T he holiday season for most Americans—Texans proudly among them—begins in earnest with the approach of Christmas.
This is a time to spend with family and friends. However, there is no reason fishing can’t be one of the activities enjoyed by all. December weather on our coast is normally temperate enough to allow us to enjoy activities near the water, and our resident fish species should be feeding and in their usual haunts.
Should colder weather decide to visit us—which is always possible—there will still be fish to catch. They just might be feeding slower, and in deeper water.
Most experienced Texas fishermen know the routine by now—on warmer, sunny days, shallow reefs in the bays should see feeding fish. When cooler temperatures invade, reds, trout, and flounders will seek the slightly warmer temperatures of deeper holes, channels, and the nearby Gulf.
They still have to eat, but nature schools them well—pardon the pun—and they will hunt for larger bait species, which take longer to fully digest. This enables them to effectively store food to last a longer period of time.
It has been known for many years that larger trout do this pretty much all during the year, but especially in winter. This means that a larger, fish-imitating artificial lure will probably be more attractive to a hungry “sow” trout at this time of year than a smaller, shrimp imitation.
When using natural baits, a live finger mullet or croaker has even more appeal. However, a “fresh dead” bait, with maybe the tail cut off to allow blood and other body oils to leave a scent trail can initiate a stalk from a hungry predator. With the artificial, work it deep and slow, staying alert for a “bump” or “tap” rather than a hard strike.
Natural baits should be worked slowly or not at all. Simply letting them dangle in a likely spot of water will often be enough, or let any current move the bait with it.
In this technique, either use a float to speed the drift in weak current, or let the bait “drag” a sinker across the bottom—which can slow a drift going too fast, and create puffs of mud that imitate the movement of a real, struggling baitfish.
A BIG plus to fishing colder water on the upper Texas coast is the reduced activity from crabs and “bait stealing” small fish such as hard head catfish. There will still be some of these around, but certainly not in the overwhelming numbers sometimes encountered in summer
Live bait may also be more difficult to come by, but the fisherman dedicated to gathering his own bait supply can use cast nets, small bait seines, and jar-type mud minnow traps to get—well, mud minnows!
Also worth collecting and using are finger mullet, shad, and small croakers. These bait species can be captured by the same methods used to gather mud minnows.
Any live bait species that are actually captured alive at this time of year will be fairly well accustomed to colder water. Certainly, too warm water will seldom be a problem in December, so they can more easily be kept fresh and alive. Usually this can be accomplished without the need for pumps or bubblers to add oxygen to the bait tank water. Live shrimp might be hard to find at the bait shops that stay open all year, but some can also be obtained in the bait nets.
Dead bait is certainly better than no bait at all. In cold water, the scent of a bait might be more effective than lively movement. Frozen shrimp, mullet, shad, and squid are just about always available. Those really serious about winter fishing might freeze some of the bait they catch in warmer weather for use this time of year.
Since the holidays are best enjoyed with family and friends, taking advantage of a good weather “envelope” can be a very good way to use some of that Holiday time off from school or work . A fish fry organized around a fresh catch only makes it better.
Email Mike Holmes at
Location: Generally, deeper water reached by pier, jetty, or rock groin is a better “bet” than shallow shore lines..
Species: Redfish, speckled trout, flounder, croaker – while none of these might be encountered in really large numbers, all can be found at least occasionally.
Bait: Generally, natural baits are more effective in cold water, but fish-imitating plugs or spoons worked very slowly near the bottom can produce good catches in the right spots.
Best Time: Tides will not be as strong, so fish when you have the opportunity. Night fishing under lights can be the very best cold water opportunity – whether off a pier or dock, jetty, or any spot deep water is reasonably close to shore.
Email Mike Holmes at [email protected]