Big Fish Step Up as Temperatures Climb

Big Fish Step Up as Temperatures Climb
Dow Gene Anderson tricked this beautiful oversize red with a ZMan plastic under a 4 Horsemen rattling cork.

As far as I am concerned, February and March have to be some of the best months on the calendar, and for a variety of reasons. Spring is closing in and everything starts to heat up, especially the fishing. Anglers all over the state look forward to these months with great anticipation every year because in just about any body of water you fish, fresh or salt, you stand an excellent chance of doing battle with a career fish.

Freshwater anglers have long known the magic that can happen on days when the winds lay and the temperature climbs. Big fish creep up from deeper water and make their home for the next few weeks on the inside grass lines where they will eventually spawn. Before too long they will be fighting for space as it seems like the crappie usually beat the bass to the punch as the warmer temperatures push these fish up shallow. That space between the grass and the bank is going to get crowded with fish really soon and that spells success for most fishermen.

Now the freshwater folks won’t be the only ones taking advantage of the warmer temperatures; saltwater anglers will be reaping the benefits as well. On the days when the water temperatures rise steadily throughout the daylight hours you can almost bank on a better bite. The warmer surface temps will trigger a feed that at times can be incredibly aggressive, especially on topwater plugs. Now, the mainstay throughout winter on Sabine has been the unbelievable redfish bite and that action continues on an almost daily rampage. The ridiculous numbers of redfish have diehard big trout hunters pulling their hair and cursing aloud as it seems those quality trout are nowhere to be found when the redfish show up.

This winter has thus far been one of the quietest I can remember in a long time, as far as big speckled trout are concerned. The norm during the winter months is to take advantage of the warmer days ahead of oncoming fronts and be on the water just prior to the weather change. Now, with the more consistent temperatures, the pattern should hinge on greater tide activity. So, if you are looking for an advantage, there you have it.

If there is any drawback to fishing in February and early spring it will be the wind, and you can bet there will be plenty of it. The stretch of shoreline from Blue Buck to Willow Bayou will get plenty of traffic due to the predominant winds coming from the southeast. On days when the wind decides to lay down it’s always a great idea to get back closer to deep water, the river and Intracoastal Waterway. The islands that border the deeper water will be a haven for these big fish as they move up on the flats to feed and I can’t think of a better place to start.

Strong tide movements and a little presence of bait should certainly get you in the game. If at all possible, when fishing with more than one person in the boat, be sure to cover all the different portions of the water column. Use a topwater to help locate fish and probe the deeper water with a slower sinking plug or even a soft plastic lure. My affinity for jerkbaits in this situation has been well documented in previous articles and this is one of those times where they really shine. The wide variety of retrieves and actions you can impart on these plugs make them perfect for just about any situation. Running one of these baits in the shallows near structure is one of my favorite programs and you can bet I won’t leave the dock without one tied on and ready.

There are plenty of classic late winter and early spring patterns to choose from and goodness knows they all get beat into our brains this time of year. Many would have you believe there is no other way to catch a fish right now unless you are wading and throwing a slow sinking plug or topwater bait, but just like Prince said in his hit song “Let’s Go Crazy” – “I’m here to tell you there’s something else.” That something else is the tried and true rattling cork, because it just flat out works.

Throughout late fall and early winter, I had a stretch of water of about three-quarters of a mile where the trout stayed stacked in great numbers and just refused to leave. On several occasions we made multiple drifts and steadily caught fish dangling a soft plastic under a Four Horsemen rattling cork. We could swap that offering for any other bait and the bites instantly dwindled to virtually nothing. As soon as we went back to the Four Horsemen cork rig the action immediately cranked back up and continued until the tide or the bite finally shut down. As far as I’m concerned there aren’t many, if any, better ways to consistently locate fish than the rattling cork. So, in my opinion, putting it away during February would be a huge mistake.

One final recommendation I have to share with everybody is to be ever more cautious and aware of your surroundings and safety gear during this time of the year. Sudden weather and wind changes can make for some treacherous conditions, especially coupled with colder water temps. Having a plan that consists of letting someone know where you’ll be fishing and what time you plan to return is a good place to start. Always wearing a Personal Floatation Device goes without saying, but making sure that PFD has a signal device like an airhorn or whistle attached is another great idea that could potentially save your life in a bad situation. Another thing to keep handy is a spare set of dry clothes and maybe even a solar blanket in case someone falls overboard and needs to get out of their wet clothing.

I can attest to falling overboard in winter and being “over the moon” happy to put on dry clothes when I got back in the boat. Folks often underestimate the effects of cold water and even hypothermia, but they are nothing to be taken lightly. Be aware and be smart during the colder months because your margin for error is much smaller and the potential for big trouble is certainly multiplied.

February on the coast is what dreams are made of for many fishermen and hopefully this year it will be all that we can hope for, and maybe more. I for one will be very happy to start seeing some of those upper-end trout start showing up, even if I’m not the one doing the catching. I’m sure all eyes will be on the weather this month as we are predicted to have another huge winter event. I’m sure everyone on the coast will be more than happy to let that prediction be a big miss if it means protecting the fisheries that are just starting to rebound from the last one.

February is full of promise, and if you are fortunate enough to have all the factors fall into place, that next strike you get may be the best fish of your life. This is exactly what makes this time of year one of the best.