January fishing in Sarasota is all about the weather, pure and simple. Angling success is determined by the ability to adapt to the existing weather conditions. Tides will often times be very low in the morning. Couple that with a northeast wind and the flats will not have very much water on them. Water temperatures will be at their annual low. It is time to change tactics!
I spend a lot of my time fishing the area around Siesta Key in the winter. Both passes, and the surrounding flats will be productive under ideal conditions. Weekly fronts will stir up the Gulf, bringing cold, dirty water in through the passes and up onto the nearby flats. However, the area down south stays protected, and this will result in better fishing. Extreme low tides will force the fish off of the flats and into the channel. This actually makes locating them easier. 1/4 ounce Bass Assassin jigs in New Penny and Glow are very productive, as is a shrimp free lined with a small split shot. Speckled trout, ladyfish, jack crevelle, and pompano will be the primary catches, but sheepshead, grouper, flounder, and bluefish will also be found in the deep water.
As the tide rises and the day warms up, fish will move out of the deep channel and up onto the flats to feed. A late Afternoon high tide can offer great fishing for speckled trout, with jigs and live shrimp under a popping cork producing a lot of action. The flats south of Spanish Point are very productive, but any flat in four to six feet of water with grass will hold fish, keep moving until you find them.
Creeks and residential canals are great spots to fish this month. Besides offering protection from harsh winds, they provide cover for bait, which attracts fish, and the water is normally a few degrees warmer. A large hand-picked shrimp is a great bait for redfish, snook, sheepshead, drum, and jacks. Deeper water is the key, find a dock or area in a creek with a little more depth and there should be fish there. Rapala X-Raps are a terrific artificial bait to use in creeks. They are deadly on snook and jacks, and a lot of water can be covered quickly.
Local rivers such as the Manatee, Braden, and Myakka will hold snook, jacks, and even bass in January. Fish move up there to keep warm and feed. This is a unique fishing experience that is best suited for more experienced anglers.
Surf casters will do well off of the Siesta Key beaches during periods of light winds when the water is clear. Small pieces of live or frozen shrimp fished on a small hook with a bit of weight will catch plenty of whiting, along with trout, flounder, pompano, and other species. Jigs and silver spoons are effective artificial baits to use, especially when surface activity is seen, this indicates feeding fish.
Sarasota winter resident Bill Kish with a nice Myakka River snook.