Fishing a Full Winter Day on the Bay
When most people think of winter fishing along the Texas coast, they think about fishing slow and deep. While this long-standing stereotype of Texas winter fishing does hold true, a more accurate way to view the winter pattern is summer fishing in reverse.
As they do during summer, speckled trout and redfish will spend much of their time in the insulated depths of channels, holes and deeper flats in order to avoid extreme water temperatures in the shallows. And, like they do in the summer, the fish will feed on the skinny flats when the conditions are right. However, the time of day the fish head to shallow water during winter is opposite of what happens during summer. And, perhaps more than at any other time of year, anglers looking to spend a full day on the water best pack a full tackle box with a variety of lures.
GO EARLY, GO DEEP
Anglers are creatures of habit. Although it is well known most fish will not move shallow until later in the day during the winter, most fishermen are unable to pass up a chance to get on the water before daybreak. However, if you head out early during the colder months, don't stop until you hit deep water.
Trout and reds often move into deep water at night during both summer and winter, because the temperature of the deep water is more stable than that of the flats. But, again, it is important to remember the reason the fish head to deep water in each of these seasons.
During the summer, the fish head deep during the hot afternoon hours and often linger there until well after sunset. These same fish will move up shallow during the night or in the early morning hours when the shallow water is cool.
Conversely, wintertime flats are still extremely chilly throughout the morning. So, the fish will hang in the deeper water until mid-morning or later, once the sun has warmed the shallows.
When choosing a deep water haunt to start your morning, the first step is eliminating water. Hard sandy bottoms do not hold heat as well as mud, so bypass any area with that type of bottom composition. Ideal spots include areas with mud, mud and shell, or mud and grass bottoms. Also look for structure. Pier and bridge pilings, oyster reefs, well pads and other structure over muddy bottom will hold more fish than barren areas.
Another consideration is the proximity to shallow water. Again, these fish prefer to work shallow during the heat of the day. Therefore, they are most likely to congregate in areas where they won't have to swim a long distance to take advantage of the warm flats later in the day.
Most often, these fish will be holding on or near the bottom, particularly in the early morning hours. Make sure you choose a lure or bait that can get down and stay down. Heavy heads with small profile baits work best for this duty. DOA Terroreyz and Baitbusters work well, as do ¼ and 3/8 jig heads pinned to small diameter shad tails and shrimp tails. If you are working a river channel, canal or other areas with heavy current, it may be necessary to go as heavy as a ½ ounce head.
As the day begins to warm, the fish will begin transitioning to the flats. Depending on the day, this can happen as early as mid-morning.
Again, the best areas to locate will be flats with muddy bottoms. When looking for a likely flat, consider the surrounding area. Choose one with the proper bottom composition with close access to deep water.
During this period of the day, the fish won't be completely on top of the flat. Instead, it is best to concentrate your efforts on the channel ledges and the outer edge of the flats.
Heavily weighted soft-plastics can be worked up the face of channel ledges by throwing into the deep water and retrieving back to the shallows. This is also a time period when live shrimp or DOA Shrimp under popping corks can produce good results along the deep water/shallow water break.
Along the edges of the flats, mid-morning is an excellent time to throw slow-sinking or suspending baits. Lures such as Corky's, Mirrolure Catch 5s and Catch 2000s are good choices. Lightly weighted soft-plastics, DOA Shrimp and other soft-plastics which can be worked slowly over a flat also produce well.
Topwaters can also be effective for fish finding their way onto the flats. However, although the shallow water will be warmer than in the early morning, the fish will still be a bit sluggish, so a slow retrieve will most often outproduce a fast one.
One definite benefit for shallow water anglers plying the flats during winter is the outstanding afternoon action to be had. Unlike much of the year, when the afternoon heat chases fish to deeper water, winter afternoons are often when the action gets going in earnest.
This is great news for anyone who doesn't want to wake up in the middle of the night to make it to the boat ramp. It is also an opportunity for enterprising anglers to spend the morning taking care of errands and necessary tasks without missing out on the action. Of course, more intrepid outdoorsmen often spend the morning shooting ducks before heading to the flats for the afternoon.
Regardless of how you spend the morning hours, afternoon is often the best time to be on the water during winter. And, more often than not, the place to be during the middle of a winter afternoon is on a shallow, mud bottom flat close to deep water. Hit the right day and mid-afternoon flats fishing on a winter day can be some of the hottest action of the year.
Given a few hours to warm up, even the shallowest of flats will invite fish. However, given the fact they have to return to the safe haven of deep water, most fish will be hesitant to push too far up on the flat. In this instance, vertical depth isn't nearly as important as horizontal distance - meaning, the fish will work in ultra-skinny water, so long as it isn't too far from deeper water. So, even though they will still be higher on the flat than during the morning hours, don't expect to find any fish right up against the shoreline unless deep water is close by.
The key to catching these “sunning” fish on the flats is to make your offering appear vulnerable. This is most easily done by a slow and irregular retrieve. For this reason, slow-sinking and suspending plugs, lightly-weighted or unweighted soft-plastics, and topwater baits are good choices. Essentially, any bait which can be worked slowly without fouling on grass or shell on the bottom and can be “twitched” just enough to make it appear injured will work.
Since the water will continue to warm until the sun drops over the horizon, the action often continues until sunset. However, once the sun goes down, the air and water temperature plunge rapidly, a signal to the fish to head back to deep water.