Saltwater Angler Magazine
December 9, 2009
Water temperatures have dropped significantly with the most recent cold fronts, leaving much of the flats, back lakes and estuaries in the below 60 degree range during some parts of the day and night. Finding warm waters that support happy, feeding predators such as reds and trout are the key to catching shallow water fish during the winter.
Shallow water sightcasting in the winter can be some of the most productive fishing of the entire year. One of the differences between winter and the other three seasons, however, is that in the winter, shallow water fish don’t always feed. When a sudden drop in temperatures occurs during the cold blast of a norther, predators make a mad dash from the skinny water to the deeper water for survival. Then, after the danger has passed when the cold winds stop blowing and the sun comes out, these fish slowly emerge from the depths to bask in the warmth. Shallow water not only cools off the fastest, but also warms up the fastest.
That’s when most anglers get a little frustrated with the fish as they are hanging around warming up in the shallow water, not really interested in feeding at all. Not only are they not really feeding, but at this time of the year, shallow water fish tend to slow down, almost like being in a type of “hibernation”. When they do start to feed, lure and fly presentation has to be very close to the “dinner plate zone”. Slowed down fish won’t expend big bursts of energy to feed, but will move an inch or two to slurp up a shrimp, crab or small fish that moves close to their mouth.
Since there is still quite a bit of grass in the flats, this darker bottom will absorb the heat of the sun. Not only should anglers key on grass, but also mud, spoil islands and slightly off-colored water. Mud is warmer than sand, spoil islands absorb heat and slightly off-colored water is warmer than clear water (floating particulates absorb heat from the sun). These places will be warmer than surrounding areas, thereby holding more bait and the predators that follow.
Avoid cold, incoming tidal waters and seek waters protected from cold winds. Both wind and cold incoming tides will inundate sun-warmed flats with cold water, chasing predators out.
Lure casters can have some fun in the winter with my all-time cold water favorite, the Baby 1-, a crank bait made by Mann. Another similar lure, the Bandit, is also a less-than –one-foot deep crank bait, just a tad smaller than a Baby. Change out the hooks on both of these lures as they are mostly a fresh water bass lure. Redfish and trout find the strong vibration and wobble of this lure almost irresistible. With less floating grass, this lure is very, very effective. Spinner baits can be added to the arsenal, along with small and medium-sized soft plastic paddletails in light, dark and natural colors. 1/16th ounce jig heads along with “flutter hooks” in the same weight let these plastics work naturally.
Don’t stop using a topwater lure, which can still be very effective under certain conditions, along with the old standby, the gold spoon.
Fly casters toss shrimp, crab and clousers in all sizes. Sometimes bigger flies are more productive when the water is cold as some predators (like big trout) enjoy “more bang for their buck”, meaning a bigger meal for the expended effort is sometimes preferred.
Tropical or warm water fly line does not like cold, crisp mornings. Stripping line off the reel can be a challenge as it remains in the coiled shape, making it hard to cast. Consult a fly line retailer to find a line that is suitable for colder saltwater temperatures.
Shallow water anglers must simply “pick their day” to find the right conditions for feeding fish. Warm, sunny, low wind days between fronts will make any sightcaster call in sick to work. On these fine winter days, prepare to catch a lot of fish, cast accurately, move the fly or lure a little slower and avoid answering the cell phone in case your boss should call.
See you on the water!