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Chill Out!

Chill Out!
Chill Out!

Normally when someone suggests you “chill out” the idea is to take a moment to reflect on the situation. This month the saying takes on a far more literal meaning as the few weeks of what we call winter grip Southeast Florida. Surprisingly, even certain species that are here year-round respond favorably.



Jump up in the tower and scan for rays if you want to sight fish for cobia. Rick Ryals, left, and David Blackwell spotted a beauty.

Tops on this list are the ever-popular speckled perch. Much harder to find during sweltering dog days when they cloister in deeper water, locating fish should now prove easy as specks shadow the coastlines to spawn. Yet while just about any major lake or canal will hold a few schools, anglers who really like to load the stringers focus on the shallow marshes and rim canal of Lake Okeechobee.


While much of the action will be from Eagle Bay Island all the way down to Fisheating Creek, speck fishers who don't wish to travel that far will also find hordes of fish out of Belle Glade. Many fish are caught at night, with the dynamite holes that cut to the lake between there and Clewiston especially busy places.


These areas are also favored by largemouth bass fishermen, who will be working many of the same weedy edges that hold crappie. Instead of soaking live Missouri minnows, however, bassers will toss a jumbo, wild golden shiner near bass lairs.


Another fish that responds well to the cold down here now is the sailfish. While caught to some extent virtually every day of the year, winter happens to be one of the very few times when you can target sails with almost absolute certainty. You don't have to run very far out either. But, you will need an adequate supply of live bait. Definitions vary greatly as to how much is enough, with a lot of that hinging on how hot the bite has been as well as what bait's available. Goggle-eyes and tinker mackerel are the preferred choices, but blue runners seldom get refused these days either—particularly the smaller ones. There is no better kite bait. I usually buy at least half a dozen live baits, but I also stay well stocked up with small yellow jigs to troll along the beaches. You won't catch any gogs that way, since they bite at night and before the sun rises in the morning, but hardtails certainly do and it becomes a lot more fun to catch one when you equate it with finding a $10 bill.


As well as live-baiting works, it's still folly not to bring along a few packs of belly strips and a dozen rigged ballyhoo. If the livies run out and there's none around, rigged baits are terrific for boating some decent dolphin and possibly a skipjack or blackfin tuna.


Instead of focusing strictly on the 120-foot drop, it's never a bad idea to venture farther into the blue water. The best of it is often found somewhere between 400 and 600 feet of water. If the day proves slow, drop a livie to bottom. At the wrecks, the likely catch will be an amberjack or gray grouper. Elsewhere, that live bait could bring up a school of dolphin or possibly even a pod of sailfish. Check Florida Sportsman Fishing Chart No. 7 (Palm Beaches) for good numbers.


On slower days, when pelagics ignore livies offshore, take them in along the beaches to burn up on the barracudas and spinner sharks. Both are great light-tackle quarries. The 'cudas like clean water, but spinner sharks don't much care either way. Rig with a wire leader for both species and keep in mind a 20-foot shock leader of 100-pound mono is necessary for handling the sharks boatside, as well as deterring chafe-offs during the fight.


Fishermen who like to target jacks, including permit, will encounter them now. For jack crevalle, have the noisy topwater plugs ready, and keep a heavy jigging spoon or bucktail nearby. Often jacks will be visible on the machine, even when there is no surface activity. For permit and the occasional African pompano, use a live shrimp on a jighead. Lake Worth Pier is still closed, but another hotspot, the south jetty at Boynton Inlet, is open.


Moving up inside the rivers, pompano will be eating live and dead sandfleas, as well as flat-bodied jigs. One way to find them is to watch for skipping fish in your boat wake as you run from spot to spot. Have the light spinning outfits ready. Blind casting along channel edges and the flats just inside the St. Lucie inlet will also produce pomps. Have some live shrimp on hand just in case they show their finicky side.





When the bite is hot it might seem like shooting fish in a barrel, but few anglers will argue that Spanish mackerel fishing right now is anything less than outstanding. While the epicenter (and most of the boats) will be found just south of St. Lucie Inlet at Peck Lake, the fact is, decent fish will be scattered up and down our coastline.


One great way to find Spanish macks is to troll small, single-hook spoons behind tiny planers or better yet, on a downrigger. The lure doesn't have to get very far down, just below the propwash a bit. Don't venture too deep. Most fish will be found in less than 15 feet of water.


On the weekends or even during the week if the weather is especially good, the best way to deal with the crowd is to anchor and chum sparingly, but nonstop with glass minnows or silversides. The latter is a freshwater variety that suffices nicely when the glassies aren't available.


Don't forget to pack a few bucktails either. They're easier to throw than a spoon; the key is to work the lure fast. Slow retrieves don't catch mackerel.


And while your first inclination might be to use a light wire leader, there are times when macks turn finicky. On those days, opt for 80-pound-mono leaders. You'll lose a few fish, but the extra strikes more than make up for the ones that part your line.


Now chill.



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