Cold Weather Kayak Fishing
One of the best parts of living in North Florida is that our climate enables us to fish all year including winter. And although our winter weather isn’t as moderate as South Florida, as long as the air temperature gets into the upper 40s or low 50s for a daily high then there are plenty of critters to be caught. In this article we’ll explore how to gear up for the cold weather, what areas to focus on, and the species to target.
I find there are several advantages to kayak fishing cold weather. First there is significantly less boat traffic. Second the water quality improves and clears up significantly compared to the warm weather months. Water temperatures most winters in North Florida usually bottom out around the mid 50s. Third those fish need to be fed and exercised – they don’t get to go to Miami for the cold months.
The key to enjoying winter kayak fishing in North Florida is to be comfortable and that means being warm and dry. A nice set of breathable waders with neoprene booties are critical to staying dry and protected. As long as you are careful where you put your feet (avoid oysters) you can wade in the booties themselves. If you wade a lot having full wading boots over the booties is probably a good idea. Another good lightweight waterproof overshoe is the Thorogood Neos – sometimes I wear socks with Crocs inside Neos.
Layering your clothing appropriately under the waders will keep you nice and toasty. I either use a set of long underwear bottoms and top, or even better I like the Under Armor Cold Weather Gear product. The Under Armor is pricier than basic long johns but worth every cent in my opinion. Over my base I put on some good thermal socks – if you have waterproof booties merino wool is a favorite, and there are numerous cold weather sock products that are made to keep your feet warm and dry. For my second layer I put on some sweatpants and a long sleeve shirt. Finally depending on the weather I’ll put on a hooded sweatshirt and additionally a wind shell.
For headwear a nice took or ski hat works well – make sure your ears are covered. Under Armor also has a full face mask for cold weather that works well. Sometimes I’ll wear some thin gloves, or I’ll just wear a single glove on my rod hand. I find I usually need one hand glove free for tying knots or setting baits and lures. The disposable hand warmers do wonders to warm up your hands, and remember there’s always the water. Although the air temperature may be 40-45 degrees the water temperature is usually in the mid fifties.
At the launch I’ll take of my sneakers and just step into my waders and I’m essentially ready to go. If your kayak tends to have water in the seat area or footwell make sure you have some scupper plugs.
Now that we’re warm, dry, and comfortable let’s go fishing, but where and when? Picking the tide and time of day is key. In the winter there is less bait and fish are in an energy conservation mode. They want to find places where they can get easy meals, expend an absolute minimum amount of energy, and find some warmer spots. In a tidal estuary like Northeast Florida low tide and the first of incoming tide is prime time in the winter, particularly when these tides occur towards midday or later.
Later in the day means the sun has been up warming up the air and water as best it can, but more importantly warming up the exposed mud and oyster beds and the water around them. A creek bank with exposed mud banks and oyster beds that enjoy the benefit of direct morning sunlight from the east is a good bet for finding fish looking for an easy meal. Generally when choosing between a muddy creek and an oyster bed creek I’ll take the muddy one on the coldest days – muddy creeks seem to get a few degrees warmer than rocky oyster creeks.
The winter species I most often catch are Spotted Seatrout, Red Drum, Black Drum, and Sheepshead. The trout bite which in summer is best at early morning, late evening, and under dock lights at night shifts to all day in the clear cool water. Red and black drum bite well all winter, although you will find the fish are more lethargic. You will need to put the bait right on them and they will fight for a shorter period of time before calling it quits. Sheepshead (oh those yummy ‘heads) are very popular especially in the February to March timeframe, and as always are found tight up against rock or oyster structure and prefer fiddler crabs.