What do fish and molasses have in common? Both are real slow in winter.
Capt. Buck Hartman, who runs The Tackle Box, in the Hudson area, and is a longtime angler in Hernando County’s inshore waters, says until spring gets here, anglers need to keep in mind that the way they fished in summer, and even during the fall, isn’t going to cut it. Slow down, he says.
Hartman likes to refer to a University of Miami study in which it was determined that fish, being cold blooded and lacking energy in cold water, must take into account their shortage of available energy reserves. They do this by assessing the amount of energy it takes to chase and catch food and measuring it against the upside in a sort of risk-benefit analysis. If the math doesn’t work out, the fish doesn’t even bother.
“They can calculate how much energy it’s going to take to catch a bait and whether it will amount to the energy they receive from the food,” said Hartman.
That’s a lesson from which anglers can learn, he said, and it’s served him well in his own fishing over the years. Mainly a fan of artificial baits, Hartman sometimes will lean toward live shrimp this time of year, as it can be difficult to slow down the retrieve of artificial baits or get enough action out of them to draw consistent strikes from fish hesitant to burn energy reserves on anything that looks like it’s going to take too much work to catch. A shrimp dangling under a float is an easy target for cold fish, so it can increase the odds of a bite.
Even then, anglers need to be aware that fish don’t grab a live shrimp and take off like they do in warmer weather. They may mouth a bait a bit before taking it.
“The cork might just twitch a little rather that get pulled immediately under,” Hartman said. “It’s good to give them a few seconds to fully take the bait before you set the hook.”
Another thing to consider is that using the knowledge that fish are thinking in terms of cost-benefit when deciding if they want to take a bait, anglers can tip things in their favor by offering bigger baits.
“The fish understands that the nutrient value of that bigger bait is better than something smaller,” Hartman said. “If you slow it down and it’s big, it makes more sense to the fish.”
It’s a “total attitude change,” he said, but it pays off. Just keep telling yourself the mission is make things as easy and as worthwhile for the fish as possible, he advises.
“It can be difficult to slow down enough after the way we were catching our fish over the summer,” Harman said. “So, a lot of times we’re out there working it too fast.”