Winter Fishing Florida Strategies

Unlike many other fishing destinations that see a decline during the colder months, Florida continues to buzz with activity, offering avid fishermen and women the chance to experience some of the best fishing locations and see the state's waters in a new light.

The key to success lies in understanding and employing the right strategies. This guide casts our lines deep into the nuances of fishing in the Sunshine State during winter, ensuring you're equipped with the top tips and knowledge to make the most of your next fishing expedition.

Florida Winter Weather Cycle

Florida's winter climate stands apart from many other regions in the U.S. due to its subtropical to tropical nature. The Florida winter weather typically experiences milder temperatures, ranging from the mid-50s to the high to mid 70s (°F), depending on the specific region. North Florida tends to be cooler than the southern parts of the state.

While cold fronts occasionally sweep through, bringing cooler air and sometimes even frost to the northern regions, they are typically short-lived. Additionally, rainfall during the winter months is reduced, leading to drier conditions.

The Florida winter weather cycle influences fish behavior, making understanding these patterns crucial for anglers looking to capitalize on their Florida fishing excursions.

Effects of Florida's Winter Weather on Game Fish Species

The milder winter temperatures in Florida have a pronounced impact on various game fish. While the water doesn't freeze, it does become cooler, especially in regions farther north.

This cooling makes some fish, like the snook and tarpon, migrate to warmer water regions or seek deeper pockets of water. Conversely, redfish and speckled trout become more active and visible in shallow waters during these cooler months. Largemouth bass, a favorite among freshwater anglers, might change their feeding patterns, preferring warmer periods of the day.

Understanding these behaviors is important for anglers wanting to maximize their catch during Florida's winter months.

Saltwater Fish You Can Catch Winter Fishing in Florida

Winter Florida fishing is about the serene beauty of the coastline under the gentle winter sun and the rich biodiversity that thrives beneath the waves. Florida's saltwater habitats remain abuzz with life, allowing anglers to tangle with various game fish with distinct winter behaviors.

Here are some saltwater fish to target in Florida's winter months:


Recognized by its distinct black and white vertical stripes and robust set of teeth resembling those of a sheep, the sheepshead becomes a prime target for many anglers as winter sets in across Florida.

Sheepshead are highly sought after during this season because they tend to move closer to structures like piers, bridges, and oyster bars in search of crustaceans, their primary diet. The sheepshead's predictable behavior, combined with their fight when hooked and their taste, makes them a top contender during the colder months.


Another standout in the saltwater fish species lineup is the redfish. Characterized by its bronze hue and the distinctive black spot near its tail, the redfish remains one of Florida's iconic catches.

During winter, these fish often patrol shallow waters, mud flats, and grass flats, making them more accessible to boat-based and shore anglers. The colder months often see the redfish feeding more actively during the warmer parts of the day, taking advantage of the sun's warmth.

Spotted Sea Trout

The spotted sea trout, often referred to as the trout by many Floridian anglers, is a cherished catch in the world of saltwater fish. With its olive-green back, silvery sides, and distinct black spots, it's a beauty and a fighter.

These fish tend to gravitate towards deeper channels and holes during cold fronts in winter. Still, they will venture into the shallows during warmer spells, especially over dark mud bottoms that retain heat. 


The vibrant pompano is a gem among Florida's fish. Sporting a compressed body, a forked tail, and a gleaming silver hue, Pompano is a visual treat and a culinary delight known for its mild and delicious flavor.

Come winter, these agile swimmers frequent deep holes and sandy bottoms near shore areas, inlets, and passes, making them accessible for both boat and shoreline anglers.

Black Drum

As winter descends on Florida, the behavior of black drums often changes, drawing them closer to deeper channels, rivers, inlets, and structure-rich areas like docks and bridges. This shift primarily revolves around their quest for mollusks and crustaceans, with oyster bars being hotspots.

While smaller black drum offers a scrappy fight, the larger ones caught here are truly a force to reckon with, testing the skills and patience of anglers. Their substantial size and the drumming sound they produce when taken out of water make the black drum a memorable pursuit.


The triple tail is aptly named for its three distinct dorsal fins. With its broad, flattened appearance and mottled brown-to-black coloration, this fish often lurks near floating debris, buoys, and pilings.

While triple tails can be elusive, a keen eye and a well-placed live shrimp or small baitfish can entice a bite.

Here's a list of other popular saltwater species that anglers might encounter during winter fishing in Florida:

  • Spanish Mackerel
  • King Mackerel
  • Snook
  • Cobia
  • Grouper
  • Snapper
  • Tarpon (though more prominent in warmer months, can still be found in certain regions)
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Flounder
  • Bluefish

While the activity levels and exact locations of these species might vary with the winter weather conditions, knowing what's potentially out there helps anglers choose their strategies accordingly.

Fresh Water Fish Species You Can Catch Winter Fishing in Florida

Florida's freshwater habitats are as dynamic and diverse as their saltwater counterparts. While many associate the Sunshine State with its saltwater game, many freshwater fish thrive in lakes, rivers, and streams.

