When it comes to sport fish, the red drum has one of the most extensive ranges of any species in the United States.
Anglers from North Florida to Key West target these tackle-busters in Atlantic waters. In the Gulf of Mexico, redfish are caught all year in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, where it gets a lot colder than here.
While anglers in every region have their own tricks and tactics, live bait is usually scarce around here during the colder months, which is why many local fishermen rely on shrimp to carry them through the winter. Since fish are cold-blooded creatures and their metabolisms slow as water temperature drops, they have a more difficult time feeding when it's chilly.
An old trick, one that seems to work particularly well with redfish, is to pinch the tail off a live shrimp to hamper its mobility, which makes it an easier prey. A shrimp with no tail also makes its own chum slick, which might be just enough to entice a slow-moving fish to feed.
But cold water affects both predator and prey. That is why many anglers choose artificial baits, so they can control at least one half of that equation. Soft-bodied plastic baits, commonly known as "jigs," seem to be the bait of choice here on the west coast of Florida.
Anglers will debate color, shape, size and even scent, but one thing is for sure: the slower the retrieve the better. A jig bounced slowly across the bottom will work well in most scenarios. If the fish aren't biting, slow down your retrieve. If that doesn't work, and the fish still aren't biting, slow your retrieve. If that doesn't work, slow down your retrieve. Get the picture?
But winter fishing does have its drawbacks, especially for the angler. It doesn't take much to become chilled. A little wind and rain can cause shivering. When the core body temperature drops, it doesn't take long before the cold begins to hamper judgment. Play it safe. Dress warmly and keep an eye on the weather.
If you find yourself in trouble, a personal flotation device will increase your chances for survival. If you capsize, stay with the boat. Your chances for survival are better on an overturned boat than in the water.
If you do find yourself adrift in cold water, keep your arms at your side and knees together to conserve as much heat as possible. Seventy-five percent of your body heat is lost through the head, so a wool watch cap might just save your life.
But the best advice is, don't get yourself in that situation. Leave a "float plan" with friends or relatives. Let them know where you're going and what time you expect to be back.