As per usual, it's December and the Sheepshead bite has slown down dramatically. This seems to happen every year in December. You can still catch them, except they're tougher to find and tend to be less active. I Can't say for sure but I believe the first freeze of the season puts them into a state shock. It could also have something to do with the gathering pre spawn. Usually, by the time this happens, I'm about ready for a change of pace anyway so a slower Sheepshead bite is somewhat welcome.
There are a number of productive options this time of the year. Mid to late December marks the start of the Porgy spawn. By the time the Sheepshead shut down, Ill turn my attention to them. They go by several names, Porgies, Spot Tail Pinfish, Ring Tails, and Sea Bream. Whatever you choose to call them, they're a great eating little fish. They also put up a strong fight on light tackle.
Spot Tails are primarily an offshore species. By December each year, they migrate inshore towards the near shore reefs and inlets to spawn. They'll remain there well into late March and eventually head back offshore. The Inlet is virtually the only inshore area in Jacksonville that consistently holds adult fish. You can find them in the river however, they're nearly always juveniles. The tips of the jetties hold the best number of larger fish and in the biggest aggrigates.
Porgies are aggressive feeders and nearly never shut down for events such as cold fronts and full moons. As long as the inlet water is clean with decent visibilty, they can be found and caught. Clean water is the only real hurdle. Focus on fishing incoming tides. The last half of the Incoming tide tends to be the most productive. Incoming tides also bring the cleanest water. If visibility is poor on the outgoing, come back later when the tide switches.
Porgies will eat several types of forage including Fiddler Crabs, Muscles, Clams, Squid, and live or dead Shrimp. The easiest to come by and least expensive is by far fresh, dead Shrimp. Shrimp also tends to work best.
Porgies have tiny little heads with equally small mouths. The upside to their oddly small heads is that the meat yeild goes a long way. Unlike Sheepshead, their larger more popular cousins, with a head that makes up a third of the fishes overall mass, Porgies are mostly meat. They're smaller than Sheepshead however, but where they lack in size, they more than make up for with attitude and shear numbers. Porgy schools are massive and once you find them, the bite is hot and never ending.
Catching them is simple. Then again, if you use the wrong rigging, they'll be your worst nightmare. Remember, their mouths are small. Even a 2 pound fish will have a tiny mouth. This means you'll need to use small hooks. #1 Owner Mosquito Hooks are perfect for catching Them and at all size ranges. Pair a #1 j hook with a 1/4oz splitsot and 15 pound leader and your ready to go. Cut up a bunch of Shrimp into small bite sized segments. If the Shrimp are smaller, cut them into thirds. If they're large, slice them at each segment. Imagine each scale being a knuckle, you're cutting them at every knuckle. One knuckle of a large Shrimp is all you need on your hook to catch big Porgies.
From their you're pitching the bait up against the base of the rocks. Work the bait back towards the boat while maintaining close proximity to the bottom. Your rod should be held vertically allowing the rig to be worked at a higher angle and reducing snags. This can be challenging on windy days and to be honest, this kind of fishing can be near impossible on rough days. You may want to make your first attempt on a calmer day to build confidence. Making that first attempt on a bad day can get discouraging.
Give Porgy fishing a shot. Once you get the hang of catching them, you'll be hooked for life.
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