T he first significant cold front struck the Lower Texas Coast in late October this year, which hinted at an earlier winter than in recent years.
Though it is rare that any one cold front will drop water temperatures precipitously (unless some monstrous Siberian express comes ripping down from the north, which has been known to happen), a series of steady cold snaps can bring waters down to below the comfort level of most game fish and fishermen. The trick is finding where the fish have gone.
The thing is that fish essentially live in a captured medium. When it gets cold, they can’t pack up and move to Panama until April. Trout and redfish have to basically seek out water that is more comfortable to their cold-blooded physiology. The key is deep water.
Fishermen being fishermen, most of us are willing to 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. Our dogs won’t even get up and follow us to the kitchen, 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 who will brave drizzle, even rain, and cold temperatures to have a shot at some trout, there are plenty of deep water spots to capture your attention. 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 toward the drop-off, but I’ve been more successful dogging-up in deeper water and casting up to the edge, then easing the bait or lure into the drop-off.
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 those produced by Gulp! or Live Target are good choices too. Fish them the same way as you would live bait.
Another good cold-water trout spot near the Turning Basin is the Y. This 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 swimbait such as aYum Money Minnow, which simulates the profile of a mullet, is tough to beat.
An underrated, but effective, lure for this application is the jerkbait. A tail such as the venerable Bass Assassin or the KVD Perfect Plastic shad can be fished slowly on an unweighted worm hook. The lure will suspend in the water column when paused, and they can be hard to beat. Another great quality of the bait is that a fish in a neutral mood can come up on it and suck it in with minimal effort, whereas a heavier lure may not get the fish’s attention too much.
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 snapper, 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 pretty much all winter when the weather goes in the toilet.
Location: Dolphin Cove
Species: Black Drum, Sand Trout
Techniques: Fish with shrimp or crab on a bottom rig. Use heavier tackle if you’re after drum.
Email Calixto Gonzales at [email protected]