Fishing Lines: Good fishing in the cold, but have a plan

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By Capt. Dennis Voyles

What a roller coaster ride the weather has been lately!

Just a week ago we hit the teens one morning, and here we go back into the upper seventies again. Now, I am not complaining about the mild temps - I prefer them a gazillion to one over the cold.

These frigid blasts do play havoc, though, with inshore fishing, sending these sensitive seatrout into the area rivers and deep holes, far back into the creeks.

I used to think that we closed the trout season in February for the spawn, but one of our "fish doctors" here on the island explained to me that the closure is to protect the fish from being overexploited during the cold weather when they congregate into creeks and rivers.

I remember back about 20 years ago when we had the Christmas Eve snow and ice storm and the Waccasassa River was absolutely choked with trout for about three weeks.

It was a no-brainer: every cast into a deep hole resulted in a gator trout. And, the word got out and the river was wall to wall boats.

It really hasn't been that good since. Makes you wonder if the fishing pressure took its toll, or maybe the water temps have not been so dramatic since.

There is no doubt in my mind that the fishing pressure in the past few years is taking its toll on the number of fish in our area.

Just before Christmas we had a huge school of sub-legal reds move into our area, providing fast catch and release action out front.

It was not unusual to have all of the anglers in the boat all hooked up at the same time. Now, that is some fun fishing!

I had several days where my clients caught and released well over 50 reds from just one anchor. Though they were small, the winter action was much appreciated.

Some of the schools of reds were accompanied by "barely legal" black drum, sometimes called puppy drum. Many people discard black drum as being too wormy, but often these puppy drum have few or no worms.

Now, the big drum have some major worm factories going on, but big black drum can no longer be kept since the maximum legal length is now 24 inches. I know that many will argue with me but I prefer black drum over red drum in the frying pan.

This is a good time of the year to check all of your safety equipment. Check the expiration date on your flares, and restock your first aid kit with fresh stuff.

The cold may also have taken the pressure out of your fire extinguisher, so make sure to check the pressure gauge.

And, no matter what time of the year, always leave a float plan with someone on shore - it could save your life some day.

Nobody leaves port thinking that they will have mechanical problems out there, but it happens, so take a minute to jot down your approximate location, departure and return time, and the number of people in your party.

As the skipper it is your responsibility to your guests and crew.