Gray skies, low tides, falling water temperatures, and crowds that have now left the easy bite that was to be had in November. Boat ramps that appear to be ghost towns and all-day trips with no mention of the sun wrapped up neatly in thoughts of big trout and hungry redfish. This is the beginning of the stretch of months that will earn you a big fish and saltwater badge of courage. This also is the time to recognize and realize the potential for both a trophy fish and a catastrophic fishing trip. Many wonderful memories are made by fishermen in the winter months, especially those who know and understand the patterns that lead to success. There are a few anglers along the Texas gulf coast that have reached near mythical status with their exploits during the harshest of times, they have pictures and mounts to prove that fishing in the winter can be a once in a lifetime experience when all the factors come together. Now with all the fluffy hero stuff out of the way let's see just what kind of fun we can have this month.
Here on Sabine Lake and Calcasieu Lake, December is a bonus month; we can never count on consistent fishing during this time because the weather and water run off are just too unpredictable. For arguments sake we will figure this as an average year and try to cover the fishing opportunities from that standpoint. If we are not just drowning in run off from heavy rains both lakes should be as clear as in the summer months, this presents a different scenario for most local anglers. Winter fishing in these conditions calls for flexibility when it comes to the sizes of your baits, in these clear conditions it makes great sense to downsize your offerings. Topwater favorites that are proven producers in water like this are the Top Pup, Skitterwalk Jr, Spook Jr, and the Spittin Image. Both big trout and redfish will beat a path across a reef to inhale one of these lures; the small size makes it especially effective for both species.
Now we more than likely will still have a few shrimp left around and there will be scattered schooling activity no doubt, this where a crankbait can prove flat out tough to beat. Lures like the Hoginar, Rat-l-trap, and classic spoon enable you to cover plenty of ground from longer distances and work the schooling fish without getting too close and busting them up. The other advantage to the crankbait is the redfish benefit, few baits produce as consistently on big redfish as the crankbaits mentioned previously. Also it's so much easier to fish these lures in windy conditions than other baits and you can bet December will bring you some wind.
Now as for chasing big trout in the winter you could be like Forrest Gump and pick from one of the gazillion articles written on the subject. I vowed several years ago that I would not write another story filled with buzz words such as "big girl, Susie, shuffle, grinder, mud shell mix, anything spiritual about a Fat Boy, blah blah blah" and so on because it's so tired and overdone. Here are a few of my hints that haven't been done to death in print. I truly believe that instead of spending all day out on the water flailing away at fish who don't want to eat you can maximize your efforts by playing the solunar tables and feeding times. How many times can you think about fishing for a long stretch like 6 or 8 hours only to have the bite last for 30 or 45 minutes? Why not concentrate your efforts into fishing key times and fishing them well?
Pick out a period from the feeding and solunar tables, get to your chosen area an hour or so before the feed starts, and fish it thoroughly during those times. Here is another one that pays big dividends for those winter warriors; do more scouting on slow days. If you were to talk to some of the really good big trout fishermen you would find out they spend more time than you know just looking instead of fishing. These fishermen also spend plenty of time probing the bottom in search of hidden treasures like small patches of shell or other fish holding structure. I have watched oyster boats on Calcasieu in the winter and found reef structures that I had no idea were there. Other anglers drag pieces of pipe behind there boat while drifting or on the trolling motor so they can hear when they run over some hidden shell. Still others take pushpoles or dowel rods and probe the bottom this way looking for that one area that will produce for them in the future. Yes I know that the odds will eventually pay off if you just stay on the water and pay your dues, but why waste all the time in between when you can make experience the payoff on a more frequent basis.
Well now there you have it, a few little tricks that can lead to better winter fishing. Of course now the obvious still holds true that you need to be safe during these months because if you get into trouble there are fewer people out to help you. Remember the water is cold and even the best swimmer and most well conditioned athletes are no match for hypothermia. Let someone know where you are and when you will be back because that could be the difference between a funny fish story and a tragically sad memory. As for me, I will be somewhere enjoying either the fishing or hunting this month, trout or reds, ducks or geese take your pick because I love them all. Wait a minute? What about striped bass? Another great option for another article down the road.