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. So, between now and Spring (which can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned…), here are a few more secrets to fishing success in the winter months:
Pick your days! 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. Target those warmer, less windy days a few days after a front has blown through to find more feeding fish in shallow water. Spoil islands, like the ones found lining the Intracoastal Canal, absorb the sunshine and warm the water around them. These are some of the most productive places to fish in the winter. 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.
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.
So, don’t give up on fishing just because it’s not summer! The winter can be some of the best shallow water fishing of the entire year! Follow the rules and be thoughtful about your fishing and you will find and catch lots of feeding fish! Rockport water levels have been very low and the shorelines of the Superflats, Mud Island and Allyn’s Bight have been loaded up with reds. Great big, giant, trophy trout are hanging out in their usual wintertime places along the spoil islands of Estes Flats and Redfish Bay, up tight to the shorelines. Baffin Bay shorelines have been also been chuck full of redfish on sunny afternoons. The fall and early winter of 2010 will go down in history as some of the best sight casting of all times. This winter is really shaping up for some dynamic action, and, as long as we don’t get a lot of extended cold weather (like last year), you can bet it’s going to stay that way.
Duck hunting is off the charts in Baffin Bay and my pup Kelly has been getting lots of great work with our clients. She’s only two, but has all the talent a good lab needs. We are looking forward to the re-opening of the dove season on Christmas Day as the Riviera area is completely inundated with dove right now. You can see by the tone of my article, I don’t think I’ve been this fired up about fishing and hunting EVER!
Don’t let this bounty pass you by. Duck season opens back up on December 11, Dove season opens up on December 25th, and they both close mid-January. Try and put some of it on your schedule, as well as some world-class sight casting for reds and trout!
On December 7th, Capt. Aubrey Black and I were both awarded a certificate by the City of Corpus Christi’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau as we both completed an extensive Wildlife Guide Certification Program. We learned a lot about all of the different species of fish, birds and plants, as well as the history of our area, business practices, customer service and so much more. It was a fantastic program and I am very proud that we were chosen to be two of the inaugural class of 13 outdoors enthusiasts! It is the first program of its kind anywhere, and we are both hoping to help the visitors to our area appreciate just what a great outdoors experience it is!