Not for the Faint of Heart

Not for the Faint of Heart
This same stretch of water would likely attract a dozen boats in warmer weather.

Okay, I’ll admit it, as weird as it sounds, I have a strange affinity for fishing in the colder months. Over the years I have developed an unusual sense of appreciation for chasing fish when the mercury dips and all the fair weather anglers have disappeared. I’m sure my initial foray into saltwater fishing had something to do with it, having made my first trips in November and December many years ago.

My good friend and neighbor at the time, Chris Gunn, had been a diehard winter angler for some time and he was nice enough to share that passion with me. Our number one pattern at that time was waiting for winter to chase redfish in the Sabine River with crankbaits – Rat-L-Traps to be specific. We did nothing but cover huge amounts of shoreline while cranking those plugs and hoping for a heavy thump from one of those hefty reds. When you found one you usually found more but it often required perseverance and lots of empty casts. That same pattern still holds true today, as well a few others we have grown fond of over the years.

On the majority of the bay systems along the Texas gulf coast, winter fishing for many means wading in search of big speckled trout. Countless pages in magazines are dedicated to this pursuit and with good reason; some of the biggest fish of the year will be caught during winter. Sabine Lake and Calcasieu will undoubtedly give up some good fish during the early part of 2020 but those numbers will more than likely still be below average, thanks largely to the ridiculous weather patterns that have plagued both watersheds the past several years. Calcasieu will no doubt produce more big trout than Sabine this season, but the border estuary is beginning to show signs of a long overdue rebound.

Perhaps the best thing about the resurgence in Sabine’s trout population is the time of year in which it’s happening, during the winter season when the fishing pressure is the lowest. Anything that will help these first few batches of trout see another birthday is a great thing.

I mentioned wading for big trout and I won’t continue to beat that subject up because I’m quite certain it will be covered in depth in other columns. Besides that, there are other patterns here on Sabine that produce some fantastic fishing of their own. One of my own personal favorites is fishing drop-offs and ledges in the rivers and bayous that surround the lake. Over the years we have located small areas that include structure such as shell, downed trees that provide current breaks, or just plain old drains coming from the marshes. Both speckled trout and redfish will stack up in these places in big numbers and once you find them it makes for some fantastic action. Locating these fish on your electronics is half the battle and makes figuring out your presentation a little easier.

When fishing this particular pattern the fish usually fall into one of two categories; suspended, or holding on or near bottom. Undoubtedly the hardest fish to catch are those that are suspended, your window for productive presentation is narrow and requires some finesse. Depth control is critical so choosing the right lure weight will require some experimenting. Baits that incite an instant reaction strike really shine under such conditions and can actually help negate the need for maintaining that perfect depth during the presentation. The instant reaction strike can also trigger other fish into biting when they may not be in an aggressive feeding mode.

Two lures I have found very useful in triggering reaction strikes from suspended fish are the Soft Plastic Jerk Shrimp from Marker 54 Lures and the Down South Lures Southern Shad. Both of these baits have great action and are very durable, which is a great combination. At no time during the year is it more important to continue fishing patiently in a small area once you either get a bite or catch a fish. Structure of some type and the way currents are deflected across it are key factors in why fish congregate. Finding one bite is your signal to keep working it.

A couple of factors to consider when chasing these fish on structure or drops is boat position and currents. Many times a vertical presentation works best and makes it easier to keep your bait in the strike zone. If you must cast, be sure to always cast up-current because the presentation is more natural. Predator fish will stage into the current, facing the most likely direction from which an easy meal might be delivered. Casting down-current and then retrieving it against the current is unnatural. This is partly why I mentioned that a vertical presentation is often the easiest to manage.

Now, one final piece of the puzzle that can increase your success many fold lies in using an ultra-sensitive high-quality rod and fishing line. Most everybody has their own idea of what makes a rod better or great and we are blessed that we have so many to choose from. I recently switched to Waterloo Rods and I cannot say enough good about them and their products. I have fallen in love with the Waterloo Carbon Mag; the sensitivity is out of this world and it certainly allows me to feel those really subtle wintertime bites. In the line category, I fish braid. If you are still using monofilament, all that I’m going to say is that you don’t know what you’re missing.  

A few final tips are dressing appropriately for the conditions and keeping your PFD handy. I mentioned fishing patiently and there is no better way in my opinion to run out of patience on a subtle and sluggish wintertime bite than being uncomfortably cold. Keeping the PFD handy should be a no-brainer. Better yet, wear an inflatable PFD that activates automatically if you should happen to fall overboard. Cold water is nothing to take lightly and should always be respected. Now get out there and get bit!