Cold Snap And Florida Keys Fishing

What does cold temperatures and water do to Florida Keys fishing

Speckled Sea Trout Speckled sea trout are a cold water favorite in Florida Keys Backcountry fishing.

January 20 2020- Winter is coming.. No Im not kidding. Its coming this week. In fact, winter will be here on Wednesday the 22nd. Now, it may not stay long but it is coming.

Yellowtail snapper
The Florida Keys Reef fishing can be great on Cold Days

What does that mean to the Florida Keys fishing? We have had hardly anything that can be considered a cold front up to this point for the 19 – 20 winter. Highs in the 80s and lows in the mid 70s. Lets talk about what a sharp cool down will do to the Florida Keys Fishing.

Fish Are Cold Blooded.

This means that fish have no metabolic way of controlling their internal temperatures. So, when the temperature drops sharply they will feel the affect harshly for a day or two till they get acclimated to the new temp. This will result in making them lethargic and probably not super hungry making the bite very slow. If the temperature drops below their tolerance levels this can be dangerous over a period of time but one or two days typical wont harm them. The fish here in the Florida Keys are tropical, so they have a lower tolerance to low temps than say a Walleye.

Back in the nasty winter of 2010 the Florida Keys saw a huge kill of tropical species such as bonefish, Snook and many ornamental tropical species when the air temps went from 75 degrees to 43 in less than 24 hours and stayed at 50 degrees for several days dropping our water temps to the 50s. This was bad. Our Florida Keys fishery took a beating.

I remember I had a trip with Bass Pro Shops that week to do some imaging for a new catalogue out past the Marquesas Keys fishing off of Key West. I was running through the quick sands and saw acres and acres of huge permit swimming super slow on the surface. Sort of Marching to the South against the warmer waters of an incoming Atlantic tide. There were thousands of them. Of course we tried to catch one. I had crabs, flies, jigs and shrimp. Nothing could encourage these fish that were just 2 ft off the back of my boat with these baits dancing off their noses to get them to eat. It almost seemed that they were trying to get between my outboards to warm up as I drifted through them. They had no care we were even there. I was freezing, I know they were too.

The Flats Fishing Gets Affected First

Makes sense. the shallower the water column the more sensitive to chill. Winds, waves and low temps are like blowing on a hot cup of coffee across the flats. It cools quickly as there is no depth of warmer water to mix in. We call this a temp spike, when the water temps drop 10+ degrees the fish will react to it by leaving the flats or just laying there till they adjust to the new temps. I would imaging it would be like an ice cream headache. Barracudas will gather up in groups and lay in the shallows, sharks will leave, bonefish have already left at this point and permit will be around but pretty slow. I like to fish the edges of the flats on a cold day in search of mutton snapper and mangrove snapper. I will often tell folks to give it at least a day for the flats fishing to get better. Also allows for the water to clear up, as most of our cooler weather comes with a hard Northerly wind that stirs things up.

If I have to go flats fishing on a cold day I will focus on my Atlantic side flats and pray for an incoming tide with warmer water. Every degree will help.

The Backcountry Fishing

Can be really good after a front. Winter species such as trout, redfish, ladyfish, blue fish, snook, spanish mackerel and pompano are very hardy and waiting for these cooler water temps. Finding the mullet muds will produce some great fishing, even in the cooler temps as these fish have options of deeper water to keep warm. Don’t be surprised if you see a cobia cruising through the shallows..

Reef fishing

Most of the time the cold and turn the reef on Fire in the cooler temps. Fishing In Key West the bait is driven to the reef for the warmer water where the snappers, kingfish, mackerels, tuna, sailfish, dolphin (mahi), jacks and water else wants to eat will ambush them. A cold day on the reef will make for some good table fare. The wrecks in the Gulf will hold cobia on the cold days.

Cobia are a treat in the cold weather days. They come in shallow looking for a snack.

There is not much affect on Deep sea fishing here in the Florida Keys from the cold as is controlled typically by the Gulf Stream that stays at a constant 80 or so degrees flowing from the Gulf Loop and the Carribean. The “Stream” flows in and out along the Florida Keys typically just outside the reef. Its proximity will dictate the temps usually and offer some amazing opportunities to catch fish.

So, as you can see. Even when we have a good cold snap Florida Keys fishing is still amazing. Anglers just have to choose their arena. Give the flats fishing a day or two. Backcountry is a great option if the wind is still blowing. The reef is “Game On” and the Gulf Stream will dictate the deep sea bite.

Let’s face it, technology and meteorology is gaining grounds in weather prediction. Less roll of the dice on conditions. Now we need to know what the conditions will do for the Florida Keys fishing. Your local fishing guides will tell you what you need to know..

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About Capt. Steven Lamp
Veteran Key West Fishing guide Capt. Steven Lamp has been fishing the waters of the Florida Keys professionally since 1993. Specializing in Flats, Backcountry, Fly Fishing, Wrecks, Reef and Offshore fishing in Key West, Florida. Capt. Steven is also the founder and director of Dream Catcher Charters located in Key West, Florida.