November 9, 2010
In the wintertime, it’s all about comfort….
In the winter months, the rules change dramatically for shallow water anglers. Water temperatures can swing wildly. Be flexible and thoughtful with your approach, being in tune with water temperatures and wind. Shallow water warms up the fastest but also cools off the fastest, so plan your day for the warmest water. Cold incoming tides or a cold north wind can cool off your favorite place and evacuate fish. Shallow water temperatures above 60 degrees will draw fish to enter, and the warmer the water gets, the better chance for feeding fish.
Fishing “between the fronts” offers blue bird days with light winds, clear skies and clear water. Fish that have been laid up in deeper water during a cold norther blow will eventually emerge onto the flats in search of a little food.
Begin your fishing somewhere in the mid-morning, after the shallow water has had a little time to absorb the heat of the sun. Fish shorelines, spoil islands or flats protected from the wind, with darker grass or muddy bottoms, or even slightly off-colored water and deeper potholes. Dark grass and mud and the tiny, floating particulates of the off-colored water absorb the heat of the sun faster, making these the places that the fish will seek out first.
Fish shallow areas close to deeper water, such as the Intracoastal Waterway. Along the Texas Coast, the Intracoastal can be the “bomb shelter” where fish drop into when water temperatures fall dramatically. Fish do go deep when the water gets cold, that’s how they survive. It might be 57 degrees at the bottom of the Intracoastal, but it’s a consistent 57 degrees. A shallow flat can drop quickly into the danger zone for fish survival after the sun goes down and cold night temperatures set in.
Spoil islands absorb the sunshine and warm the water around them. One of the most productive places to fish in the winter is around the spoil islands that line the Intracoastal Canal. Here, the combination of warmer water disseminating from the spoil islands and the close proximity to the deep water of the Intracoastal provide a great place for predators to hang out in comfort and safety.
Find bait. No bait, no fish. Move on. The reason there is no bait is the same reason there are no predators. The water temperature isn’t right or you are too far from deep, protected water. Clue in if you are fishing and you don’t see bait in the water. Keep searching.
Avoid any area that has a lot of current, either wind-blown or tidal. This is one of the only times of the year that non-moving water works in an anglers favor. Warm, consistent temperatures are what feeding fish are seeking and any cold, incoming flow can turn a sun-warmed 68 degree flat into an unsustainable 57 degrees in a hurry.
Oyster shells exposed at night can get really cold. During the day, this cold emanates into the water around them and could make that water unfishable. If you like to fish flats that have lots of oyster reefs, keep this in mind.
As the air and water temperatures drop, sharpen up your casting skills and move slow. When the water is cold, the fish move slowly. They are conserving all of their energy. When they feed, they move slowly. Predators are unwilling to expend a lot of energy while feeding in these colder conditions. An accurate cast will catch more fish. Don’t expect a predator to pursue a fly or lure three feet or more. They will not do it. Put it in the proximity of their mouth and they will make the strike. When you do drop the fly or lure into a fish’s “dinner plate zone”, move it slow. Hop it up and down, puff it on the bottom, and wait for it to be detected. Give the fish some time to meander over and pick up the prey, then, slowly set the hook. Cold water, clear water and light winds demand finesse in presentation and accuracy, whether you are fly fishing or lure casting.
Fly casters throw dark crab patterns on the sand, or the old standby, a white and chartreuse or red and white clouser . Move up a size, so instead of throwing a size 6 fly, try a size 4 or 2. When fish do eat in the winter, they tend to eat bigger baits for more “bang for their buck”. Lure chunkers toss weightless or near-weightless soft plastics on no-wind days for a super quiet presentation. Other lures that work great in the winter are the Corky Fatboy, Corky Devil, Baby -1 crank bait, Chattertube, Catch 2000 and the Cotton Cordell Brokenback. All of these lures are made to sink slowly and/or to be moved slowly. Don’t rush them, they are supposed to suspend and wiggle just enough to look natural in the cold water environment.
On calm days, you may have to cast beyond the target so as not to spook your fish, and then bring the lure into the “zone”. Make the “magic transect”, where the lure is presented to the fish perpendicular to his face. No bait in the natural world would come up from behind or chase a predator. The more natural the presentation, the more fish you will catch. This premise certainly holds true all year, however.
Shallow water anglers in-the-know are out on the water every day that the conditions allow. Consider the secrets to finding feeding fish and you’ll be amazed at the quality of angling that can be done in the wintertime!