Weighing Key Winter Fish-Finding Factors
In the winter, finding where the fish are feeding requires consideration of tidal flow, wind, water temperature, depth, underwater terrain, air temperature and the degree of sunshine. It was January 15th and both the air and water temperatures were 55°F. My wife and I were fishing a bayou near the Intracoastal Waterway north of West Matagorda Bay. The tide was incoming and the water had fishable clarity of 12 to 18 inches. The sky was overcast. After an hour of lackluster casting, we had only managed to catch a couple of undersized redfish. Then we changed locations, and at the same time the tide changed to very strong outgoing.
We moved so that we could fish a narrow passage between a large shallow mud- and oyster- bottomed lake and the bayou. Redfish started hitting on every cast. They were feasting on baitfish and crabs forced into the narrow passage connecting lake and bayou. We found the bite because we were fishing when the tide changed from incoming to outgoing, and redfish were gathered where an abundance of prey was being pushed through this narrow passage.
Dean Thomas, owner of Slowride Guide Service in Aransas Pass said, “You need to find a spot that is a little deeper than the surrounding area, with a good muddy bottom that is close to deep water. That is the key; deep water, when the weather has been cold and dreary and the tide turns. A small window of opportunity opens up when the fish feed at the turn.” There are many places in East and West Matagorda Bays that have shallow water near deep water, such as the flats and oyster reefs near Old Gulf Cut going from the Intracoastal Waterway into East Matagorda Bay; the west side of the Diversion Channel just before the opening to West Matagorda Bay; and Green’s Bayou, which is just south of the Intracoastal Waterway in West Matagorda Bay.
It doesn’t matter whether the tide is incoming or outgoing. If you are fishing one of these shallow spots near deep water and the tide changes, most likely the fish will turn on. I was fishing from a kayak on a flat that was near the Intracoastal Waterway. The flat was about 18 inches deep with depressions that were from six to twelve inches deeper. The air temperature was 62 degrees and the water temperature was 58 degrees. A dense fog obscured visibility, the wind was blowing lightly from the north, and the tide was outgoing. For three hours I fished using different lures with no action, although I did see puffs of mud as fish startled when my kayak passed over them. Then the wind shifted to the south and the tide changed to incoming. As I mused about these changes, I was swimming a pumpkinseed/chartreuse Bass Assassin through the water. A strong jerk, followed by the pull of a large fish running, brought me back to the business at hand. A big trout leaped out of the water and spat out the hook. I continued to drift the flat, and a short time later I caught a 17-inch trout, a 24-inch redfish and an 18-inch trout. This was a true feeding period and I was in the right place. I paddled back and re-drifted this flat and caught another 24-inch redfish and a 29-inch redfish.
When the water temperature drops into the low 50s and below, trout, redfish, and flounders go to the deepest spots around because the water there is a little warmer. Fish metabolism slows way down in very cold water because they are cold blooded. Consequently, it is better to fish in the afternoon and give the water time to be warmed by the sun. Water temperatures in the bays will go up by 5°F on a sunny day.
Fish tend to gather in deep water locations when a severe cold front lowers the water temperatures. Therefore you should check the Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) website (www.tpwd.state.tx.us) Saltwater Freeze Events web page for off-limits fishing areas before fishing harbors and other deep areas that would hold fish in these circumstances. TPWD website states, “When temperatures on the coast are predicted to fall below 32°F for three or more days, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director has the authority to close some areas to saltwater fishing until the threat from the freeze event is over.”
Fishing the bays in January is a challenge, but if you pick the right day and you are fishing when the tide turns, you may find lots of very hungry fish.
THE BANK BITE
Oyster Lake If the wind is coming from the northeast and it is a sunny winter day, try fishing West Matagorda Bay at Oyster Lake. Kayakers can launch into Oyster Lake from the bridge going over Palacios Bayou which connects West Matagorda Bay to Oyster Lake. To get to Oyster lake turn south off of FM 521 onto 1095, then turn left on 365 (365 is a bumpy road).
Contact Mike Price at