Deep Water Bass Fishing Techniques That Work in Saltwater Bays
By January, most Texas bay fishermen spend more time thinking about fishing than actually fishing. Perhaps because bay fishing is something most people associate with warmer weather, few think to brave the winter chill in search of speckled trout and redfish. But, although the winter weather may not be inviting, fishing action can still be hot, even on the coldest days of January and February. Part of what keeps the average inshore angler from experiencing good winter bay fishing is the fact they never leave the house. The other part has to do with them having little more than cursory knowledge of how to target fish during winter's worst weather.
First, the easy part -- where to look. Most saltwater anglers know cold winter weather forces speckled trout to take shelter in the deeper portions of Texas' coastal bays, lakes and rivers. And, considering most Texas bays have relatively little deep water, the guesswork is largely removed from finding fish during winter. As an added bonus, these fish are usually much more concentrated when found at depth during the winter than they are doing other times of year. Anglers are usually able catch plenty of them once they located their hiding spot and determine the right depth, bait and presentation.
Presentation is usually the variable that gives most inshore fishermen fits. Again, some parts of this equation are common knowledge. For instance, virtually every fishermen knows to slow the retrieval pace when there is a chill in the air (and water). But, far too often these same fishermen rely solely on bouncing jigs off the bay floor to tempt trout and redfish in deep holes and channels. While 'bottom bouncing' is a Texas tradition of sorts and does, at times, produce good results, it is but one technique and actual utilizes only a narrow slice of the water column. By contrast, bass fishermen have learned to effectively probe every depth seeking largemouth bass suspended in a thermocline in order to be consistently successful. And, by taking a page from their bass fishermen brethren, Texas inshore anglers can successfully employ a number of vertical fishing techniques that are often more productive than simply bouncing jigs off the bottom.
BASS TECHNIQUES THAT WORK ON THE BAY
Vertical jigging - Vertical jigging is a deadly way to fish deep structure and can be accomplished with jigging spoons, bucktail or plastic jigs, or lipless crankbaits. Some anglers believe vertical jigging is simply dropping a lure or bait to the bottom and bouncing it up and down. Although it is a simple technique, the key to successful vertical jigging actually lies in establishing what depth fish are holding at.
Once the proper depth is established, anglers should drop a lure or bait to the appropriate portion of the water column. At that point, the lure should be 'jigged' up and down. However, like any retrieve, it is best to vary the presentation until it is determined what type of presentation will elicit the most strikes. Sometimes a slow and deliberate motion is best for lethargic fish, while at other times a sharp upward motion followed by a slow drop works better. Just experiment and let the fish tell you what they like.
Drop Shot Rigs - Currently, drop-shotting is one of the more popular fishing techniques among bass fishermen. Although it sounds involved, drop-shotting is actually pretty basic. When fish are stacked up over deep water structure, drop-shotting works just as well in the bay as it does in a lake.
A drop-shot rig isn't much different than the standard `bottom rig' used by bay fishermen for years. Typically a bell sinker is tied at the terminal end. The bait is attached directly to the main line anywhere from 12 to 20 inches above the weight (actually, the hook must be tied on first, via a cinch or Palomar knot).
Many bass anglers have switched to specifically designed drop shot weights. These weights aren't tied on at all. Rather, they are meant to slip onto the line and are held in place by a small knot. This allows the weight to be easily moved up the line without retying the whole rig.
However, no special weights are necessary to make the drop-shot rig work. The key is to have the weight below the bait. This serves to hold the bait directly above the intended target.
A drop-shot rig can be retrieved in a variety of manners. The most common technique is jigging with a vertical lifting and lowering of the rod. However, if a strong current is moving through the area, a `do-nothing' retrieve is often the most effective, as the tide will give the attached lure just enough action to tempt lethargic fish into biting.
As far as baits to use on a drop shot rig, a soft-plastic jerkbait is probably the best choice for winter fishing. However, tubes, grubs and various other soft-plastic baits can work well also. Shrimp, both live and artificial, also produce well when rigged drop-shot style, particularly if a `do-nothing' retrieve is employed.
Deep diving crankbaits - Probably the most aggressive way to cover water at depth is by employing deep diving crankbaits. A variety of long-lipped cranks are manufactured for bass fishermen. Saltwater anglers simply need to find a model in the color and diving depth they like and swap the hooks and they are ready to fish.
Deep diving cranks can be used a variety of situations. One of the best times to use deep cranks is when fish are suspended along the face of a steep drop - such as the edge of the ICW. In this situation, fishermen should cast parallel to the channel edge and bring the bait back right along the face.
Another good time for deep cranks is when fish are suspended on or over either horizontal or vertical structure. In the case of horizontal structure - such as a reef or hump - the bait should dig right down to the structure. By using a floating/diving model, anglers can bang the structure with the lip of the bait, then pause the retrieve and allow the lure to float up a for a few seconds before repeating the process. Most often fish will grab the bait as it bounces off the structure and begins floating upward.
When fishing vertical structure such as pilings, anglers should pick a bait with a wide lip. By manipulating their retrieve, anglers can work a bait through a maze of pilings or cause the bait to deflect off the pilings (hence the wide lip - it will prevent the hooks from fouling on the structure). Anglers employing deep cranks near vertical structure will often tweak the lure to make it run to one side or the other by turning the line tie eyelet. For example, if the structure is running parallel to the shore on your left side, tune the bait so that it veers into the pilings when it is retrieved down the face of the structure.
These are only a select few of the deep structure techniques employed by bass anglers that also work well in saltwater. Anglers should always remember is to not be limited by traditional fishing techniques. Experimenting with methods used by bass, walleye and other freshwater fishermen can often give saltwater anglers additional means to catch fish during tough winter conditions. Once a successful new technique is found, make note of it, as it will likely work again under similar conditions in the future.
PRODUCTIVE SPOTS MAY BE CROWDED
Anglers should be mindful of the fact that most deep holes in Texas bays are not secrets. So, while the limited amount of deep water along the Texas coast tends to concentrate fish during the winter months, it can also concentrate fishermen. However, so long as everyone is courteous to one another, there are usually plenty of fish to go around. But, fishermen coming up on a crowded hole need to pay attention to which boats are anchored and which boats are drifting and fall in step with the prevailing pattern of positioning. Anglers should also be extra cautious when exiting a hole -- it is best to idle or drift clear of the crowd before hitting the throttle on the outboard.
CLOSURES ALWAYS POSSIBLE
In event of freezing or near freezing conditions, certain areas in Texas bays are subject to closure. The conditions needed for Texas Parks & Wildlife to enact a closure are when temperatures are predicted to fall below 32 degrees for three or more days. Obviously, the Upper Texas Coast is most vulnerable to such conditions, but closures can be enacted in every Texas bay system if the weather forecast necessitates it. Considering January and February usually see the coldest weather of the year, anglers should always check the local weather forecast for the bay system they intend to fish, as well as the TPWD website for any possible closures.