Examining Florida Bay backcountry - A person holding a fish - Bamboo Charters
Capt. Anthony Vargas helps his client with a nice 24-pound redfish caught out in the Gulf with Bamboo Charters. MATT BELLINGER.

Winter has set up camp here in the Florida Keys! By any northerner’s definition of winter we’ve had wonderful weather. Locals can be identified from a distance these days simply by the layers of clothing they are hiding under, which leads me to the subject of finding consistent catching when the weather is all over the place. Water temps stay pretty steady on the oceanside once you get out into 20 feet of water or so, but the shallow waters of Florida Bay cool off rapidly with these northerly winds and the cold fronts that have been rolling through the Keys.

So let’s look at the backcountry of Florida Bay first, as it’s complicated to say the least. The depth of the bay behind Islamorada and Key Largo averages 3 feet at best and finding water deeper than 7 feet is hard to do. The island moats can get 11 feet here and there but it’s more likely to find 8 to 9 feet here and there. The importance of depth is that when a cold front hits, the deepest water will be warmer and snook, redfish, trout and everybody else will pile in for warmth and food. The shrimp will be thick in the moats so your best bet is to choose fresh shrimp or buck tails and artificials that mimic these little Snicker bars for fish. 

It’s important to fish low and slow in the cooler water, I like a 1/8-3/8 ounce jig head in any color as long as it’s chartreuse. You can do a Knocker rig or Carolina rig as well and it works with live pinfish or pilchards. The flats around Flamingo will heat water in the sun; if the falling tide is in the afternoon, fish the run outs where the tide falls into the deeper channels around the flats. You will find what you are looking for with some time and patience. The first of the incoming tide will hold fish in these same places on the edge of the flats as fish will go up with the rising waters to feed, as well as to lounge in the shallow water that is warmed by the sun.

On the Atlantic side the deeper water won’t drop as drastically as the bay does in a cold front. The patches out in front of the larger channels like Channel 2 and 5 will be good on falling tides as these areas will hold fish looking to feed on bait falling out of the Bay. Once the water temps get too low here, the fish will move out to deeper warmer water. The reef structures in 30 to 60 feet will offer up good numbers of snappers, cero mackerel and more. There will be ballyhoo showing up in your chum slick; catch these and put them out behind the boat and hold on tight! Sailfish will be crashing baits all over the reef line and kingfish will be thick just off the reef edge on out to 200 feet of water. Blackfin tuna have been raiding bait pods in the same area, so be ready for them as well.

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