CONDITIONS: If weather history repeats itself, December will bring the beginning of frontal systems moving through our area with chararacteristic winds and drops in overall temperature. Would think we'll see water temperatures that were in the low 70's last month dip to the 60's by month end. The other issue is that the wind kicks in as these fronts start marching through. West wind in those fronts is the absolute devil. They will destroy the water clarity especially in the shallower backwaters....cloudy dirty waters mean poor fishing except for the hated catfish. East winds are better but not exactly an absolute insuring clean water. You get a good front through here forget fishing for two to four days. The tides this month are moderate even through the full moon periods. Bottom line; be sensitive to frontal passages. Schedule your fishing excursions either before or 2 / 3 days after.
BACKWATER: That cooler water will drive the beginnings of winter fishing here. The species react to water temps. The snook action will be non-existent. Below 65% they go into a stage of hibernation.....you'll see them circling on the surface of the water but they will NOT feed. Replacing them will be increased action on redfish all through the Ten Thousand Islands. Probably best areas here are Johnson Bay creeks and the area known as Henderson Creek as part of Rookery Bay. You can approach them with a live shrimp freelined or set out under a popper working tight to the shallow mangrove edges. Their cousin, the black drum, will also show in sizable numbers. These fish can run anywhere from undersize runts to 8-10# lunkers that will test your angling skill especially if you're working them against a racing tide. Best locale for these guys is in the deeper cuts along the ICW or mixed in with sheepshead. They will take a tad of shrimp worked slowly across the bottom. There will still be mangrove snapper around but most will be runts; the bigger fish move to a little warmer offshore.....so give them a pass for a couple months. Other opportunities are pompano that will be active if the water comes nice and clear and the tide runs moderately.They can be worked on a drift in Capri / Hurricane Passes with tipped small jigs bounced along the bottom.
NEARSHORE: Watch out for sea conditions out here. Either direction wind can make for rough sea conditions. Along the first and second reefs off Marco you should find the arrival of the vanguard of the sheepshead population. Cold water spawners that move inside to do thier thing as the water goes super cold. They will show out here first. They are devils to catch. Drop a line down vertically (vertically is important) and work the rod with a soft 6-8" lift off the bottom....you will feel a tap.....lift a little higher....as soon as you feel weight, set the hook with gusto and hold on. The bigger sheepshead are a real tussle. Mixed in along the bottom expect such things as the mangrove snapper that vacated the backwater; tenacious triggerfish; slashing Spanish mackerel and a nice fat flounder or two. The "bigger" fish now are limited to Goliath Grouper (catch and carefully release) and gag grouper working a live bait tight to structure.on major equipment.
OFFSHORE: Weather and sea condition all important here. Choice of snapper and mackerel action on the near shore reefs and wrecks. Best way to work is with a good chum effort and live bait. Wrecks in the 20-30 mile range are the best spots to set up with chum and work large blue runners or small threadfin herring for pelagics that are working the small bait schools. Mainstay out here is red grouper that are active best in 55-60' of water that is found between 18-22 miles offshore. In other words it takes a serious commitment and good conditions to undertake a grouper trip. Work them with a live pinfish worked along the bottom.
GOOD FISHING.......MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR