D ecember 21 is this year’s first official day of winter. Bay water temperatures, however, usually start dropping well before that which instinctively pushes the trout and the redfish into a winter fishing pattern weeks ahead of winter’s true starting point.
No one can say for sure which day of what week the fish will actually begin transitioning to their wintertime pattern. However, anyone who has logged any significant amount of time fishing for cold-water trout and reds knows that these fish will soon become choosy and hard to please.
That’s one reason why it’s so important for anglers to locate signs of fish in the area before dropping anchor and spending a lot of time wading any one spot, especially given the potential for really cold water or extreme weather conditions right now.
One vital fish sign this time of year is bait activity in the immediate area. Although this is important throughout the year, bait activity is almost essential when things get really cold.
Fish metabolism slows tremendously once temperatures drop as their body adapts to upcoming colder conditions and less food. When this happens, the fish may eat as little as once every day.
They will conserve as much energy as possible by using no more effort than absolutely necessary to catch their prey. For this reason, it makes sense that fish might prefer one large meal to several smaller meals.
Large horse mullet should become one of your greatest targets over the next few months, as your chance for success can multiply whenever you cast in their direction after you witness them jump above the water’s surface.
A second thing anglers can do to enhance their wintertime success is to locate a bottom structure that’s primarily thick, dark mud. The mud acts as an insulating blanket for the fish when water temperatures drastically decline.
Because it has a dark color, the mud tends to absorb heat from the sun, and does not reflect the sunlight as well as lighter-colored sand does. Because of its physical properties, the dark mud is also capable of retaining whatever little heat it is able to absorb and thereby presents a little bit warmer environment which becomes rather attractive for bait fish and game fish alike.
Good places to look for bait activity are muddy shallows that have immediate access to deeper water. On cold, sunny days, the fish will often venture from the safety of the depths to look for food and warmth atop the mud flats.
Some good examples of just such places include flats along the Intracoastal Waterway between Port O’Connor and San Antonio Bay. Some of the shell islands in open-water in San Antonio Bay, Espiritu Santo Bay, and Mesquite Bay also offer ample mud next to some rather deep water.
Remember that now it’s cold, the fish are going to slow down. Slow the speed of the retrieve for whatever type of artificial bait you happen to be tossing. You can try different speeds to see what works best, but the rule of thumb is that once you think you’re reeling-in slow, slow down even more.
If you’re working plastic tails, try to imagine what the action of your bait looks like as you work the lure across the bay floor. One plastic-tail tactic that’s a big producer in cold water is to create a small, trailing mud cloud directly behind your lure. This is achieved by dragging the lure across the mud with an extremely slow and continuous retrieve.
Accompany this with an ever so slight twitch of the rod tip every few moments. If you’re tossing top water baits, experiment with different retrieves until you find one that works best.
One method that’s popular is the slow walk-n-stop. You give the bait a few twitches of the rod tip, Then let the bait sit motionless for a count of five seconds. It’s a retrieve that takes patience, but it’s proven quite effective over the years on cold-water fish. Give it a try next time you’re out on the water this month hunting for what can often be some very persnickety trout and redfish.
Email Chris Martin at [email protected]
or visit bayflatslodge.com