Winter Fishing In The Canal Zone


Capt. Butch Rickey

You lay there listening. It's 2:00 AM. You know your plans for fishing in the morning are going down the dumper. You're just not willing to fight the 20 miles per hour plus winds you can hear roaring throught the trees outside your bedroom window. You imagine how misserable it will be out there. The wind drive the cold salt spray over your bow. You're drenched and you're not even out of sight of the ramp, yet. You pound your herniated disks into oblivion braving the whitecapped mess that yesterday was glass smooth. Once you're there, your trolling motor acts like it's running backwards, your anchor seems to have wheels, and your bait keeps boomeranging back into your face. Yes, it's another winter cold front.

But, it doesn't have to be this way. You don't have to spend the day in front of the TV watching football games, with play sequences you can second guess, the winners of which you already know. there is a way you can still go out tomorrow and have a good time fishing. Let the winter winds be the winds of change....a change of strategy. Fish the canals!

Shelter and Fish

Yes, fish the canals. Often when the cold winds of winter are blowing you can find shelter, and yes, even fish in the canals. The great thing is, there's hardly a coastline in the southeast that isn't lined with canals. In some areas the canal systems are quite complex and extensive. Often the canals are deeper that the surrounding waters, especially here in Florida, and the water is warmer. If the wind happens to be blowing into the canals, you're likely to find plenty of bait stacked up in the canals. Where there's bait, there will be fish.

Canal Tactics

When you first arrive at your chosen canal, fish the outside of the mouth before yougo in. Fish it hard. Then go on into the canal and fish it hard for at least twenty minutes. Work around the seawalls and docks with the baits of your choice. If you haven't found action by this time, it's time to move on to the next canal. Tyr to make sure that the canal is a deep water canal. If you've got sailboat water, that's good.

It helps to fish canals that are lined up with the wind direction, which will probably mean north/south. I like to use the wind, along with the trolling motor to make my way down the canal. Often I'll put out a live pinfish or hand-picked shrimp on a fairly heavy rig (20-pound test) and slow-troll it while I work artificials around the cover.

When I reach the end of the canal, I turn around and troll artificials like Rattletraps in blud or black and chrome, or gold, and Bomber Long-A's in red and white or chrome, out on the main engine. then, I'll make a few more casts around the mouth before moving to the next canal. This technique has accounted for some very nice fish on some very nasty days.

Fish and Baits

What can you catch in the canals? Just about anything you'd catch out in the open bay. In my part of the country topwater baits will take snook, speckled trout, ladyfish, bluefish, and jack crevelle. In fact, you may often stumble across schools of ladies, jacks, or blues working bait in the canal.

I like a red and white Johnny Rattler or Long A worked on top. Crankbaits will take all those, as well as reds. Again, I like the red and white or silber Long-A. Jigs and spoons will take them all, as well as flounder, depending on where they're worked in the water column. I also like a quarter ounce jig or gold half-ounce Johnson Silver Minnow worked slowly. Live and cut baits will also take sheepshead and black drum. These biats include shrimp, clams, crabs, and oysters.

If the canals I'm going to fish are close together and linked by deep water like the Intercoastal Waterway, I like to troll from one canal to the next, keeping the baits running along the drop at the edge of the channel. This often accounts for large and plentiful winter jacks and some nice speckled trout. Often, snook and reds are hanging on the ledges, and will readily go the trolled baits.

Ocassionally, I pick up a grouper or other unexpected surprise. Last winter, I hooked the same monster four different times, on four different days, within 50 yards of the same place. Each time I fished the area with heavier tackle. Eash time I was cut off on something on the bottom after a fierce battle. You never know what you're liable to run into hopping from canal to canal. I still don't know what stole four of my Rattletraps last year!

Be Patient.

If you're a glutton for punishment, you might even want to try your fly rod in the canals. Whatever your poison, be patient. Give each canal a good 30 to 40 minutes. If you don't succeed at the first canal, try another. Keep moving until you find action, because you surely will find action. Fishing the canal zone can be the secret to catching fish when all your buddies are sitting home bored to death.

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