The vast reaches of the Everglades National Park encompass a vast swath of gamefish habitats all the way from inland fresh waters out to the briny salt water of Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. When wintertime comes to this region- particularly a very frigid season, like this one- cold blooded fish head to the warmest strata possible. This includes deeper thermoclinic regions of creeks, rivers, and channels as well as heat retaining mud bottoms.
Winter also brings north winds to the Everglades. This particular wind direction tends to drive water out of the region into exterior bays and ocean. And winter also features very low seasonal tides. When these two factors merge, especially during the spring tide periods of the new and full moon, flats normally covered by saltwater are laid bare for vast distances. While this may present a navigational challenge to even the shallowest draft skiffs, it offers the bonus of clustering gamefish in the remaining waters. This makes for action-packed angling. Indeed, an angler can catch snook, redfish, seatrout, sheepshead, black drum, mangrove snappers, and even more species out of the same “hole.”
Captain Steven Tejera of Knot Tight Charters (305-283-8059) knows the waters of the park like the back of his hand. I asked Steven if he would participate in a story about the winter fishing tactical variations that are most effective during the coldest times. Steven said he would be glad to and we set a date.
My friend Paul and I met Steven in Florida City and then we drove down together to his launch site in Flamingo in the southwest corner of the park. We quickly launched his sleek Hell’s Bay Professional skiff and off we went. Though it became clear that the winds were hard out of the southeast, Steven said we’d be fine fishing in the sheltered interior creeks and channels. He was glad as well that the remaining few hours of the outgoing tide would concentrate the fish even more.
When we reached our first narrow channel surrounded by dry flats, Steven picked an even smaller feeder channel that he was sure fish would still be exiting. He took out two spinning outfits rigged with jigheads and baited them with live shrimp after tearing off their tail tips to create more scent. He told us to work the offerings slowly along the bottom to stay in tune with the slowed- down metabolism of the fish.
I quickly had a strike and up came a small snook which shook off the hook. After a brief lull we moved to a similar feeder creek against some mangroves. Both Paul and I began catching sheepshead and small black drum with excellent regularity.
When Paul and I had our fill of these striped gamesters, I asked Steven if we could try another location for other species. After a half hour run to the north, Steven staked out the skiff at a river mouth. We began employing the same rigs and started catching fat mangrove snappers. On Paul’s third or fourth cast, he hooked up with something large that made his drag scream. After skillfully fighting it, Paul brought a beautiful ten pound baby goliath grouper to the skiff. I casted to another part of the channel and started bringing in some large sheepshead- one after another. After a couple hours of this action, we’d had enough and enjoyed the ride back to the marina under the guidance and piloting of Steven’s skillful hands.