I KNOW WHAT YOU”RE thinking—Winter is not the time for Joe Angler.
All the fishing is specialized and directed at trophy trout, “the fish of a thousand hours.” The typical weekend angler doesn’t have the time, ambition, or resources to be successful in March.
“Besides,” you tell me, pointing an accusing finger at your humble writer, aren’t you the one who says that winter means cold fronts rolling in Friday night and killing the whole weekend?”
Granted, fishing can get iffy in March. 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.
The great part of the winter sheepshead run is the easy-access nature of the fishery. In March, sheepshead surrender to their ardor, and the spawning run is in full swing. Every piece of structure up and down the coast holds numbers of these toothy convict fish.
On days when the weather permits, all a fisherman needs to do is head to the Brazos Santiago Jetties. Bring some live or fresh shrimp and a reasonably stout spinning or conventional outfit with 15-pound line to 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 from 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.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sheepshead everywhere! Big whoop!“ you grumble. “What about trout?”
One 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 both to forage and to absorb some of the warmth from the winter sun.
Petty recommends a noisy topwater such as Normark’s Skitterwalk or the Super Spook, Jr. Contrary to the super-slow retrieves that are recommended for wintertime topwaters, a fast retrieve is ideal to draw reaction strikes.
As cold-blooded trout warm up, they become more active. 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 braces 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 because of the weather change, and the longer you can keep a lure in their faces, the better your chances at drawing a strike.
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 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 works well for these bruisers.
Most of the fish will be over the maximum 30-inch slot, but the best bait for large black drum are crab chunks with the carapace removed. Pass a 5/0 circle hook through a leg socket and out the top of the crab, chuck 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 these drums.
Fishing Lower Laguna Madre in winter isn’t similar to fishing the same waters in summer, but they aren’t dead waters. There are fish out there in the same variety as in warmer seasons. Just bundle up, keep warm, and have at it.
Email Calixto Gonzales at [email protected]