T here’s nothing novel if I were to tell you that wintertime is prime time for big speckled trout. Countless big yellow-mouths have been pulled out of cold Texas waters during the winter over the years.
Ironically, the biggest of the bunch, Bud Rowland’s state record 15 pounds, 6 ounces was caught on a balmy day in May, 2002. There is no denying that trophy-class speckled trout are the main target of any fisherman who is resolute enough to crawl out of bed early on a cold day and make a run on a lonely Texas bay.
That resolve will be sorely needed. On most trips, big speckled trout are hard to find, hook, and land, even in the most ideal conditions. The winter angler is facing either a stiff north wind and falling water temperatures, or blue-bird skies, a rising barometer, and skittish fish. The odds are better than normal that you might go back to the boat ramp with nothing to show for your effort but stiff, wrinkled fingers and low morale.
The odds might be more in the trout’s favor, but there are still ways to fool a baseball bat-sized trout into nailing your offering and changing a cold water-haul into a trip to remember. One of the keys may be as simple as what’s beneath your feet.
“The first thing I always look for when I fish in winter is mud,” said Captain Daniel Land of Texas Sportsman Charters (361-876-7610; Txsportsmanscharters.com). “Mud retains heat longer and more efficiently than a sandy bottom, so big trout will hold over mud when it gets too cold to stay in their comfort zone. Structure of some kind also helps, whether it’s rocks or a depth break, or a grass line helps, too. Structure provides security and forage when they finally start to feed.”
It’s essentially the same principle that can dictate that darker vehicles will be hotter in the summer sun than lighter colors. Dark tones absorb solar radiation, whereas lighter shades reflect that same radiation. Since fish are cold blooded and can’t regulate their temperature internally; they, therefore, rely on external sources of heat, such as that nice warm mud.
Normally, trout tend to be in a neutral or negative feeding mode when holding over mud. Their metabolisms slow to the point that they don’t need to fuel it with protein.
Trout being the opportunistic feeder that they are, they will not turn down an offering literally under their noses. This is the sort of situation that calls for a slo-o-o-w presentation and is perfectly set up for Land’s pet lure.
“When I find a soft, muddy bottom, such as you’ll find in Baffin Bay or the parts of the Laguna Madre,” said Land. “The first bait I use is a Corkie Fat Boy. The big body sinks super slowly and presents a big target for trout to attack.”
Land added that trout are reluctant to exert any precious energy in cold weather, even to feed; therefore they are not likely to target smaller prey. The adage of “big bait, big fish,” applies with winter trout.
According to Land, fishermen have to fish the bait slower than they can imagine. From how he describes the presentation, the retrieve is usually “One Mississippi, Mississippi, Mississippi Two….”and even slower than that at times.
A maddening quality of wintertime trout is that they may try to feed, but not feed. Captain Jimmy Martinez loves recounting a story about fishing for big trout one winter and having a huge trout come up on his Mirrolure MR14 and try to suck it down. The fish would suck at the lure lightly, and all it would do was quiver. The fish repeated the move over and over, but couldn’t get enough force to inhale the bait. Eventually the fish moved off and left Martinez a trembling wreck.
Sometimes, according to Captain Daniel Land, trout are so negative they don’t commit to eating. When that happens, soft plastics on light heads—or no heads at all—are the best option to tempt these fish.
“I use a light head, about 1/8- or even 1/16-ounce Naughty Hooker jigheads when I fish a plastic,” Land said. “They have a large hook that is effective with large baits such as Brown Lures or a six-inch Down South Lures Shad. Sometimes, a big slow-moving plastic is just what these fish want, and they won’t hit anything else.”
There is no secret to the colors that Land recommends. Dark colors such as Plum Chartreuse work best in murkier water or over mud bottoms. Lighter colors such as Silver/Pink Hologram in clearer water or on sunny days.
If there has been a stretch of three to five days of milder weather where sunny conditions prevail, then Land will shift his focus from muddier bottoms to sand and grass. Sand warms up more quickly and as trouts’ metabolisms warm up, they begin to feed more actively. In such a case, the trout become more aggressive, and Land can get fish to attack a faster retrieve.
“Trout move around more in mild weather,” said Land, “They’ll chase down a soft plastic from a longer way away and hit harder. You’ll also find good trout in the 18- to 22-inch range at the same time. Action picks up when you get a few days of sunshine and warmer temperatures.”
Warm stretches are also a good time to start using topwaters, according to Land. He’ll fish sand near structure with either an Unfair Lures Paul’s Rip-n-Slash or a Spook, Jr. With the sun out and sand being the orders of the day, light-colored topwaters are best. A brisk pace is a good bet with more aggressive fish prowling.
Land warns that anglers need to have a lot of patience when fishing for cold-weather sows. There are days where you will absolutely smoke the fish, and then there will be days where you will grind all day for a single strike.
That strike, however, is one you won’t forget.
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]