Low and slow -- it's more than a catchy phrase describing precision barbecue techniques. Indeed this is also a timely angling axiom that describes winter inshore fishing.
Notwithstanding the popularity of pork spare ribs or a nice beef brisket, this isn't a heat thing. On the contrary, it's the influence of winter's coldness. Scaled sardines (aka "whitebait") are vacationing in warm southern waters, so snook, trout and redfish turn more of their attention to crustaceans, which mostly doodle their way across or near the bottom.
That's the "low" part. The "slow" thing is mostly self-explanatory -- with the exception of the occasional warming trend, cold weather and cold water means everything moves at a more sluggish pace during winter. Put this all together and you have an ideal theater for artificials.
Sarasota guide and tournament angler Capt. Warren Girle fishes artificials year-round, but firmly believes in their winter effectiveness. Girle mostly throws Mr. Twister's scented Exude Darts for reds, as well as snook and trout throughout Sarasota and Lower Tampa Bay.
Preferring Golden Bream and Measles colors, Girle rigs his Darts on 1/8-ounce jig heads. He nips a quarter inch off the top of the bait and rigs it with a Daiichi Hitchhiker attached to the jig eye for what he says is a 95-percent weedless presentation with other strategic benefits.
"It's a little shorter profile, so you have a little better chance of hooking up on short strikes," Girle said. "That puts the hook a little closer to the (back) end. Also, snipping the end off makes it easier to attach the hitchhiker because you're not trying to line it up with the point of your bait."
Suggesting a hopping or crawling action, Girle stresses the need to pace your winter presentations. "When you think you're fishing it slowly, slow it down half again."
During low tides, kayak guide Jason Stock often paddles into backwater refuges where gamefish congregate and then he wades the perimeter of sandy holes. Because he's targeting fish in relatively tight confines, he prefers a bait that helps the fish locate it. His choice is the DOA CAL Shad in Golden Bream on a ¼-ounce CAL jig.
"When I'm using the shad tail, I let it sink to the bottom, smoothly pull back on the rod tip and then let the jig fall back to the bottom," Stock explained. "When the jig hits the bottom and you pull it, that shad tail kicks up the sand on the bottom.
"The shad tail then vibrates through the water and that causes the fluttering action. This will get the attention of the nearby gamefish. Keep repeating the retrieve back and when you feel that solid thump, reel down, set the hook and enjoy the fight."
Other thoughts on winter artificials:
Shrimp Imposters: DOA, Exude, Berkley and others offer plastic crustaceans that will get plenty of attention when slowly hopped over the grass or settled into potholes. Hang a shrimp bait under a popping or clacking cork to keep it from snagging grass. A sharp tug creates predation noises that call in trout and others from afar.
Pompano Jigs: These keel-weighted lures made by Doc's Lures, Silly Willy or Love's Lures attract more than pomps when slowly worked across broken bottom. Short, slow hops that kick up sand on each drop will temp everything from reds to bluefish. The streamlined form is a good choice for punching through stiff winds.
The Nose Knows: Scent plays a big role in winter angling, as fish that aren't in the roaming mood may move a little more than normal when responding to the smell of a potential meal. Do yourself a favor and keep those scented baits well-restrained by placing the packages in a heavy-duty freezer bag for an extra level of protection, lest the eye-crossing scent invades your vehicle or home. (Berkley makes a handy tray with multiple sections for conveniently carrying various Gulp! baits and their smelly liquids.)
External scent attractants like Lunker Sauce and Gulp! Alive spray can give any bait that extra edge to tempt sluggish winter fish.
Whatever you use during the cold season, remember to slow down for hot winter action.
David A. Brown has a B.A. in journalism from the University of South Florida and you can see his work in Florida Sportsman, FLWOutdoors.com, Cabela's Outfitter Journal, TIDE, In-Fisherman, Louisiana Sportsman, The St. Petersburg Times and Saltwater Angler. He also ghost-wrote and published "FISH SMART-CATCH MORE!" for Tampa's cable TV host Capt. Bill Miller (www.billmiller.com) and a couple more publishing projects will be docking soon. He operates a professional writing/marketing agency, Tight Line Communications.