Wintertime Comfort Zones

Wintertime Comfort Zones
Comfortable, content, at ease with your surroundings; these are all things or conditions that we do our dead-level best to attain. A perfect example of this is the very basic act of adjusting the thermostat in your house to make it more comfortable. Humans have the ability to influence their surroundings and control them in order to gain comfort. Fish have no such luxury. When their environment does not suit them they have no choice except to move to a place that does.

Imagine if we had to do the same thing. There would probably be a steady stream of cars headed to California where it stays sunny and 70-something degrees year round. Or perhaps we'd all be like the snow birds that travel south for the winter and back up north in summer.

During the winter months it really pays to think about finding fish the same way humans seek comfort. Picture if you will that perfect recliner or sofa that sits in the best spot in the living room, the exact distance from the big screen TV to provide optimal viewing enjoyment. This seat is positioned under an air vent that, depending on outside temperature, is blowing either cool air-conditioning or soothing warmth. A short distance from this comfy seat is a well-stocked refrigerator, all the comforts in one compact little area. With plenty of food, football, and other refreshments on hand, you never have to leave the sanctuary of your favorite spot.

Now let's look at this situation through the eyes of a fish. Let's say a big trout wants to find safety, comfort, food, more favorable temperature or even salinity; they have no choice but to move during a flood, the water becomes too hot or too cold, or their preferred forage becomes scarce. I'm quite sure none of the trout or redfish we catch ever live the life of luxury that enables them to manipulate all the conditions around them like we do. Finding food or more comfortable surroundings are easily the highest priorities on their list and those should also be top factors we use as fishermen to find them.

Temperature is easily one of the most critical of all the factors used by fishermen to locate and catch fish. Both air and water temperatures are constantly monitored and are given priority during the colder winter months. Forever, we have been hearing, "Sixty degrees is the magic temperature to get winter fish to eat a topwater." While that may be a good place to start it's not a hard and fast rule. When big trout decide to eat it doesn't matter if it's 46, 66, or 86; they are going to eat. And sometimes, that means they'll eat a topwater plug regardless where the mercury is staged. When those fish get hungry and bait is either near the surface or near the bottom, they are going to eat it. Period.

Finding warmer water in the winter months will certainly increase your odds but it won't guarantee you fish. Being in an area where fish are present and feeding is much more important than simply relying on temperature as your only indicator. This is why the majority of the really good fishermen also consult the tide-current charts and solunar tables on a daily basis.

For years, guys like Mike McBride and Jay Watkins have been preaching, "When you know you're on fish, you're way better off to sit tight and wait for them to feed rather than racing all over the bay looking for fish when the water is moving during a major or minor feeding period." Please remember that current can be the product of wind as well as tide.

So by now you're probably asking; "If they're not biting; how would I know whether I'm on fish?" Fair question. The answer can vary a bit, but it will always include reference to being in a place that is also a comfort for the fish you hope to catch.

Now having established that the comfort zone for fish includes temperature, salinity, food, and sometimes current, it's important to note that the zone often moves especially when there's deeper water located nearby.

As defined by Webster, a thermocline is a distinct temperature gradient in a body of water such as a bay, marked by a layer above and below in which the water is at different temperatures. Now most of us have experienced a thermocline either while swimming or diving, usually in the summer when you discover cooler water as you swim deeper.

By visualizing how a thermocline works, one can better understand why fish in the winter act like they do. Here on Sabine Lake we have some really nice flats that sit very near some really deep water, close to 40 feet deep in some areas. Our big trout will find a comfortable temperature in that deep water and suspend there until it's time to eat, and then they will venture out for a meal and return to their comfortable spot. The thermocline stays more constant during the harsh winter months, unlike the shallow flats, where the temperatures fluctuate greatly due to sunlight, wind, tide, and other variables.

There are times and situations when these fluctuations can be used to the fisherman's advantage during the winter months. Ultra-low tides that expose rocks, shell, mud, or sand to the warmth of the sun will be productive areas once they are covered back up by the tides because the heat energy they have absorbed will be transferred to the water. The warmer water will become a magnet to baitfish and predators alike, often stimulating the urge to feed.

The same can be said about water in the marshes that drains out into open bays. This water sits in a protected, almost insulated, marsh until the low tide draws it out into the bay. When this warm water meets the bay it usually does a couple of things that are beneficial to the angler. One being that it usually ushers bait toward the bay. Two, it generally provides a color change and helps predators ambush their prey. This combination is hard to beat when you find it because the numbers of fish that will stack up in areas like this will boggle your mind. It's like sitting back in that comfortable chair and having someone bring a buffet to you. Why on earth would you ever move?

Finding a spot that has all the comforts of home for a fish is a task. Long hours of searching without finding anything come with the territory. But in the event you do find that one spot that holds a concentration of big fish, I'll assure you that you will no longer be cold, tired, miserable, or wondering what in the hell you are doing out in weather like that. That one 30 or 45 minute window of opportunity can open and give you a glimpse of what a fisherman's dreams are made ofthat's the only reason an otherwise sane individual would brave winter weather.

The only thing I know that could be categorized as absolute within the realm of wintertime fishing is that you cannot learn anything and you for darn sure cannot catch them if stay at home. Get out there and find that comfort zone and hold on; it can be a wild ride.