Better Than Good!

Better Than Good!
John Massengale with fat winter speck – CPR.

Life is slowly returning to normal in Rockport. Some of you may have already grown tired of me continuing to mention the hurricane, but my hometown and its people are all I have, and the community’s progress is important to me.

On the fishing scene, it is better than good. Better than I really want to report to be honest, which is typical in most any bay system following major storm events. So much is still being discovered on each trip, structural changes along shorelines and such in the numerous bays that I fish. Water temperatures and tide levels change with each frontal passage as the transition to winter continues and game plans change accordingly.

Winter is definitely my favorite season. Fish just seem to bite better, probably due to the general scarcity of forage compared to warmer months. Back bays and drains will have plenty of large mullet that trout and redfish will definitely eat, or try to eat, if nothing else is available. Many are the times I have seen larger trout and reds choking on mullet so big that you have to wonder why they even tried. My take is that they attempt the impossible when there’s nothing else available.

Purely my opinion, but I believe this is why suspending baits such as Custom Corkys and Paul Brown Corkys work so well in winter. Years back, before many reading this weren’t even born, my father and I waded the muddy backwaters of Port Bay and St. Charles, throwing 52M MirrOlures. My favorite was the 52M51 and Dad’s was the 52M19. I treasure the memories of he and I sinking almost to our knees, plugging away, in clumsy rubber waders that were a far cry from the Simms I wear today. I remember not being able to feel my feet all day.

I suspect my dad couldn’t feel his either, but he never complained, nor did I. We spoke little in fact, Dad was a man of few words. I know it’s hard to imagine Jay Watkins barely talking for any length of time but that’s how we fished together. Our fish back then are big in my memory but probably not as big on average as what we catch today.

My dad would take the eyelet out of the top of the 52M and screw it into the nose, then paint over the old hole and around the eyelet with clear fingernail polish. This made the lure run shallower with more wobble and flash. I remember a day when the water was so clear we could actually see the gills flare on the fish a split second before we felt the strike. Seeing it today takes me back fifty years to that first experience.

Back to wintertime and the lack of smaller baitfish. We should always be aware of the size of the bait in the area we are fishing. More often than not they will be larger in winter but there are areas, closer to deep water, where smaller mullet and pinfish will be seen. Noting the size of bait your fish regurgitate during fighting and landing can be a valuable clue. So, does size of the bait really matter? Bet the farm on it!

First and foremost, I seek areas with bottom grass that consistently hold an abundant and reliable food source for gamefish. It is important to note that while some of these areas might remain viable year over year and through the seasons, they are also subject to change from weather and other influences. Maintaining a running mental log of current information is absolutely critical to achieving consistent fishing success.

The first thing I do when I get to Port Mansfield each winter is running and marking areas of prevalent submerged grassbeds along shorelines and on the flats as they are known to be some of the most reliable haunts of baitfish. Abundant and reliable is huge. Find this and then plan your days in the area to match up with solunar feeding events and the weather forecast and you’ve increased your odds tremendously. I call it fishing smart and I have been preaching it for years.

My wintertime lures will again be the tried and true favorites. Heavy on Lowell and Dee-Dee Odom’s Custom Corkys that begin life as standard MirrOlure-Paul Brown products, and also their Custom MirrOlure Soft-Dines. I love the flash of their gold-sided baits in murky water and also on days with heavy overcast.

Winter brings frequently strong NE wind to the Middle Coast. Seasonally low tides in windward locations will mean murky water many days. Murky is good if you have patience and a lure they can see. In clear water I like clear baits with silver hologram. I am not much on tons of glitter, just give me a gold flash and a silver flash and I’m good. Ask me to pick one and I’ll take gold. This preference stems from my experience with soft plastics over the years.

My 5” Bass Assassins, 5” MirrOlure Provokers, and Lil Johns will also flat get the job done on tough winter days. In fact, they’re also my year-round go-to plastics. I always feel that if I can’t catch ‘em on soft plastic they can’t be caught – by me anyway.

What I have seen thus far through November and December has me super excited for the winter season ahead. Our trout fishery is in exceptionally good shape and the redfish might be even better. I hope to see a bunch of you around the docks this winter, enjoying the excellent opportunities I believe await us along the Middle and Lower Coast.

Before I go, I want to slip in a snippet of a recent trip to Tampa, FL where I visited 13 Fishing, the folks that bring us the Concept reels. The offices of 13 Fishing put me in mind of a busy think tank more than a manufacturer’s headquarters. Masterminds of rod and reel design at work in small offices and cubicles – great intensity in a relaxed atmosphere – if that makes any sense. These guys are intent on rewriting the way saltwater reels have been made for a long time. They took time to make an old fishing guide feel pretty special and for that I will be forever grateful.

I also visited L&S MirrOlure in Largo, FL but it was brief affair as we also had a snook trip that afternoon. Both 13 Fishing and MirrOlure have great operations with friendly and accommodating employees.

Snook! Oh man, what a fish! Big, fast, and angry is what I saw. Very particular in what they’ll take but I did finally trick one that taped 34-inches. A bucket list fish for me, for sure. Thanks to Captain T.J. Stewart for a great afternoon on the water. My only regret was that my boys were not there to experience this moment with me. Guess I will have to plan a return visit and bring them with me.

May your fishing always be catching! -Guide Jay Watkins