When Other Gamefish Give You the Cold Shoulder, You Can Always Find Texas Reds
I remember freezing my butt off while fishing off the side of the road with my dad during the winter, catching one redfish after another. People thought we were crazy, but winter is a great time to catch reds.The beautiful thing about redfish is that anglers can catch them with relative ease throughout the year. The biggest segment of the flounder population leaves the bays during winter, and speckled trout simply get lockjaw. But it seems like redfish are always biting somewhere.
Finding big concentrations of redfish in winter can be tough. Fish are cold-blooded and do not really like winter. They seek sanctuary from winter weather, which is why warm water outfall canals are such great fishing holes. Along the Texas coast, there are several warm water discharges from energy plants and refineries that can harbor incredible numbers of fish.
I grew up fishing around the Entergy Plant near Bridge City. It is like several similar outfits along the Texas Gulf Coast in that it cools its turbines by pumping water from one canal and expelling it into another. In this case, the water is coming from a marsh bordering the Lower Neches Wildlife Management Area and is exiting into a canal that leads to the mouth of the Neches River. Both usually hold salty water during winter.
Baitfishes congregate in such warm waters during cold spells, making a buffet for a host of large predators. They are great for human predators, too, since the cold-blooded fish become more active feeders in these warm spots.
Warm-water discharges come in many forms. They can be a huge cooling plant that spews out thousands of gallons of warm water a minute, or they can be a small drainage pipe or culvert that has a very light flow. Chemical refineries often have small pump stations that produce warm water flow that diverts into underwater pipes.
Any of these areas can hold a surprising number of fish. The more flow and the warmer the water compared to the surrounding waters, the more fish there will be. An interesting phenomenon in these areas is that different species favor various degrees of warmth or current. For example, redfish congregate next to the outflow pipes and prefer areas where the water is warmest.
The deeper holes in the canal may also hold many reds. Dead shrimp will catch a mess of small reds, but use cut mullet or crab if you are after big ones. I have found squid to be an effective alternative. It has the right smel, and its almost luminescent color adds visual appeal in dark water.
Something to keep in mind is that even small flows from a single drainpipe can draw fish. They may not hold massive schools of fish for long periods, but even a slight change in water temperature can make a big difference in cold weather.
It is very important to look for the little things in these spots, since very often that is all it takes to attract game fish. One of the outfall canals I fish does not even pump hot water anymore, but the fish still congregate there. Old timers in the area say the fish in the area are “programmed” to go there. If that is true, then Mother Nature must program bull redfish to hit the jetties during winter.
I grew up believing they only came near shore during the fall, but found out there are plenty for anglers to find during winter at the jetties.
The largest concentrations of redfish seem to be at the deep holes at the southern tip of the Gulf side of jetties. If for some reason the deeper holes are inaccessible, you should back off and look for dips in the rocks. These dips indicate deep holes, and that is where the redfish will be. Another sign is vegetation growing on the bottom of the rocks. These areas hold lots of small crabs, which make excellent redfish bait. Shrimp is good, too.
The advantage of using shrimp is that it is readily available, whereas crabs can be tough to come by. Shrimp has one serious drawback though. Everything in the ocean eats it, so sometimes a redfish does not get a chance to get the bait.
I generally put out several lines with a slip egg weight and swivel, finished off with a wide-gapped hook. This simple set up is ideal for catching reds, but knowing when to set the hook is another issue entirely.
For some reason, bull redfish like to peck on bait during winter. Other times of year, they slam whatever you throw at them with great fury, but during winter, they peck for a while and then take off. The best setup is to place the rod in a holder and turn on the reel clicker. When the clicker starts to sound, turn it off and reel in the slack. When it feels like your rod is water bound, set the hook.
A few years ago, a letter from a reader led me to a spot at the Sabine Jetties where slot-size redfish were gathered around large concentrations of menhaden and suspended in 25 feet of water. By running my fish-finder, it did not take long to find the shad. There were millions of them as the entire middle section of the screen looked like a solid piece of structure.
I put on a live menhaden, slowly lowered it to the desired depth, and immediately got a strike. My rod bent in half and I was battling a nice redfish. After landing that fish, I quickly hooked up with another and ended up catching 20 between 23 and 36 inches. Some might say I was a lunatic for being on the water that day—the air temperature was in the mid-30s and the wind chill had to be in the upper teens.
Truly understanding jetties is crucial to being able to catch fish there. They might look like a simple pile of useless rocks, but there is more to it than that. To start with, the rocks are three times wider at the bottom than they are at the surface, which means you have more structure than meets the eye. The real structure is below the surface—pockets in the rocks and deep holes that create eddies and strong currents.
It is crucial to move until you find fish. During winter months, I never give one spot more than 20 minutes if I have not caught a sheepshead or redfish. Fish are gregarious, especially during winter, and the angler who finds one fish should find many more where that one came from.
When you fish jetties from a boat, anchoring technique is a major issue. Use lots of rope. About 125 feet should be enough. Between the rope and anchor there should be at least five feet of heavy chain. This helps keep the anchor on the bottom.
Never shut off the engine while anchoring. You could easily drift into the rocks and cause severe damage to your boat and possibly to yourself. Keep the boat upcurrent from the intended fishing hole and then drop the anchor. I have been using an anchor called the Mighty-Mite and have found it to be the ultimate jetty anchor. It has specially designed teeth that provide a steady grip but still dislodge from just about any rocky crevice with relative ease.
Chester Moore, Jr.