The cooler months bring unique opportunities and challenges for anglers targeting these freshwater inhabitants. Here are some freshwater fish to Target in Florida's winter months:

Largemouth Bass

The crown jewel of Florida's freshwater fishing, largemouth bass is known for its broad mouth extending past the rear edge of the eye and its distinctive greenish hue. It becomes particularly active during the winter months.

Unlike many other fish, largemouth bass remain aggressive at colder water temperature, often moving to shallower areas to warm up during sunny days. Anglers equipped with the right lures and strategies can expect exciting strikes, especially in areas with submerged structures, drop-offs, or vegetation.


Though more commonly associated with Florida's saltwater fishing, Snook thrives in Florida's brackish and freshwater environments. During winter, these fish often seek out areas with a consistent water temperature, such as deeper holes or spring-fed waters, as they're particularly sensitive to cold snaps.

Using live bait like shiners or crafting a well-placed artificial lure yields successful results. While winter fishing for Snook may require more strategy and patience than other seasons, catching this renowned game fish in freshwater settings is undeniably gratifying.

Here are some more fish found in freshwater that anglers might encounter during winter in Florida:

  • Peacock Bass (primarily in South Florida waters)
  • Bluegill
  • Crappie (also known as Speckled Perch in Florida)
  • Chain Pickerel
  • Sunfish
  • Catfish
  • Oscar
  • Bowfin
  • Tilapia
  • Gar

These species offer varied angling experiences and are found across various freshwater habitats throughout Florida.

Deep-Sea Fishing During The Winter in Florida

During Florida's winter months, the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean become prime territories for enthusiastic anglers. The cooler, deeper water and temperatures influence the migratory patterns of sought-after species like Mahi Mahi, Spanish Mackerel, Grouper, and Snapper.

By adapting to these shifts and equipping with the right bait and gear, deep-sea fishing in Florida offers both seasoned and novice anglers the chance for memorable winter catches amidst the vastness of the open ocean.

In-Shore Fishing During The Winter in Florida

Florida's in-shore waters, encompassing bays and estuaries, offer unique winter fishing opportunities. As the wind and water temperatures change, species like redfish, snook, speckled trout, and black drum frequent shallower areas, grass flats, and channels.

For anglers, this means adjusting tactics, using the best bait, like live shrimp, and selecting the right lures. Winter in-shore fishing in Florida is about adapting to these shifts for a successful catch in the state's diverse coastal habitats.

What to Bring Onboard when Deep-Sea Fishing in Winter?

Preparing for a deep-sea fishing expedition during Florida's winter requires specific gear and supplies to ensure a successful and comfortable bottom fishing trip.

  • Warm Clothing: Even in Florida, the offshore breezes can be chilly. Layered clothing, including a light waterproof jacket, is essential.
  • Appropriate Bait: Depending on your target species, whether mahi mahi, king mackerel, or grouper, having the right bait, like live shrimp or specific lures, is crucial.
  • Deep-Sea Rods and Reels: Ensure your equipment is suitable for the challenge of the ocean's depths and the strength of the game fish species you're after.
  • Safety Gear: Life jackets, first aid kit, and communication devices are non-negotiables when venturing into the deep sea.
  • Sun Protection: Despite winter, the Florida sun can still be intense. Bring along sunblock, sunglasses, and a hat.
  • Nautical Maps & GPS: Navigating the vast waters requires reliable tools, especially when looking for fishing hotspots.

Remember, every fishing trip can be unpredictable, especially in the ocean's vastness. Being well-prepared ensures not just a productive catch but also safety and comfort.

If I catch fish in winter, can I keep it?

Yes, but always check Florida's fishing regulations first. They set sizes, bag limits, and seasons for different species. Some fish might be catch-and-release only during winter. It's crucial to fish responsibly and stay within the rules.

What fishing is in season in December in Florida?

In December, Florida sees a variety of fish species in season. However, specific seasons vary by region and year. Popular species like redfish, snook, and speckled trout might be in season. Still, it's essential to consult the latest Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission guidelines to know what's allowed and where.

Is fishing during the cold in Florida good fishing?

Certainly, fishing in Florida's colder months is often fruitful. The cooler water temperatures lead certain species to gather in specific spots. In-shore and deep-sea fishing present excellent opportunities for anglers during winter, but adapting techniques to the season is key for success.

What is the easiest fish to catch in winter?

In Florida's winter, most anglers believe sheepshead are among the best spots most straightforward fish to catch. Their fondness for live shrimp and blue crabs makes them a prime target.

Redfish and black drum are also more active in cooler months, providing good opportunities for anglers in in-shore waters.

What fish can you catch year-round in Florida?

In south Florida, anglers can catch redfish, snook, and largemouth bass throughout the year. The Florida Keys consistently offer tarpon, while the Gulf of Mexico is a hotspot for grouper and snapper. So, no matter the month, from Tampa Bay to Key West, there is great fishing in great spots throughout the Sunshine State.