Busting Wintertime Trout Myths

Busting Wintertime Trout Myths
Steve Henriksen with a gorgeous winter fatty - 46° water on Double Bubble Custom Corky.

Winter continues with weekly frontal passages dropping air and water temps as well as tides. Collectively, all three can help fishing more than hurt, so long as water temperatures do not drop below 45° and remain for an extended period. Most Texas anglers that fish in wintertime understand the advantages of being able to fish prior to frontal passages. Adding a major or minor solunar event as the front is approaching often creates the best opportunity of the week.

What about post-frontal periods, after the fronts have passed through the area, leaving cold air, clear skies, extremely low tides and a soaring barometer? Not all post-front periods are plagued with high barometric pressure, but it seems that at least 50-percent of them do. Mike McBride and I have had numerous conversations about the myth that trout seek deep water with muddy bottom and stay there during the winter months. In the areas I fish, this is just not true, and I continue to work on fine tuning this pattern. Here are a few things I have worked on the past couple of seasons that seem to provide an advantage to fishing tougher winter days.

In virtually every fishing article we read about the importance of bottom structure and I have always been of a mind to look immediately at what’s on the bottom that the fish relate to and how I can setup to catch them. I learn so much from watching and listening to freshwater bass pros when they discuss how to fish structure that fish are using during periods of high pressure.

I mostly fish submerged grassbeds, even if they’re somewhat depleted during winter, or areas of broken (scattered) shell. Many such areas include deep water access, an advantage during periods of extreme cold. I believe the larger fish own the shallows and the shorelines during the colder months. For sure there are periods of extreme cold when these fish drop off, seeking deeper, warmer waters. But once the sun begins to warm the shallows, the fish will pull back up, seeking warmth and a much-needed meal. It only stands to reason that if the water is warming shallow, the bait will head shallow and the predators will follow.

We also have areas of scattered shell around Rockport and some have what locals call “oyster grass” growing on them; one of my favorite structure types during wintertime warming periods. I cannot express enough the need for every angler to monitor water temperatures throughout each and every fishing day. Without this information it is extremely difficult to recognize predictable patterns and utilize them in our game plans.

Thirty years ago I presented my first winter fishing seminar at Tackle Town in Rockport. I asked for a show of hands, “How many of you have a water temperature gauge on your boat?” Two hands went up. I told the rest that they needed to purchase one. My first one was from my dad’s saltwater aquarium. We taped a string to it and drifted it alongside the boat. Crude, but it worked like a charm.

Once I see air and surface water temps on the rise, I begin to shift focus more toward shallow water structure present in the area I have chosen for that particular day’s wind conditions. Windward is always my objective whenever available. Trout prefer to hunt into wind-driven currents. Positioning yourself slightly offshore and casting at angles across the wind will allow your lure’s path to “bend” favorably toward the structure. This provides opportunity for more fish to see and react to it than casting in straight-line fashion to any single piece of structure.

The mental game is a key part of fishing shallow in winter. You must believe in the area you have selected and stay the course. That said, there must also be positive signs forthcoming to reinforce your confidence.

Yesterday we discovered a line where single mullet flipped numerous times along the edge of a shallow grassbed. The water was 50°, having warmed from 47° earlier. Working that line for about 45 minutes of slowly easing in and out, a Custom Corky Fat Boy “Sea Grass” floater was met with an aggressive strike from a 5-plus trout. This set the stage for an awesome afternoon with Floating Fat Boys in shallow 50° waters. A dozen fish from 4- to 5-pounds were caught over hard sand with submerged grass structure. Note that the grassbeds were very scattered. This can actually concentrate trout more than larger areas of solid grass this time of year.

I throw three basic types of lures in situations like this. We should work on trying to allow the fish to show us which lure they prefer, which can be difficult for many anglers. The action of the lure is crucial. All three types I recommend have specific action and body styles that allow for variations in presentation.

Never discount soft plastics when chasing big trout in shallow water. I have caught many 30-inchers on soft plastics rigged on 1/16-ounce 2/0 jigheads. I’m a big fan of 2/0 hooks, by the way.

The MirrOlure Lil John XL and 5-inch Provokers are among my favorites, along with Bass Assassin’s 5” Shad. The Lil John XL never seems to do the same thing twice when screwed to a Texas Custom’s watermelon-colored 1/16-ounce 2/0 jig.

Custom Corkys and the MirrOlure Pro Series in Custom Corky colors are my go-to Fat Boys. Both the originals and floaters are always in my box. I like three short lifts or twitches followed by dead-sticking to allow the lure to settle into the water column. Timing the sink rate with the depths of strikes being received establishes a pattern and then its game on. The “death wobble” as the lure is settling is killer and hard for a big fish to overlook.

My third choice, which is by no means meant to infer last, is the Double D. This lure allows anglers of all skill levels the options of twitching the bait, banging it, or simply swimming it in established parts of the water column. We have enjoyed tremendous success over shallow grassbeds and especially broken shell bottom the past two winters. We had a day when this bait over shallow sand and grass gave us one of the most memorable days of my 2020 Port Mansfield stay.

I was taught in my early years that listening was how we learned. I definitely talk way too much, as any that know me can attest. I do however listen intently when I hear someone talking about fishing strategies. I recently listened to a Speckled Truth podcast with Chris Bush and Leroy Navarro. I have to say that it’s one of the best ones I have listened to. Leroy shared great insight into fishing shallow during winter. He says way too much for me to cover here but if you’re a serious trophy trout person you owe it to yourself to listen to his podcast. Oh, and when Speckled Truth’s Chris Bush and team features John Gill, you better really listen!

Kylee Dinwiddie is the subject of one of my accompanying photos. Kylee has fished with me a few times with her dad, Shawn. Shawn is a great dad and coach; he listens and answers her questions but allows Kylee to learn by her own trial and error. She casts great, rigs her own lures, ties her own knots, and picks her own occasional backlashes. She lands her own fish. She is an angler. When she fishes with me I can spoil her and help her and she politely allows me.  

She is holding her personal best trout in the photo. She was fishing with her dad this winter near Rockport, I was not with them. She went one way while he wandered in another direction; he does this. This forced her to use what she has learned and make critical decisions as the conditions changed during this winter trip. Kylee only caught one fish that day, but it was the right fish. It was drive, determination, patience and focus that allowed her to be successful. Pretty awesome qualities that will help carry her to a successful and happy life.

See, it’s not only all about fishing or catching now is it? Congratulations Kylee on a great fish and a great memory with your dad. I am a fan.

May your fishing always be catching!  -Guide Jay Watkins

Tips on selecting Corky Fat Boys