Surf fishing might seem like a strictly summer option but the fact is late winter and early spring provide some excellent fishing for some unusual species. In fact the fishing for fish like bull black drum and sand trout is usually good until about the second week of April depending on water temperatures.
However extremely good surf fishing action is to be found during winter, but you have to look past the popular species for a few small, barble species that some might even consider strange.
The following is a guide to some of the winter surf’s best options, the baits to catch them on and even a few easily accessible fishing locations.
Sand seatrout are silvery with a pinkish color on the upper sides according to TPWD and they are a popular target when surf fishing. Their large mouths are orange on the inside and have with one or two rounded teeth at the front of the upper jaw. Although common in deeper bays, channels and the shallow Gulf, sand seatrout are found nowhere else. Live whiting, dead shrimp and cut bait are the way to go for bait.
TPWD describes silver seatrout as bright silver all over with no stripes, bars or other marks. The only place you’re likely to find color on these fish is inside their mouths, which are orange. They live mostly in the Gulf where they feed on fish and shellfish but they do come into bays in the winter. They go for the same baits as their close cousins the sand trout.
There is no mistaking these giants. Oversized black drum move into the surf beginning in early winter, with more and more fish coming in toward the spring spawning period. Crab with the shell taken off and large dead shrimp are great baits to score on these bruisers.
Gulf kingfish, also called Gulf whiting according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, live in small schools in the surf along the Texas coast. “Young kingfish sometimes move into the shallows in coastal bays. Like their relatives the southern kingfish, Gulf kingfish feed on bottom-dwelling animals such as worms, clams and other shellfish.”
Winter brings lots of whiting to beachfronts and the beautiful thing about catching them is simplicity. A dead shrimp or small chunk of cut bait fished on the bottom is usually enough to get their attention. They can be caught while surf fishing into April depending on beach temperatures.
Atlantic croaker are about 12 inches long and weigh 1/2 to 2 pounds on average according to TPWD. “Its distinguishing characteristics include three to five pairs of small barbels or ‘whiskers’ on their chins to help them feel for food on the sea floor; a lateral line that extends to the tip of its caudal (tail) fin; inferior mouth (located to the bottom of the head facing the ground), and brown vertical stripes on its sides. Adults are silver with a pinkish cast. Young are silvery and iridescent. Older fish are brassy in color with vertical brown streaks formed by spots that are on their scales.”
Croakers are also simple to catch and take to dead shrimp quickly. When they are abundant in the surf, croakers will gladly take scented lures like Gulp! and also hit small spoons and spinnerbaits especially if you find some of the bigger ones.
On the warmer days of winter, the temperatures are extremely comfortable on our beaches. Although wading into the water is not an option, there is plenty of space for kids to roam free, fly kites and look for seashells. The best part is you might be alone. Very few use the surf during winter. That means you can spend quality family time in solitude.
This type of fishing is not rocket science, but it sure is fun. We defy anyone to find anything that tastes better than freshly caught whiting or sand trout.
Sea Rim State Park
Location: Off of Highway 87 past Sabine Pass
Location: Highway 87 between High Island and Port Bolivar
Location: Off of Highway 87 near the jetties
Mustang Island State Park
Location: SH 361 Port Aransas
Location: At Humble Channel in Corpus Christi
Location: End of FM 2031, Matagorda
Location: At Port Bay in Rockport
Foley Reserve Park
Location: East Bayshore/Palacios
South Padre Island
Location: North end of Park Road 100
Shrimp and cut bait are a natural to fish during winter, but the following are some that can score on the above species
These strange looking creatures are marine parasites that feed on the mucus, skin and blood of host fish. They look like a crab crossed with something from the Alien films, and they make great bait for black drum, especially the really big ones.
A number of bait camps along the coast carry these disgusting looking creatures. Besides drum, they are effective for croakers and whiting at times.
The little crabs with one giant pincher and another small one are perhaps the best bait for sheepshead. They are hard to take off a hook, and sheepshead will seemingly take them before they will anything else.
Some anglers catch fiddler crabs in dip nets, and others set traps. They are not so easy to catch, but if it’s sheepshead you want, fiddlers are the golden ticket. Black drum have a fondness for them too.
—TF&G Staff Report