Cold River Fishing

Hunting season has for the most part wound down and folks who put their fishing tackle away are replacing line on their reels and hooks on their lures. Boats that haven't been started since bow season started back in October are being seen idling in driveways with a garden hose attached to the motor while those that know are getting ready for some winter fishing.

The colder months of January and February bring another kind of fishing to the Texas coast. The trout won't usually be where they were caught during the spring and summer months, although, on some warm days, when the weather has been sunny and mild it pays to revisit some of your old summer haunts.

Instead of going through the same old "fish areas closer to deeper water, the flats may pay off when the sun is high and the water is warmed up, mud holds heat longer than sand, and finding bait is the key," I'm going to write about some alternative methods of fishing during the cold winter months.

Something that we have a lot of in my area that pays dividends during the cold months when there isn't a lot of rain, are the many creeks and rivers that feed into our bay systems. The three most frequented rivers in my area are the Colorado, Tres Palacios and the Carancahua.

Once you've decided that you're going to try trolling the rivers what lures do you use? I've trolled everything from Humps, Bingos and MirrOlures to bass baits, spinners, spoons, shrimp tails, cocahoe minnows and swimming shad and I've caught fish on all of them. Whichever bait you decide to use make sure that you use a swivel and 20 or 25 inches of good heavy mono for a leader... trust me.

The Colorado, the largest and deepest of the rivers in my area is usually fished from the FM 521 Bridge down to the Diversion Channel, and the area south of the Diversion Channel to the Gulf of Mexico. Fishermen find the drop-offs near the sandy banks and toss plastics while using their trolling motors to maneuver their boat. I've caught some nice trout and redfish while plugging the Colorado's riverbanks. Keep your depth finder on when you're pluggingwatch for deep holes and if you have a GPS, mark the spots when you find them. When it gets colder, go back to those holes and see if the fish are stacked up there in the deeper water. Down river, just past the River Bend Tavern, you'll see shell on the opposite bank. Look for things like this while you're working down or up river. I've caught a lot of nice fish where I've found shell on the edge of the river and you shouldn't pass a spot like that by. With many miles of river to fish, plan on spending several days just learning where some of the holes are and where the most productive and consistent spots are. It will be worth your time and effort.

The Tres Palacios River is a smaller, narrower river that isn't as deep as the Colorado, but still holds a lot of fish if the rains don't keep it fresh. You can unload at the FM 521 Bridge that crosses it and go either up river or down river working the banks much the same as you would the Colorado. The Tres Palacios is harder to fish due to the amount of boat traffic that sometimes abounds there and due to the narrowness of the river. One thing that I have noticed about the people who fish there is that they tend to be courteous to other fishermen and I haven't experienced many problems from other boaters there. Trolling is a big deal on this river with fishermen after trout and redfish. It isn't uncommon to see boats with over four rods out trolling the cold water slowly up and down the river, hoping to see one or more of the rods bend when a fish hooks up with their lure. Here's a good place to fish any surplus Hump Lures or old Bingos if you don't mind risking losing them to the fishing gods. I wish I had one of every Hump that has been lost in the Tres Palacios over the years, there's no telling how many have been sacrificed there. I've seen men trolling their baits behind the boat under corks, keeping the baits suspended so they won't bump bottom and doing so with great success. I tried that once, but I just couldn't get into it as I prefer to control the depth of the lure with the speed of the outboard. If you've never trolled for trout before, it can either be very boring, or very busy. Having all of the rods that are out bend over simultaneously isn't uncommon and with two or three guys onboard, it can be a three-ring circus trying to get the fish to the boat without getting the lines hopelessly entangled.

The Carancahua River feeds into Carancahua Bay and while there are some boat ramps upstream, without personally showing you where they are I couldn't begin to give you directions. But you can unload off of Highway 35 and go up the river that way and there is a private ramp at Cape Carancahua as well. The river is deep in spots and has excellent high banks that slope down into the water; perfect for plugging the banks. Trolling is good in this river as well and if you travel far enough upstream you'll find that the river forks. The West Fork of the Carancahua is narrower than the main channel but it often holds some really nice trout and redfish when the conditions are right. It is also more congested with trees and such so trolling is more difficult than in the main river.

If you do get a hook up in whichever river that you're fishing in and you stop the boat to bring the fish in, start plugging the area. Usually, you'll pick up a few more fish before you have to start trolling again. Watch the banks for pods of mullet and key on that bait. Use your trolling motor and keep pace with them, fishing both the shallow bank and the drop-off. It's a rare day if the water is pretty that you won't catch your share of some nice fish in the rivers during the colder months.

Don't forget the many turning basins that abound in our area. Many a fishing trip that would have been a total loss as far as catching is concerned has been saved by these protected harbors and their deep water. Use your trolling motor to move in and out of the piers, plugging the area just as you would if you were drifting a sand flat in the open bay. Bulkheads and sloping banks can be fished just as you would in a river situation. Flounder, trout and redfish can be found in these harbors all winter long.

Some turning basins that you can access easily are the ones at Matagorda, Palacios and Port Lavaca and I've caught fish in the winter months in all three.

How cold is too cold to catch fish in the rivers? In 1989 Glen Luedecke and I were fishing the Tres Palacios when the air temperature was in the mid-teens and we had ice forming on our rod guides, rods, reels and even our line. We fished all of the deep holes that we knew and trolled the deeper areas but for all the time we spent out in the bitter cold that day we only caught one trout. I'd say that if it's freezing or below you're better off indoors than on a river trying to catch some fish.

So you don't have to rely on the bays for your fishing fun this winter. The rivers and turning basins offer you ample protection from the hard-blowing northers that will come and go all winter and you won't have to worry about crossing any open water that is really too rough to be out in. And if the weather is too nasty for you to fish in even these areas, well, there is always the television where you can watch folks catching fish in warmer weather.

Be Safe,