LOOK AT IT FROM the fish’s point of view; fish are most comfortable when the water temperature is between 70º and 80ºF and the bay water salinity is around 15 parts per thousand.
But in January the water temperatures typically vary between 50º and 60ºF. Also, when the bays are inundated by fresh water, the salinity drops.
So, you will find the fish where the water is a bit warmer and the salinity is closer to normal. The water will be slightly warmer on the bottom in deeper water.
The deepest water associated with our bays is in the Colorado and Tres Palacios Rivers. Other deeper water locations are holes in the bays, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Diversion Channel that dumps Colorado River water into West Matagorda Bay.
Winter storms pour a lot of rain into the Tres Palacios and Colorado rivers and East and West Matagorda Bays, So, trout and redfish seek water with higher levels of salinity.
Saltwater weighs 64 pounds per cubic foot, and freshwater weighs 62 pounds per cubic foot. Therefore freshwater floats above saltwater. Once again, the fish will be found in deeper water because it will be saltier if it rains a lot.
The Colorado River is very popular for winter fishing because it’s deeper than the bays. If we haven’t had too much rain, there’s a good chance the fish, especially trout, will be there.
Of course, you still have to look for them. You can do that by trolling soft plastics, drifting on a light wind, or by moving and anchoring along the sides of the river.
If live shrimp is available, it will be the most productive bait, but dead shrimp works well also. If you find a concentration of trout and they are hungry, they will hit just about any bait or lure.
There are times in the winter when fish slow way down and hang out on the bottom. After all, they are cold-blooded animals; the body temperature of fish is the same as the surrounding water temperature.
Even when the water is cold and somewhat fresh, fish get hungry. When conditions change, such as fresh water getting flushed out or water temperature, increasing on a warm day, the hungry fish will be looking for prey.
Sometimes when the water is cold, fish will hit with a vengeance, but other times, the bite will be soft and tentative. When you feel this soft bite, give it a little time until you feel the fish swimming, then set the hook.
When the rivers dump vast amounts of fresh water into West Matagorda Bay, fish East Matagorda Bay. You can check the flow of the Colorado into West Bay by going to www.hydromet.lcra.org.
East Bay has fresh water flowing into it from creeks and marshes. However, it receives much less volume than the water pumped into West Matagorda Bay.
Last January on a sunny day when West Bay had too much fresh water, Eddie Vacek drift fished the west side of East Matagorda Bay. The water temperature started at 51°F and went up to 57°F, which stimulated the bite later in the day.
Eddie and his fishing buddy limited on trout that were between 20 and 24 inches, plus they caught three redfish.
Harbors are deeper than surrounding waters. Therefore fish will be there when the water is cold. However, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department closes fishing to these areas and other deep holes when the temperatures really drop.
This is done to protect the fish population from overfishing. So, if you intend to fish a deep spot when the water is cold, check the TPWD website at https://tpwd.texas.gov/ and look at Saltwater Freeze Events before going.
I held onto my face mask and rolled backwards off the boat into the cold January water and swam to the rig. I could only see about 20 feet, but the water was alive with fish. Two big lings came cruising by,
Atlantic angelfish, bluefish, sheepsheads, little blennies poking their heads out of barnacles, and hundreds of other fish lived on this rig. I descended to 35 feet, and the visibility opened up to 50 feet. It was loaded with red snappers. Most of them were around 20 inches, but some were much bigger.
Cold water holds more oxygen and that brings fish closer to shore in the winter. We have an artificial reef that is 160 acres of pyramids that are eight feet tall with 20-foot bases. This habitat works just like the rig that I dived on, attracting an array of marine life, including red snapper and ling.
The reef is called Brazos-A-439 Reef. It is located 11 miles from the Matagorda jetty and eight miles off Matagorda Beach. To see an interactive map showing GPS quadrants and other information go to the TPWD website and search artificial reefs.
It’s legal to take red snappers caught on this reef because it is within nine miles of the coast. This is Texas waters as opposed to Federal waters more than nine miles offshore.
The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) is dredged to a depth of 12 feet. Warmer water on the bottom attracts fish in the winter. Take CR 259 next to the cemetery in Matagorda going along the ICW. Starting at the bridge, there are several access points to the ICW.
Email Mike Price at [email protected]