Cold Water - Windward Shorelines - Marsh Lake Drains

Cold Water - Windward Shorelines - Marsh Lake Drains
Redfish “belly-crawling” sandbar to reach back lake drain.
Water temperatures last week in Aransas Bay dropped into the mid-40s for a few nights before a warming trend arrested the downward trend. What do you do when the water temp drops 20 degrees in 48 hours?  The first thing I did was break out my best Simms gear and suit up for some long, cold days of wade fishing.

Severe drops in water levels and temperatures followed the first real Arctic front of the 2014 winter. Low water levels, high winds and drastic drop in air temperature equate to a rapid bay water cool down. This leads to what we call shocking—a great shock to the ecosystem, as well as our personal systems.

For only the second time in my 35 years of guiding I saw mature white shrimp stacked amid scattered shoreline oyster clumps. A white shrimp’s whiskers are as long as his body, which offers an easy handle for lifting them.  Some were dead, many were stunned but still trying to escape, it would have taken but a few minutes to snatch up enough 10-count shrimp for several dinners.

Redfish and trout alike had them just packed in their stomachs, making catching fish on lures a little tougher for a few days. I caught several trout that had shrimp whiskers hanging from the side of their mouth when I landed them.

On Thursday I ran back into a back-bay region, looking to see if the larger trout known to reside there would pull up on the mud and eat for us. The water was 46 degrees at the mouth of the first drain we worked. On my way back to the boat I saw redfish with their backs completely out of the water, slowly pushing themselves across the shallow sand bar out in front of the drain. There were probably 20-plus very large fish slowly trying to cross the bar and enter the deeper portion of the drain. I got on my knees and took photos, some less than 5- to 6 feet from me. I caught a 27-incher that weighed right at 8 pounds simply by dropping the lure from the rod tip. The fish never took any drag and eventually ran aground and I went up and lifted it from the wet sand. Really!

My clients joined me and we followed the fish up the drain all the way to the lake, now a dry lake bed. We never got another one to eat, and when they reached the dry lake they simply turned around and swam right back out of the drain and belly-rolled across the bar, disappearing along the drop-off. Too cold to eat but not too cold to do what Mother Nature had programmed them to do—feed into current. Oh, and just so you know, this all went down during the moonset minor. Their instinct had them wanting to eat but they were just too cold, having not yet acclimated to the change. My point is that they still went through the motions, which I believe is pure instinctive behavior.

The past two weeks have brought two more strong fronts, each dropping the tides along with water temperatures for a few days. Post-frontal conditions can provide some of the best days on the water but can also create catching problems for those that are not able to be on the water on a regular basis. It seems to me that the stronger the fronts the more important it is to concentrate your efforts on shoreline or spoils that were windward during NE or NW wind.

My reasoning is simple, strong winds produce turbulence that stacks bait (still active) along points and pockets in the shoreline. If it is brutally cold, stunned baitfish are likely to be pushed to these areas as well. Stunned or fresh dead in water 50 degrees or less means the bait is still fresh and likely to be picked up by lethargic but still hungry gamefish. I caught a 9-pound 27-inch redfish this week that had 8 large white shrimp, 3 pinfish, a mullet and I think a squid in its stomach!

It usually occurs that the winds will be light about 24 hours after a frontal passage. Calm wind, clear water and high atmospheric pressure are typical wintertime patterns after a major front and not the best conditions for finding fish that are willing to eat. Two things in my opinion that work in my favor are working windward shorelines where I know bait has been pushed and paying very close attention to the solunar tables. Predators will not leave a viable food source, I promise, and this magazine has the slickest tear-out you should be referencing for the solunar feeding information. Use your solunar and a local tide report, and you’re ready to go. The past 10 years have made a devout believer in the charts and to be honest, minor feeds are often the best the day will offer.

Right now I am concentrating the majority of my efforts on WINDWARD areas along our barrier islands where I have either scattered submerged grassbeds or scattered clump shell. On the scattered shell I like to position my anglers were a long cast can be worked to an edge where shell stops and sand starts. The underwater edge of this type of structure seems to always hold some really good fish this time of year. I know you get tired of hearing me say this but you have to force yourself and your buddies to NOT get too close to these edges. The best fish that reside here know you’re coming and it often takes 30 to 45 minutes for the best fish to settle back in and become comfortable with our presence.  If your buddy hangs up or wants to continue to wade up, break his leg. Fishing should never be a track meet and this is especially true in the winter months.

Shallow windward areas of structure will warm quickly and this becomes a daily ritual with the fish that live here. I do believe that once acclimated to the cold, trout and redfish alike become as aggressive as they are any other time of the year. Truth is, warming is still needed for their bodies to function, so again, planning and timing are essential.

Find a spoil or shoreline with proper bottom structure being warmed by midday sun, add some bait and the knowledge that a solunar feeding period is underway during late afternoon and you might just have the recipe for a lifetime best day. Today we experienced all our big trout bites on windward shorelines with 20-plus NE wind during the midday major feeding period. We had fish to 6 pounds but still no monsters. We were not in this location by chance, I promise. In fact, we waited all day to go there while all the elements played in concert. A little knowledge, some planning, and a little luck can go a long way.

I am off to Port Mansfield in mid-December for my two month stay with my fishing club members. I look forward to the long days, good food and fellowship, and chance at a true monster trout. I am blessed to have the best group of guys any guide could ask for. Again this year we will leave 99% of the fish where we find them. Is that awesome or what?May your fishing always be catching. 
–Guide Jay Watkins