Capt. Jon Bull

March 04, 2010

Sorry for the delayed reply…but with kayaking, it is so much easier to follow the birds signs. you are moving much slower and would not spook them as much. It is a matter of observing where different birds are at and fishing accordingly. I always look for a great blue heron. If more than half of his legs are exposed, I know that there is not enough water to hold fish….so I fish out in front of him where it may be deeper. If his butt feathers are touching the water, I fish all around him. GB Herons will be feeding on exactly what snook, reds, and trout will be eating. The heron won’t be standing in the water for his health…he is looking to eat.

Tom….when it gets warm!!!


January 25, 2010

Captain John,
Good tips, Thanks
In terms of kayaking; how can I follow the birds? It seems like a case of always paddling and never being there at the right time?

Tom Lucke
Tom Lucke

January 25, 2010

Great article Jon. Since I have a gift certificate for a fishing trip with you, when would be a good time?
Regards, Tom

Allen Wyatt
Allen Wyatt

January 14, 2010

Great article Captain Jon! I appreciate the the Slow, Slower, even slower tips on moving the flay and poling the boat.

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