Mid-Coast Bays: February 2023

Mid-Coast Bays: February 2023
Scott, Dave, Ryan, and Shad found a wintertime flounder hole!

Mother Nature spared us a major fish kill during the Christmas 2022 freeze. A few fish were lost in isolated areas but overall we were very lucky. I encountered only one dead trout in a pond less than a foot deep, too shallow to protect it from the cold. It could have been much worse and I have some theories on that. Perhaps the biggest reason was that we had extremely high tides when the storm arrived and it remained so until after the front passed. This provided an opportunity for fish to exit shallow back lakes. And if they stayed they had greater water depth to protect them.

Two other factors likely also played a role. One is that the water temps were running higher than average before the front. Meaning that it would take longer to cool the water to a level that would be lethal to bait and game fish. Another is that this was a dry front. If it had included freezing rain it would have cooled the water more rapidly, possibly causing a major fish kill. But enough of the freeze scare...

February fishing patterns should remain a lot like January has been and I will be spending the majority of my time in the back lakes of Matagorda Island. I like the back lakes this time of year for a number of reasons. The muddy bottoms allow water to warm quicker due to the darker color when the sun does decide to show itself. This warmer water attracts baitfish such as mullet, which is one of the major food sources for the trout and reds that spend their winters there. The back lakes of Matagorda Island also offer some protection from the hard north winds associated with cold fronts. During extreme cold snaps you could drift or troll-motor deep areas such as the Victoria Barge Canal and the Army Hole, and working the drop-offs. Another plus for the Victoria Barge Canal is found in the tall banks that afford protection from north wind. A word of caution for the hordes of fishermen that fish the many plant docks; these areas are listed among the temporary closures that TPWD enforces when the temperatures turn really cold.

I like fishing the many reefs of San Antonio Bay whenever the weather allows this time of year. Before beginning a wade on a reef you need to make sure that you have bait in the area. During colder periods when the water temp dips into the high-40s and low-50s there will be very few if any signs of bait presence on the surface. When this occurs look for swirls, ripples, flashes or any other kind of sign that there is bait present. Birds often become key indicators. Pelicans in the area, even if only resting on the surface along the reef, can provide clues that bait is present. Once you have established you have bait in the area you will need to wade the reef very slowly and fish the drop-offs to deeper water. The trout are usually hanging where the shell meets the mud. Cuts through the reef are another feature to concentrate on. Perhaps the most important factor, and I always mention it when talking about reef fishing, is to make sure that you and your buddies stop and plant your feet as soon as you get a strike or get a fish on. If everyone holds that line you should be able to stand in one spot and keep catching until the fish sense something is wrong and move off. When this happens; start fan casting and moving down the reef slowly until you start catching again.  

During winter you need to match your lure to the water temperatures. Meaning that if you have had near freezing temps and overcast skies for a few days, you need to stick to something you can fish really slow. Corkys can be very effective and I also like the Double D and Custom Corky floaters this time of year.

During warmer periods between fronts I like the Saltwater Assassin 4’’ Sea Shad in Purple Chicken and Magic Grass. Stick with the slower retrieves as fish may still be less than aggressive in their feeding. I always say if you’re not hanging up occasionally on shell you’re probably working your lure too fast.

Yes, we dodged a bullet, but we are in no way back to normal. Full recovery to the fishery we enjoyed prior to the February 2021 freeze could take another four to five years, barring any other setbacks.

Fish hard, fish smart!