M uch like many others anglers out there, I have been the victim of a myth. I have believed, for quite some time in fact, that fishing is the pits in February.
January fishing is good. March is excellent. So are the other nine months of the year, but February fishing is a sure way to really put a crimp into your batting average. The weather stinks. The wind is always out of the north or northwest (and as Rudy Grigar once noted, a northwest wind will muddy up a 50-foot well). Not only that, but the fish have disappeared. No telling where they went Miami, maybe, but wherever they went, they’re gone.
The truth is that fishing actually isn’t any worse in February than it is any other winter month. In fact, some anglers prefer fishing in February for myriad reasons, such as decreased on-water traffic, no jet skis, less heat stroke, and, most important of all, good fishing for large trout. Professional anglers, such as Captain Dan Land (361-876-7610; txsportsmancharters.com) makes a lot of his money in February.
“As colder weather sets in a little better, you will see the fishing pick up,” said Captain Land, who specializes in fishing Baffin Bay and Upper and Lower Laguna Madre. “Rather than catching five fish in one area, you can catch 15 or 30 or find a good school where it’s non-stop action.”
According to Land, with colder weather and temperatures stabilized (in other words, it’s colder longer), trout will settle into their dedicated winter patterns and settle their cold-water comfort zones. Once the fish have become established into their winter haunts, they begin feeding on a more routine schedule, and that makes them easier to locate and predict. When this happens, says Land, the fishing is much more consistent and steady.
“If you do your homework, it can be very rewarding,” says Land.
So what is a trout’s winter haunt? According to Land, trout tend to look for deeper water. Deeper water tends to retain its heat more efficiently, and the poikilothermic speckled trout tend to gravitate to warmer water. “Deeper water” may mean four to six feet, rather than the two to four feet where trout normally congregate in warmer months.
During this deeper water period, Land throws suspending baits such as the B&L Corky or a Brown Lure. On cooler days, he will fish a larger lure such as the Corkie Fat Boy, which can be fished slower and kept in the strike zone longer.
This is slow work, according to Land, and requires a patient approach and a soft touch. These trout don’t necessarily strike with the fast slash a smaller, hot weather fish might. The bite is much lighter, akin to a nip a pinfish might make. Sometimes you will only feel a “mushy” sensation on your rod. When you do, set the hook.
Land also advises that you don’t ignore the middle and upper levels of the water column. If the water begins to warm, speckled trout become more active and move up and down the depth column and feed more aggressively.
On mild days, it isn’t uncommon for trout to chase bait up to the surface. Don’t expect to see bait popping on the surface and gulls diving. The clue to feeding trout might be more discreet, such as a single baitfish flitting across the surface. When you see this, work your bait a little shallower and a little faster.
The end result may be some hot action in an otherwise cold month.
If you decide to fish in cold weather, don’t forget to dress warmly. More than a few anglers seem to forget this very important rule. They don’t take into account how biting a north wind can be, or how chilling the spray can be from even a slightly bumpy boat ride. In those situations, the best case scenario may be some miserable shivering. The worst case can be hypothermia and a stint in the hospital.
A mistake a lot of anglers seem to make is thinking that traditionally warm clothing is warm enough. They wear jeans, a long cotton “Rugger” shirt, and sneakers with athletic socks. If you stay dry, then you will probably stay relatively comfortable.
The problems arise if you get wet by spray or drizzle or an unexpected drenching. Then, those jeans become more of a liability. Denim retains moisture and doesn’t dry easily. Even on a windless day, the chill of cold water on bare skin can cause discomfort and even lower your body temperature.
Athletic shoes also tend to retain moisture, and certainly athletic socks do (how many times have you taken off a pair of socks after working hard and find that you sweated through them?). All of these can contribute to hypothermia.
It never hurts to own a set of insulated rain gear to shield you from cold spray and unexpected drizzling. The comfort of dry clothing can’t be understated. If the day becomes warmer, you can always peel the top layers off and continue fishing. You can’t do that with jeans and a shirt.
Well, you could, but you better have really close friend on board with you.
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]