Braving the Elements
Humans for the most part prefer comfort over hardship. If we wake up one morning for a fishing trip and the Weather App tells us that isn’t just cold, but DANG COLD outside, we’d as soon call our buddy and tell him to do like we will and go back to bed. The conditions are going to be tough, and the fishing tougher, so why bother? Right?
Half of that equation may be accurate because conditions may be below our comfort level, but cold weather fishing can be quite rewarding, even memorable.
Trout and redfish don’t go into hibernation when water temperatures dip below 65 degrees. In fact, I try to provide as many spots that are popular trout haunts in the monthly Hot Spots. Sitting here in front of my laptop, I can think of Long Bar, The Pasture, and Holly Beach. If we move north to the Arroyo City area, then you can add Green Island, the Arroyo mouth, and the Second Color Change.
However, sometimes a serious cold snap turns weather colder than the usual winter fare, and water temperatures will dip down below 60 degrees (the November cold fronts that barreled down into South Texas, for example, pushed LLM water temperatures down to 60 degrees for three or four days). When that happens, cold-blooded trout will abandon their shallow water haunts and seek the warmer, more comfortable environment of deeper water.
Fishermen being fishermen, some of us are willing to crawl out of bed, bundle up, and brave 50, 40, even high-30 degree weather to wet a line, especially if we’ve had a trip to the coast planned for quite some time. Our wives will stay buried under the blankets and mumble that we’re crazy, and our dogs won’t even get up and follow us to the kitchen (Stella and Luna, our labs, barely even lift their heads anymore), but we’ll grab rods and tackle box, hitch up the Dargel, and make the run to the coast. The only thing that will keep us in bed is a howling north wind. No one will buck that.
If you are among the happy few that will brave drizzle, even rain, and cold temperatures to have a shot at some trout, there are plenty of deep water spots to turn your attention to, and some of them are not very far from most Port Isabel and South Padre Island boat ramps.
One spot that anglers who don’t want to venture too far from port should consider is the Port Isabel Turning Basin. The deep water of the turning basin is a major fish magnet after a serious cold snap, and it can offer some excellent fishing. Speckled trout will hold along the drop off near the shoreline. A depth finder can be very useful here, because it will pinpoint the depth break. Some anglers prefer anchoring in the shallows and casting out towards the drop off, but I’ve been more successful dogging-up in deeper water and casting up to the edge and easing the bait or lure along the depth break.
Tackle and techniques are relatively simple. A live shrimp on a #1/0 Octopus 14 inches below a #3 split shot will present a very natural offering that a trout won’t pass up. Let the bait fall along the edge on a semi-slack line. When you feel a bump or see the line jump, ease the rod up until the line comes tight, and you’re hooked up. Faux shrimp, such as the three-inch Gulp! Shrimp are good choices too (Glow and Pearl seem to work best, although I have one partner who swears by Nuclear Chicken and does well with it). Fish them the same way as you would a live bait along the depth break and let your offering fall into deeper water.
Another good cold water trout spot is the Y, which is the confluence of the Port Isabel Boat Channel and the Brownsville Ship Channel. The drop-offs along the inner channel edges and the points have structure that trout aggregate around in cooler weather. The mangroves on the channel and center island shorelines are also keen trout and redfish spots when the weather is warmer and fish move up to forage. If you choose to work the shallows on a mild day, a gold spoon, topwater in bone or pearl, or a swim bait such as a Berkley Money Minnow are tough to beat.
If you want to go a little old school, try using a classic four-inch Kelly Wigglers Shrimp on a ¼-ounce ball or football-style jighead and bounce it along the bottom. If trout are holding in deeper water, one will come along and pick it up; feel for a very subtle tap or even a heavy feel to your line.
One last thing, this is structure-oriented fishing. Do not be surprised if you run into a variety of structure-loving species during your outing. It is not uncommon to find sheepshead, mangrove snappers, black drum, or even a flounder keeping company with the trout in your cooler. All these fish gravitate to deep water structure at one point or another during foul weather. On one trip, my fishing partner Jim Brewster and I were only catching dink trout after dink trout. On speculation, I eased my boat farther away from the drop-off and located a school of keeper-sized drum cruising along the bottom of the depth-break.
Still, the trout were there, and they will be there pretty much all winter when the weather goes in the toilet.
THE BANK BITE
Hot Spot: Dolphin Point
Species: Sheepshead, Black Drum
Tips: Fish live or fresh shrimp under a popping cork. Work near the rocks. Fish on bottom for drum.
Contact Calixto Gonzales at