Many believe there are better months to fish than January. The cold grey wet days are not for the weak at heart and the plentiful live bait days of summer are long gone. If one can find bait, its usually mud minnows or almost comatose live shrimp. For bait chunkers cut bait usually rules the day and then the long slow soak of baits is in order. The feeding frenzies of the warmer months are like a long lost day gone by. As one fishes these cold days, one wonders how those up north brave such conditions. Those prank bait chunkers (artificial) that were true to their game and stuck it out through the warmer months watching live bait anglers load the fish cleaning stations with limits of fish now have the advantage. Their patience through the hot days of summer is an exercise and education that cant be taught or read from books. Hard or soft lures, top waters, deep runners or poppers, texture, color, action, retrieval speed, line weight, leader material, ah yes, the science of artificial fishing. These, just to mention a few, are second nature to the angler that has plied their artificial trade through live bait season.
I love to wade fish this time of year. The shallow, cold gin-clear bay water reveals its secrets as only one that wades will discover. Unlike fresh water lakes, our bays change, grow and decline from season to season. Sand bars moved by weather and tidal flows can appear and disappear in weeks just ask those that have replaced lower units (Ive been across that spot a hundred times and never hit a thing. Now that same spot boogers my lower unit.) Shell reefs are constantly expanding when left alone or can decline rapidly when over harvested. Those that wade in the colder months can see these changes or, better yet, feel the changes with the soles of your waders as I do. Shell, soft sand, hard sand, black mud, soft mud, or killers mud, the knowledge of these elements can pay huge dividends on days when one struggles to find fish. Every year I discover new areas and learn why some of my old areas did not produce fish the previous year. Construction areas, like new bridges, new spoil areas or dredging activities, are another area that deserves a close look for two reasons. First, these new areas may hold unknown underwater obstructions that can exact an expensive toll on you or your boat or fishing gear. Second, these areas also often offer new habitat for fish. Dont overlook these areas as opportunities for some really hot fishing action, especially as the colder days of winter give way to inevitably warmer days. For my money I like artificial this time of year. Soft plastics in glow or electric grape are hard to beat day in and day out. Top waters this time of year have not been as effective over the years. The lack of bay bait and the absence of insects I believe make top water a better choice for late March and early April.
A secret this time of year is the flounder bite that normally would be almost non-existent in our area. Low water levels often create large bodies of water in the back eddies of bay systems that become landlocked, trapping some nice flounder. If you discover some of these areas, soft plastics or scented artificial baits in pumpkin or white and yellow are very effective.
A mistake often made when fishing these cold days is a delayed hook set. Dont confuse slow retrieves with lethargic hook sets. Often a bite will feel like the smallest vibration, similar to a lure or bait bumping a protruding oyster shell. If you delay the hook set you more than likely will miss the fish especially when fishing with artificial. Have you ever accidently taken a bite of real-life-looking decorative fruit (YES, I HAVE) and your immediate thought or reaction is, "Get that outta my mouth?" Well, while other much more sensitive senses are at play with our scaly friends, the reaction is much the same, even with baits like scented Berkley Gulp. The bite will be a light tap and if you allow the time, the fish will quickly discover its not the real thing and spit it out. Rule of thumb: Two taps in the summer months set the hook, the slightest tap in winter set the hook.
Short bites are a different game. You pull the lure in and its bitten off just short of the hook. In my experience for winter fishing a second bite will not ensue. Simply take the soft plastic off and cut/bite off the head shortening the lure and feed it back on the hook. If you make it too short, you wont get the right action from the tail like with grubs and jerk shad type baits. No tail vibration equals no bites, so there is a bit of a science here. Just play with it and youll get the hang of what works. Again, not my favorite for this time of year, hard lures like Super Spooks, Rattle Traps, and Mirrolures etc. They can be effective but work best when winter days hover above average temperatures especially for five or more days. The lack of bait in the bays cause the fish to feed off the bottom churning up the limited number of shrimp and crab locked tight to the bottom due to the cold temperatures. While the drum family is known for this, it is also something trout will do as well when times get hard. In areas where there is a lot of oyster shell, this can and does cause sensitive mouths and lips on fish that frequent these abrasive-type bottom areas. So softer lures and baits are usually the ticket. Take a look at a black drum or red the next time you catch one in January and examine the lips. Often they look like red bloodshot eyes. It goes without saying, they prefer something soft. So if the holidays leave you with housetossis but the cold days of this month just dont look inviting for a fishing outing, suck it up, get your neoprene waders out and that left over bag of soft plastics and put some fresh gas through the outboard thats been sitting up for months. Fill a thermos with your favorite coffee and hit the water to discover new areas. And YES, catch some fish. After all, anybody can catchem on Blue Bird days. Besides, coffee just seems to taste better after a long nice cold wade.
Copano Bay --- On warmer days fish the mouth and inlets of Swan Lake. It is best to wade fish or fish from a shallow draft boat, as its very shallow. Mud minnows on a light Carolina rig works well here. The deeper water transition off of Black Point is good for black drum using peeled shrimp free lined or on a fish finder rig. Shell Bank Reef is still holding some trout with free lined live shrimp the preferred bait.
Aransas Bay --- Dead Man Island is good for black drum using peeled shrimp on a light Carolina rig. Get your bait as close to the shell as possible and be patient allowing the drum to take the bait for a few seconds before lightly setting the hook (drum have soft mouths so Herculeses hook sets are not necessary). The deep edges of the mouth of Turtle Bayou are good for reds and trout using mud minnows and or live shrimp. Free lining is best here or a very light Carolina rig with tidal movement.
St Charles Bay --- The mouth of East Pocket is good for reds using Berkley Gulp Shrimp in new penny colors or DOA shrimp. Twin Creeks is good for black drum and a few keeper reds using free lined live shrimp. The mouth of McHugh Bayou is good for reds using cut mullet (the fresher the better) on a fish finder rig.
Carols Bay --- The east cove of Cedar Reef is good for trout using sand eels in brown and golden flakes. The west shoreline near Bludworth Island is a good wade for reds using new penny Jerk Shad. Cedar Dugout is good for trout and reds using deep running red and bone lures like rattle traps or super spooks.
Mesquite Bay --- Some flounder in Brays Cove drifting using white grubs jigs tipped with pieces of squid or shrimp. With a north wind Third Chain is good for reds free lined using cut mullet and or menhaden. The deeper water reefs east of the mouth of Cedar Bayou are good for trout using DOA shrimp in glow.
Ayers Bay --- Ayers Dugout is good for reds and trout using a live shrimp under a silent cork. Second Chain is holding some black drum as well as the shoreline of Rattlesnake Island. Peeled shrimp is the right bait here free lined or on a light Carolina rig.
THE BANK BITE
A long wade from the north end of LBJ causeway to Newcomb Point is good for reds and trout using Berkley Jerk shad in new penny or nuclear chicken glow.
Contact Capt. Mac Gable at Mac Attack Guide Service, 512-809-2681, 361-790-9601