Winter Offshore Fishing….Caution Is King
Fishing offshore in the winter months can be productive but more importantly, it can also be dangerous. Cold weather is certainly a game-changer, but if you raise your level of caution and preparation, you’ll avoid most of the dangers. With the lower water temps, spending time in the open water becomes deadly within a few minutes. Combine this with fewer boaters on the water to lend aid can compound the concerns.
First, start by checking the marine weather sources and not the weatherman on the nightly news. You need to know not only what’s going on where you’re headed but also what the weather will be like on the return. For those anglers, longer distances offshore with a long trip back increases the danger, but it is also important to know what weather issues are there already. Have a plan of return in the event of rough seas. Check the weather predictions at inlets that can be used as alternatives in the event your primary point of entry (inlet) becomes dangerous. Also establish boundaries for weather conditions. Shoot for 10 mph or less and will not venture out over 15 mph.
During the warm weather the days are longer, so the fishing plan for the day includes several locations. However, in the cooler months, the days are shorter, and your plan should be shorter. It also impacts what you should wear. While big heavy coats can work for a while, remember that the weather and the temps change throughout the day, making dressing layers a far better option. As an example, you can leave the dock on winter mornings with an air temperature of 42 degrees and find yourself at the Gulfstream a few hours later with an air temperature of nearly 70 degrees. Being able to shed layers to adjust to the change is imperative. Also, lightweight rubber boots are a must. Keeping your feet dry on a cold day can be the difference between being miserable and comfortable.
Prepping for an offshore fishing trip is important, but during the winter months, it becomes far more detailed. Rather than a cooler of ice-cold drinks, pack thermoses of hot drinks like coffee, tea, and soups. Also bring extras of dry clothing in the event your clothes get soaked with a breaking wave. One of the most important preparations is making sure to “leave the breadcrumbs.” Let people onshore know when and where you’re going and when you expect to return. The latest technologies allow those onshore to know every minute of your location with GPS tracking, but having a backup such as filing a float plan with a friend or the United Coast Guard is a good idea.
Lastly, make sure to have a good track line when you transit the inlets. The shoals tend to shift more in the winter months due to the changes in wind direction. If you’re trailering, ask one of the locals at the boat ramp if the inlet has had any recent changes and what they may be. Then take it slow running out in the event you need to alter your direction due to shoaling.
In short, it’s all about the details of your preparation. Stay alert and don’t leave anything to chance. Summer and warmer weather will be back soon. Until then, play it safe.