Winter months can prove difficult for inshore anglers – even in Florida's relatively mild environment. Declining air and water temperatures prompt a generally lethargic mood among many popular sport-fish species, while diminishing algae content clarifies the water. Warmer days will bring heightened feeding activity, but expect that higher visibility to make the fish a little spooky.

One of your best bets for locating approachable fish this time of year are the mid-depth grass flats with close access to deeper water. Abounding in food sources like crabs, shrimp and pinfish, lush grass beds in about 4 feet of water adjacent to a channel or trough allow fish to rise up and feed when sunny days warm the shallows, while maintaining a fall-back area should they feel threatened.

Keeping your distance is essential to prevent spooking the fish, but the windy days common to this season can challenge casting. In such conditions, the most effective tactics for finding and engaging fish is jig-and-cork rig.

In its simplest form, this rig places a popping cork about 18 inches above a jig (cork can be placed on main line or leader, depending on the latter's overall length). Tugging the cork across the surface with an erratic cadence of jerk, jerk, pause or jerk, pause, jerk, pause – similar to the retrieve with jerkbaits like the Smithwick Rogue – creates a chugging sound as the concave face pushes water.

The benefit here is twofold: First, this surface disturbance sounds like a big trout or other predator blasting a meal at the surface. Feeding competition compels fish to investigate any indication of other fish eating, so predators to gravitate to this dinner bell. Upon arrival, the fish see what appears to be a baitfish or some other prey fleeing the activity, as each jerk and pause causes the suspended bait to rise and fall in the water column.

Vulnerability certainly plays a role here, as that hopping bait remains in the strike zone for hungry predators to locate. But the real benefit to this tethered presentation is the ability to hold a bait at a certain depth without the fish-spooking proximity of a vertical presentation.

Essentially, setting your cork height relevant to the water depth allows you to work the rig without concern for snagging grass. Knowing that the jig will fall no lower than the preset depth also affords the oh-so enticing dead-stick move – a killer strategy that's often the deal-closer for finicky fish.

A standard cork rig will suffice in moderate conditions, but when the wind increases, a weighted cork extends your casting range. While one popping cork may look like many others, there are differences that make one better than the others. A cheap, inexpensive popping cork uses brittle wire that bends, kinks and breaks, Styrofoam or other flotation material that flakes and loses its color and other details that only experienced fishermen will notice.

The Paradise Popper Xtreme is the top of the heap when it comes to popping corks. It uses titanium-tough wire that snaps back rather than bending, three plastic beads on top and two brass beads on bottom for more and more-accurate sound, and those details you might not notice -- metal grommets at both ends of the cork to prevent notches that can dampen the sound and effectiveness of the rig, and super-durable line-tie swivels at both ends.

Flats anglers generally prefer the versatility and ease of operation afforded by a 7 ½-foot medium- to medium-heavy spinning outfit. You'll want a little less tip than your live bait rods, as you'll need to move that cork at a distance and set the hook through the float's inherent resistance. Braided line in the 20- to 30-pound range will handle anything you encounter on the flats, while a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader is a good bet for this winter stuff.

Jig-and-cork rigs are less prone to line twist than, say, a dropshot. Nevertheless, main line swivels eliminate the risk altogether, while also providing maximum mobility for the rig. The swivels on the Paradise Popper Xtreme take care of this with no line twist to interfere with the jig.

Usually, the jig-and-cork tactic appeals to the more aggressive fish, but if weather conditions or heavy fishing pressure has them in a pouty mood, try decreasing your cork size to minimize the initial splash.

At times, fired-up fish may seem more interested in the cork than the bait below. Redfish are particularly given to striking at floats, so if this happens, shorten the dropper line to keep the jig closer to the cork.

And don't hesitate to go big by rigging a double dropper below your cork. Keep the heads light, so you don't mar the popping action, and go with a smaller head on the top and a slightly heavier one anchoring the bottom. Double headers are always a possibility during and aggressive bite, but use your double rig to present different bait looks until you determine a consistent preference.