W inter fishing has a special place in my heart. The misconception is that the typical weekend angler doesn’t have the time, ambition, or resources to be successful in January. Only the truly hardcore grinders would venture out on the Laguna Madre on a January day.
Granted, fishing gets iffy during January. Some weekends—when the vast majority of us do our fishing (yes, even me)—are completely shot. The weekends of mild weather are absolutely golden, and Lower Laguna Madre anglers are not without a myriad of options.
The big caveat is trying to decide WHAT to fish for. Here are a few options to mull over while sitting at breakfast at White Sands Marina in Port Isabel or Sweet Gregory P’s in Mansfield
• Sheepshead Galore: The great part of the winter sheepshead run is the easy-access nature of the fishery. On days when the weather permits, all a fisherman needs to do is head to the Brazos Santiago Jetties. With some live or fresh shrimp and a reasonably stout spinning or conventional outfit with 15 pound line you can catch a quick limit of five sheepies over 15 inches long.
The easiest rig involves a #2 Long-shank hook three feet under a popping cork, with a #3 split-shot sinker six inches above the hook to hold everything down. Toss the rig up against the rocks and wait. The float holds the bait above the rocks and also indicates when a sheep is grazing on your bait.
Boaters also have an easy time of it when they search for sheep. The Queen Isabella Causeway is loaded with them. Anchor up underneath the causeway and allow your boat to drift within 10 feet of the pilings. Free-lining a live shrimp up against the pilings is all it takes. Again, you will want to use stout tackle for this application, because there are some big fish down there, and you want to force them away from the pilings and into open water as soon as you can.
A free-shrimping setup is different in design to the rig you use around jetties. A 1/0 short-shanked hook such as the Lazer Sharp 7226 Red Octopus hook replaces the long-shanked hook, and a split shot is the only other terminal tackle you’ll need on your leader. Keep a finger on your line, because these guys are hellacious bait thieves.
• Long Bar Trout: Another excellent choice for fishermen looking for chillin’ trout is Long Bar. Though it is generally considered a springtime/early summer fishing spot, Long Bar is also a good wintertime trout spot.
After a series of mild days, speckled trout will take advantage of a high tide and come up on the bar to both forage and absorb some of the warmth from the winter sun. Topwaters such as Normark’s Skitterwalk or the Pradco Super Spook are good now.
Contrary to the super-slow retrieves that are recommended for wintertime topwaters, try a faster retrieve that causes a great deal of commotion. As cold-blooded trout warm up, they become more active, and a fast retrieve is ideal to draw reaction strikes from the revived fish.
A ¼ ounce gold spoon, an underrated trout lure, fluttered along is another good choice; moreover, the lure might prove effective if trout are short-striking the topwaters.
Should a north wind drive a cold front down from Canada, trout will back off of Long Bar and into the deeper water that embraces it. In that case, you can fish the edge of the drop-off with a Mansfield Mauler/jig combo.
Gulp! Shrimp in New Penny or Ivory are the go-to baits for post-frontal trout. The Mauler allows you to slow down your retrieve, and keeps the lure in one spot for a longer time. The klick-klack of the Mauler provides the sound factor that trout find so attractive, and the length of the leader between it and the lure keeps the latter in the strike zone. These fish are in a neutral mood due to the weather change, and the longer you can keep a lure in their faces, the better your chances at drawing a strike.
• Winter Drums: It isn’t difficult to find an area that produces good numbers of black drum. Just a little north and west of the Causeway is a broad flat (N26 04.58, W97 12.08) near the current Pirate’s Fishing Pier. A long cast from the pier can easily reach the area.
The best times to fish the area are the calm days after a cold front, and at night during the full moon. Large shrimp on a Carolina rig work well for these bruisers.
Most of the fish will be over the maximum 30-inch slot, but the best bait for large black drum is crab chunks with the carapace removed. Pass a 5/0 circle hook through a leg socket and out the top of the crab, chunk the whole rig out, and set the rod in a holder to wait.
Another good area to prospect for black drum is the mouth of the Arroyo Colorado. These blacks move up and down the drop-off of the Arroyo in tight schools all the way through March. In fact, many fishermen pull up to fish for these noisy buggers when the wind roughs up the bay too much. The same live shrimp/popping cork rig that you use for trout and redfish will work just fine for drum.
Fishing Lower Laguna Madre in winter isn’t the same as fishing the same waters in summer, but they aren’t dead waters. Fish are out there in the same variety as in warmer seasons. Just bundle up, keep warm, and have at it.
HotSpot: Pirates Landing Fishing Pier
Species: Speckled Trout, Sheepshead, Panfish
Tips: Night fish under the lights with live shrimp for best results.
Email Calixto Gonzales at [email protected]