This is usually the month of our coldest water temperatures; however, the weather was almost Spring-like for the first part of the month with the water in the mid to low 60's. We had a hard freeze last week,which took the temps down into the 50's, so remember to slow your retrieves of both artificial and live baits down when fishing during a cold snap.
Also, take full advantage of the sun's thermal heating of our shallow backwaters. On cold days, some of the best fishing may be from midday on. That being said, fish frequenting the deeper waters of the St Johns River - such as yellowmouth and speckled trout, drum, jetty reds, bluefish and sheepshead - may not be as affected by cold surface water.
February, which was closed for specs in the past, is now open for speckled trout; and the daily catch limit has been increased to six trout per person. Yellowmouth trout are also in good supply; and, in my opinion, put up a better fight than their speckled cousins, and taste just as good. Additionally, they seem to prefer the colder water. They will willingly hit artificials worked deep, as well as live shrimp fished with a sliding float or on a jighead, or even cut bait fished on the bottom.
The sheepshead are biting around area jetties, pilings, and rocks on fiddlers, crab, and live shrimp. Our big sheepshead tournament is next Saturday, and is always a lot of fun. Interspersed with them you may pick up a red or black drum every now and then.
There have also been some ringtail porgies caught fishing tight to the rocks using small jigs or bream type float rigs with a small hook and pieces of fresh shrimp. Lots of bluefish are in the river, and can usually be located by watching for feeding birds.
The creeks and ICW are producing rat and slot size reds, though they are reluctant to bite until they warm up a bit. As of February 1, an individual fisherman can keep two slot redfish per day. This is the first change since the mid 80's in the redfish regs. Keep your fingers crossed! The low halves of the tide have produced best for me. The cold water makes them "school up" more this time of year. Stealth is important when stalking these shallow water schooling and single reds. Poling beats the trolling motor, and try to avoid any bumping, thumping, or knocking about in the boat. Larger reds are available at the jetties.
Many fishermen are targeting the excellent eating whiting that are available in NE Florida. These fish look like a small silver redfish without the spot and with smaller scales. They can be caught in the surf, on ocean piers, and from boats fishing off the beach, or in area inlets and sounds. Fresh bait is essential. I prefer a fresh peeled shrimp threaded on a small circle hook. Use the smallest sinker that will do the job.
CAPT Bob Cosby