T exas coastal fisherman often get new fishing gear for Christmas. If they have been really good boys and or girls, they might be gifted a new boat—but very few of us would claim to be THAT good.
Decembers in our area are mild in most years—and this is gift enough for the season. Still this is one of the months when we will get cold weather, if we are going to get it at all.
2016 brought the first real freeze to my home in Oyster Creek that we had seen in many years, and the Christmas snow storm of several years ago is something we still remember. Normally, though, December is rather mild here, as winters go. So die-hard anglers are not doomed to staying inside for the whole month.
On (fairly) warm, sunny days trout and reds will likely be found feeding in the same shallows they prefer in summer, and will be fooled by the same baits and lures. If the water is cooler, though, lure presentation should be slower, and baits that emit a good scent trail are best. Live bait is still king, but can be harder to come by—even for those who catch their own.
Generally, a live and wiggling mud minnow is better than a dead shrimp, so we can’t be as choosey about which live bait to use. Cut bait from a fresh caught croaker or mullet will be better than something from a freezer, when it is available.
Reds and trout are not the only fish in the sea (or bay), though, and sheepshead is available throughout the winter, AND are excellent on the table. A good tactic for these shell-fish eaters is to scrap barnacles off a dock piling, and fish among the scattered pieces, using them for chum.
In the winter surf, I have caught bull reds in December, and sighted tarpon—both on the Galveston side of San Luis Pass—so fishing the surf is not a waste of time. Croaker and whiting will be around, and are fun on light tackle, tasty on the table.
Offshore, some anglers may not realize that bluefish come to the Gulf to spawn in winter. Of course, many anglers may not care—but I like blues. Few fish fight harder for their size, and they are so aggressive that it is hard NOT to catch them if they are around.
If they are cooked fresh, with all the streaks of red meat cut off, they can be fine eating. On many trips we have had blues eating small red snappers off our hooks and mangling large snappers. This is the time when I usually decide to get serious about catching blues—and why not?
Bluefish do not reach the 20 to 25 pound sizes here that they do on the Atlantic coast, but our Texas state record was a bit over 16 pounds the last time I looked. Since a five pound blue puts up a good tussle even on snapper tackle, a 15 pound-plus blue would be a worthy opponent.
Also in their favor, there are no seasons, size or bag limits on bluefish in the Gulf—yet.
Location: Areas near deep water—or the deep spots themselves. Canals, harbors, some distance from shore on a jetty or pier, or deep holes in coastal creeks, bayous or rivers will hold more fish as long as there is at least the threat of cold weather to contend with.
Species:Trout are famous for schooling in rivers some distance inland from the mouth—especially if there is a warm water outflow nearby. Flounders that did not move offshore will be found in deep canals—even the ICW—where they can dig into insulating mud to ambush prey species. Reds might take either route, but also feed on shallow reefs and bars when the sun warms the water. Offshore can be a wonderland if the weather allows long runs for tuna and wahoo. Closer in, bluefish are willing to keep anglers busy and entertained.
Bait: If dead bait is all you have, use it and be thankful. A little imagination in presentation and selection can not only relieve boredom, but increase the payoff.
Best Time: December fishing is often something we do just to “get out”—and there is nothing at all wrong with that.
Email Mike Holmes at [email protected]