Greetings from Port Mansfield! I am watching palm trees sway in northwest wind while blackbirds on powerlines grip the wires tenaciously. Temperatures are steady at 50° with grey clouds, thick and low. We are coming off a full moon and the forecast for the days ahead calls for crisp mornings, bluebird skies, NNW wind, and high atmospheric pressure. Water temps were low-70s yesterday and I suspect they will fall to high-50s by morning. Who doesn’t like a challenge?
The odds might not be in our favor but knowing what I know, I believe strategy will be more important the next several days than ever before. So, are there any factors at all in our favor? Let’s take a look.
The anglers coming aboard my 24-foot Shallow Sport Classic the next several days are trophy trout enthusiasts; they want a big Cynoscion nebulosus. Their angling skills are well above average. Our tides are low, which means sunny skies should warm the shallow water where we will be staged. The trout will have been or will likely be eating large mullet and piggies. These fish will be heavy if you catch them right after a big meal; otherwise they will be on the lighter side if they haven’t found that big meal yet. We will be fishing as the barometer reaches a high point and then begins to fall. We will leave the dock 8:30-ish and my prediction is that the best bite should occur in the afternoon, from about 2:00pm until dark. The biggest thing in my favor is that these anglers “get it” which is huge in this wintertime trophy trout game.
So, there you go, a recipe for tasty lemonade from a pile of lemons, in theory anyway. I have dealt with this scenario for years and you must learn to dissect the best possibilities from a host of less than optimum conditions. Does this mean we will catch trophy trout each day the guys are here? Maybe, maybe not. One thing is certain though, we know what we are up against and we have identified the best strategy for the conditions we will be facing.
We will likely limit our efforts to three specific areas. First, we will set up along shallow coves, wading toward deeper water. The bottom will be a mixture of sand and some mud. Working deeper, we will encounter grass and potholes. We will fish slowly with a variety of lures – KWigglers Ball Tail Shads, Willow Tail Shads, and 4-inch Paddle Tails. Light jigheads, 1/16- to 1/8-ounce max. A favorite jighead is the new KWiggler 2/0 Black Nickel in 3/32-ounce. One angler may toss a Corky or similar, but only if the grass isn’t too thick.
Our next move will be to a large sand flat with little depth change at first, that slowly transitions deeper with sticky mud bottom. If this doesn’t work, we will fish shallow muddy drains and draws near flats with scattered, isolated grassbeds.
Based on our plans we should have a shot at a good one or two. And, if none of these options works on day one, we will try again the next day. We may or may not change our strategy, but if we do make a change it will be a subtle tweak based upon slight wind shifts, increasing cloud cover, water level rise, etc. It would be unlikely that we will make a major deviation from these plans.
Remember that late-January through February can be the coldest months. Move slowly and work the area thoroughly. Pay attention to changing weather and water conditions and adjust accordingly. A good fish or two could be the signal that you have found a honeyhole. Wintertime fish tend to concentrate in smaller areas. Even if the bite is slow, resist the urge to go exploring. Stay put and catch a bunch.
Best baits continue to be KWigglers Willow Tails and Ball Tails. Topwater bites have been very few and scattered of late. Give it a month or so and that should change. My all-time best topwater bite was in early-March, more than a decade ago. Forty-plus trout between five and eight pounds on Skitter Walks.I would like to remind everyone that our trout fishery is a fragile resource and deserves our utmost respect. Some of the videos and photos on social media are alarming to me. Same old familiar faces who, if you follow their posts, seem to think the fishery is there only for their personal gratification. Let’s all strive to be better stewards and fish more responsibly. Stay safe!
Capt. Wayne Davis - Tagging Trophy Trout for the Harte Research Institute: https://youtu.be/ScpadKps7-U