Skip to main content

Late Winter Creek Hopping

Until spring's arrival, coastal waterways offer dependable action

Late Winter Creek Hopping
Creeks are where the late-winter action can be found. (David A. Brown photo)

Looks like spring'sfull-time warmup is just around the corner, but Florida fish are usually prettysmart about not rushing into their vernal patterns too quickly.

Pretty much all of thestate's snook and a lot of the redfish, trout, ladyfish, jacks and juveniletarpon spend their winters in the warm, stable environments of coastalwaterways. Of these cold-season solaces, tidal creeks rank highly for theirnatural design, abundant habitat and available food sources.

Late February to earlyMarch always sees an early wave of fish emerging and cautiously feeding on thenewly arriving pods of scaled sardines ("whitebait"), but they'llhold close to the creek mouths and dash back inside whenever a late-season coldsnap blows through the area. So, until the end of the first quarter, coastalcreeks remain a good bet for bending a rod on a variety of inshore species.


Click image for the photo gallery:



The Standard Scene


Snook are the most common creekresidents, as warm water is absolutely essential to their survival when winter gripsthe flats and outer shorelines. Look for snook under docks – especially thosewith big boats that blow out deep holes under the propellers. Deep bends andundercut mangrove edges are also a good bet for linesiders.

Docks of all sizes are actually thecatchall structure for most creek and canal fish. Redfish, jacks, mangrovesnapper, juvenile grouper and trout will seek shelter and feeding opportunitiesaround these structures.

Elsewhere, expect to find reds,sheepshead and black drum snooping around oyster bars. Storm drains inresidential canals often sport these shell structures at their openings.

Quiet pockets off the main runs willgather trout, snook and redfish – especially when windy days push pods ofbaitfish into these confines. Watch the open water in center channels for babytarpon, which roll topside to gulp air.


Top Tactics

Although pilchard schools will besteadily increasing, they can be tough to find in this transitional season.Pinfish remain available year-round, but live shrimp is a can't-miss.

Best all-around tactic involves hookinga shrimp under the horn and hanging it beneath a cork. Use the tide and wind tocarry your bait into prime spots and when the cork disappears, you've got ataker.


When targeting docks, go with a morestreamlined presentation. Pinch off the shrimp’s tail fins, insert your hook atthe end of the tail and thread the shrimp onto the hook. This rig is easy tocast at specific targets and keeps sheepshead and undersized snapper frompecking a head-hooked shrimp to pieces.

If you need a little more weight forcasting, add a split shot just above the hook on your leader. Another option:replace the hook and split shot with a jig head.

On the artificial side, ¼-ounce jigswith shad or grub tails or soft plastic jerk baits work well. Experiment withcolors to see what the fish want, but you’re usually good with chartreuse, rootbeer, gold or white.

Other productive tactics includebouncing jigs in the center channels for tarpon, ladyfish and jacks; workingtopwater plugs around daybreak for trout and trolling shallow diving plugs pastdocks for snook.

Here are a few pointersfor making your day successful.

Tide Time

No different than the habitats outsidethe coastal waterways, tides play a key role in where fish will position andwhen they feed. Rising water grants access to fertile shorelines and shallowstructures, while falling tides concentrate fish in the deeper spots.

Incoming tides will renew and area withfreshly oxygenated water, while the outgoing cycle pulls baitfish andcrustaceans from marshes and mangrove edges past points and bars and over deepholes where predators ambush the easy meals.

Forage Central

Schools of finger mullet running theshoreline shallows, pinfish shining in sea grass beds, or snook chasing creekchubs against a sand bar are all activity that indicates opportunity. If thecreek is still and silent, chances are the bite will be slow until morefavorable conditions take shape.

Stealth Matters

Minimizing noise is always a wiseinshore strategy, but in this scaled-down playing field, it demands evengreater consideration. Cut the big motor well before reaching your target areaand ease into range with a trolling motor, push pole, or better yet – a winddrift.

If you need to stop and work a spot,carefully lower the anchor with no rattling or clanking. Same goes forretrieving an anchor. Eliminate accidental sounds between uses by laying youranchor on a towel or jacket.

