It’s rough, it’s cold, and you might well have some magical days all to yourself.

African pompano are protected from spearing in FL state waters but are a viable offshore, where they congregate around wrecks and high-relief natural structure.

If you don’t dive in the winter already, the rest of us would rather you don’t start now.

Here’s why:

  1. It’s cold. That means you have to wear a 3mm or even 5mm wetsuit which is a far cry from summer days in the Keys catching lobsters in just a bathing suit.
  2. The Big Sharks are home. I don’t know where they come from but in winter we see some of the biggest and baddest sharks so bring your big boy pants.
  3. The weather is rough. Freediving is challenging enough; getting a snorkel full of water every third breath makes it really hard to dive well and relax.
  4. Dirty water. Because it’s rough, it’s usually pretty dirty and it’s just not that much fun when you can’t see. (Refer to reason #2)
  5. Grouper closes in Atlantic waters January 1. Let’s be honest, most of the time that is our target when we go out, the other fish are just icing on the cake.

So, please stay home and just wait until it gets warmer or just quit diving altogether. The less people in the water, the more fish for us.
If I haven’t convinced you, well, here’s what’s up.

Winter time kicks ass.

The cold weather moves most of the really good fish inshore and you usually don’t have to go far to fill the cooler. On the Gulf Coast, you can shore dive and get a limit of sheepshead in 10 feet of water and generally with a strong east or northeast wind it will be calm and clear near the coast and any rock or rubble is going to be holding plenty. Bonus, you might get a few flounder and snapper to add to the cooler. Use a little dive buoy with a flag if you are shorediving and I suggest a good paddleboard with a fish bag to keep your fish in. Winter time west coast I feel safe shore diving but you won’t catch me anywhere near the beach or bay when it warms up and the tarpon start moving in. The sharks that follow those guys are the real deal and are used to eating big animals.

On the Gulf Coast you can shore dive and get a limit of sheepshead in 10 feet of water. On the east coast, if you can get out, the pelagics are there.

On the east coast, if you can get out, it’s all or nothing. The pelagics are there but it can be tough to nail down exactly where they are holding and takes a special human to take off his/her winter foul weather gear and slide into a wetsuit. The good news is, wetsuits now are so good you are going to be happier in the water than in the boat and if and when you do see something it will be a stud. Definitely dive with a buoy and float line. Rough conditions make it hard for the boat to keep track of you and the chance for a true monster amberjack, wahoo or kingfish are better than ever. I use an amber-tinted mask this time of year because the light is usually not as good and it brightens everything up, making it easier to pick out details of fish I’m hunting and to look under rocks.

Diving in the cold water takes a lot out of you. Bring an extra cooler with hot water and each time you get in the boat a few cups will bring you back to life. Warmth is key. In the boat between spots I wear a waterproof full-length swim parka that will be as important as a good free-dive wetsuit with a hood.

Winter time diving is a whole new game and an addictive one that is fraught with challenges but also rich in rewards. FS

Florida Sportsman Magazine January 2017

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