Switching Gears for January Success

Switching Gears for January Success
Elevated casting platforms allow anglers better opportunities to catch more fish.
To the casual observer the sight of a fishing boat during January is a cry for help; somebody has lost their mind and needs psychiatric evaluation. To the hardcore fishermen pulling that boat, all the traffic on the highway means less on the bay and that brings a smile to their face.

For many years fishermen on the lower coast have known what kind of magic can happen when the mercury dips and the crowds go elsewhere. This kind of thinking gains more and more popularity on the upper coast every year. It wasn't too terribly long ago when folks on Sabine and Calcasieu never entertained the thought of winter fishing, much less winter wade fishing.

I can remember several years ago when we first started seeing waders, we thought they were nuts because there was no way any trout could be left in Sabine Lake thanks to the cold and freshwater run off. That notion was quickly put to rest as we sat one afternoon with binoculars and watched a line of waders catch some huge fish while all we could do was shake our heads. At that point you have a decision to make; you either get with the program or get passed by. Needless to say we unpacked our duck gear and got in the water, things haven't been the same since.

"Who had the bright idea to come out here today?" I asked as my partner, Aaron Hommel, and I exited the boat into chilly water.

"Whoever it was needs their head examined" he replied.

A couple of cold hours later it happened, a solitary slick popped. "No way that's what I think it is" said Hommel as he lobbed a Corky Devil toward the fresh sheen.

The cast was met with a violent strike; the huge trout came to the surface and suddenly we weren't quite as cold. A quick follow-up cast resulted in another hookup, two stud trout on at the same time in the absolute nastiest conditions and not another boat in sight. Both trout pushed eight pounds and they were not alone, not by a long shot.

An area about the size of your living room seemed to be holding all these giant fish and they were hungry. The strikes were violent "no doubter" strikes where you either hooked the fish or had the rod jerked from your hand. These fish were so amped up that we started throwing topwater plugs just to see what would happen in the sub-50-degree water. Those fish crushed the surface plugs. The melee continued for nearly an hour and then died as quickly as it started.

We caught some excellent fish that January day, one just under ten pounds, a dream trip to say the least. Now this wasn't by accident or a random lucky draw because there was a pattern involved, one that has held true for me during winter. It is essential during cold weather months to pay attention to tide movement, water temperature, and bait concentration.

Tidal current triggers fish to feed, so as an angler you need to use that to your advantage. Also be sure to scan the area for warmer pockets, drains coming from shallow marshes or muddy protected shorelines. These areas hold heat better than others and that is a key to finding active fish. It goes without saying that the presence of bait is a must, the bait doesn't have to be running for its life but it helps when bait is in the area. If you can combine all these factors you will greatly increase your odds of success during the winter months.

Now if you don't want to wade this time of year there is another method that is often overlooked; sight-fishing works really well under the right conditions. During winter you can find some unbelievably clear water, sometimes almost too clear. Folks on Sabine and other Upper Coast bays are not accustomed to this, so the thought of actually sight-fishing or seeing the fish before you cast is foreign to say the least. Believe me it can be done and it can be incredible.

You need to a few things, though. High quality polarized glasses and some sort of elevated spot to work from. The glasses are easy, you can pick from a ton of great manufacturers. My pick is Maui Jim brand, they have great lenses and they fit me more comfortably than other brands. This piece of equipment is truly a personal choice, try on as many brands and styles as you can to find the best fit. Select a lens color that will be an all-around good choice for your style of fishing, I personally love the amber lens as it works well for both fishing and hunting. Again this is a personal choice and your pick may not be the same as mine, just make sure you are happy and you can see and you can't go wrong.

Now the elevated spot to work from is a more open subject. I have seen guys fishing from atop everything from their center console to a step ladder and they all get the job done. The main problem with these improvised platforms is comfort and safety; you need to be an acrobat to hook a fish from there and not take a swim.

The traditional casting platform is a much better option for this style of fishing and you will not believe the things you can see when you increase the angle of your gaze. Now most platforms on skiffs are on the small side, not much room to move around and you need to avoid any sudden movements. I took these factors into account when I ordered mine, I wanted it fisherman friendly with plenty of room.

Gary Robertson at Espandre Marine Products designed and built the "Cadillac" version for me and all I can say it's awesome. The larger platform gives you room to move and fight fish without feeling like you are balancing on top of a tin can. My clients have been impressed with the comfort so far and I can't say as I blame them. The new platform is wide enough to accommodate two anglers which makes it perfect to swap from my skiff to my Century Inshore bay boat. With a trolling motor extension I can run the trolling motor from the elevated perch and never have to climb up and down. It really makes fishing much easier and more productive, try it and see.

As long as we are talking about January we all know the boat shows will be here before you know it. Take advantage of the time and get a look at some of the new goodies out there, I am sure there is something out there you just can't do without. Come by the Texas Saltwater Fishing booth and visit with all the gang, we certainly look forward to seeing you.