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Up a creek.

December weather can be downright psychotic in the Ten Thousand Islands. One week can be bright and balmy with the next cold and windy. As cold fronts race across the Florida Peninsula, temperatures can plummet rapidly, sending many species of fish diving for cover in backcountry creeks and rivers. These areas become hot beds of activity as the water temps cool in the bigger open bays. Snook, redfish, trout, sheepshead, pompano, snapper and grouper can all be found in the myriad of twisty creeks that lace the region. Knowing when and how to fish these smaller waters can turn a cold day hot, quickly.

The most critical factor in fishing creeks and rivers has to be your timing. Tide, wind and weather should all be major factors in deciding where and how to fish. If December weather stays nice and warm, fish will congregate near the mouths of creeks especially as strong falling tides flush out hapless prey. Midday low tides can be on fire as the sun warms shallower water creating perfect conditions to sight fish. If the weather turns cold and ugly, you have to switch gears and fish deeper and slower through the channels.

One such winter hotspot that exemplifies this principle is the area situated between Johnson and Rookery bays known locally as The Woods or The Maze. This system of shallow, narrow creeks and bays can be absolutely full of winter redfish and some of the largest sheepshead around. Success here is dependent on access as only the shallowest drafting skiffs or kayaks can navigate. Casting shrimp-tipped jigs or scented soft plastics in any of the deeper holes and bends in the creeks can produce a veritable smorgasbord of fish. Fly casters can find many sight fishing opportunities if the weather remains on the warm side as snook and reds will climb on top of the bars to sun themselves during midday hours.

Some of the best creek fishing can be found in the no name cuts and runs that lace the middle islands separating the larger bays like Fakahatchee Bay. Just behind Fakahatchee Island exists a creek or river-like system of faster moving water that can produce fantastic winter action. Try fishing the undercut and current-swept banks with fallen trees that create eddies and breaks in the faster water. Arm yourself with a live shrimp on a jighead, a shrimp-tipped jig, or scented soft plastic for a mixed bag. Over the past several years, this area has been home to excellent cold weather snook fishing with enough trout, redfish, pompano, sheepshead and snapper to keep you busy almost all day.

HUNTING The second phase of Fall Turkey Season that opened late last month will provide hunters an opportunity to put a turkey on the table for Christmas. Expect fall gobblers to still be travelling in small bachelor groups. These roving boys' clubs can be pretty difficult to call, so rely more on your scouting and still-hunting prowess. As cold fronts rip across the state, look for gobbler activity to pick up just before the front. Windy days can mask your sounds and movements and allow a sneak-and-stalk approach to midday feeding areas. Try to anticipate the path of the group and position yourself to intercept them. Fall hotspots in Zone A include the Turner River tract and the Northwest corner of the Big Cypress WMA. The latter has long been a favorite roosting spot as the higher ground harbors tall pines with low limbs perfect for a turkey night spot. If you happen upon a flock of longbeards still in the tree, set up close where they will likely fly down into the wind, and soft cluck to get them within shooting range.

BEST BET

10,000 ISLANDS

Mackerel, both Spanish and king, will move through the area early this month in massive schools. From just offshore out to 20 miles, packs of hungry mackerel will be crushing schools of hapless baitfish. The sign of the fray will be swirling masses of birds. While live bait will never be refused, artificial lures will allow a more mobile approach that will keep in you in the middle of the action.

The key is to approach slowly from upcurrent and drift into the school so as not to disturb the baitfish. Small flashy spoons with a small wire trace will work for Spanish but be prepared to use mono leader if they become a bit shy. For kings, nothing beats a rapidly skipped surface lure as the fish will often launch many feet into the air. Trolling spoons will also take their fair share if conditions are a little rough or the action slows midday.
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Title Annotation:10,000 ISLANDS
Author:Merritt, Kevin
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Date:Dec 1, 2013
Words:779
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