Want to Wade

Don't hesitate to beachthe boat on a sand bar and hop out to approach the fish on foot. On sunny days,when visibility is high, wading can get you into casting range of fish thatwill likely shy away from a boat in the creek's narrow confines. Don't forgetyour neoprene waders. It'll be several more weeks before you'll want to step inmuch deeper than your shins.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Make Your Own Tackle Box with Plano Edge Flex

Make Your Own Tackle Box with Plano Edge Flex

Plano's Charlie Davis and In-Fisherman's Rob Neumann talk about the new Plano Edge Flex as part of the 2020 ICAST New Fishing Gear Guide.

Bowfishing from the Bank (Video)

Bowfishing from the Bank (Video)

There aren't many better ways to spend a summer night than skewering fish in the shallows.

Kevin VanDam Fishing Reels from Lew

Kevin VanDam Fishing Reels from Lew's

The Kevin VanDam LFS Baitcast reel ($139.99) comes in three models (6.2:1, 7.5:1, 8.3:1), with right- and left-hand retrieve, 10-bearing system with Zero Reverse one-way clutch, aluminum frame and spool, carbon fiber drag system, up to 20 pounds drag power.

Rapala OG Slim 6

Rapala OG Slim 6

The 2019 Bassmaster Classic champ Ott Defoe sits down with In-Fisherman Associate Publisher Todd Ceisner, to talk about Rapala's new OG Slim 6 crankbait. The OG Slim 6 will feature a flat-sided, balsa body, and will dive around 6 feet. Featuring a circuit board lip, the OG Slim 6 deflects off of cover better than traditional plastic lips. Offered in 14 colors and available in tackle stores Fall 2020. MSRP $10.99.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Quick look at common, easy-to-catch fish species (video).Get On Board: Species 101 for Beginning Anglers Other Freshwater

Get On Board: Species 101 for Beginning Anglers

Game & Fish Staff

Quick look at common, easy-to-catch fish species (video).

Almost anyone can catch a bunch of small catfish. Hooking a true monster requires a different level of preparation, skill and effort.A Time for Giant Catfish Catfish

A Time for Giant Catfish

John N. Felsher - August 24, 2020

Almost anyone can catch a bunch of small catfish. Hooking a true monster requires a different...

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish time after time.10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About Catfish

10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About

Anietra Hamper

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish...

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? You'll need a cartridge that lives up to the expectations demanded at ranges up to and beyond 500, 600 or even 1,000 yards. Try these different loads until you find the one that thumps steel at long ranges consistently.10 Best Long-Range Rifle Cartridges Ever Made Ammo

10 Best Long-Range Rifle Cartridges Ever Made

David Hart - January 14, 2015

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? You'll need a cartridge that lives up to...

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

Various companies show appreciation to frontline defense – healthcare professionals – against the pandemic with special giveaway.Outdoors Industry Honoring Healthcare Heroes: COVID-19 News

Outdoors Industry Honoring Healthcare Heroes: COVID-19

April 27, 2020

Various companies show appreciation to frontline defense – healthcare professionals – against...

Pan-friend slabs may not sound like a holiday meal, but as a celebration of Mom's life it was my most memorable Christmas dinner ever.Crappie for Christmas: The Fondest of Childhood Memories Stories

Crappie for Christmas: The Fondest of Childhood Memories

Keith Sutton - December 19, 2018

Pan-friend slabs may not sound like a holiday meal, but as a celebration of Mom's life it was...

As wintertime takes hold, power plant lake bass fishing heats up for anglers that focus on a lake's optimal water temperatures.For Wintertime Power Plant Bass Lakes, Water Temperature is Key Stories

For Wintertime Power Plant Bass Lakes, Water Temperature is Key

Lynn Burkhead, OSG Senior Digital Editor

As wintertime takes hold, power plant lake bass fishing heats up for anglers that focus on a...

As the official zone maps of Pool 8 were handed out for the Championship Round of the 2016 Summit Cup on the Mississippi River, the six finalists scoured the maps like scratch-off lottery tickets, hoping their numbers would come up big.Past Experience Squashed by Fishing Zone Boundaries for Championship Stories

Past Experience Squashed by Fishing Zone Boundaries for Championship

Rob Newell, MajorLeagueFishing.com

As the official zone maps of Pool 8 were handed out for the Championship Round of the 2016...

See More Stories

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now