Pro Tips: February 2010

Pro Tips: February 2010
Trout of this class will be our targets as we seek to take advantage of February’s warming trend patterns here in Rockport.

February is typically our coldest fishing month. For many it is a time to reflect on past season's experiences and look forward to the coming of spring. However, for a segment of the Texas saltwater community, February is the favored month to pursue a lifetime best trout and the popularity of this pursuit has brought fishing pressure in some areas that has to be seen to be believed.

After a few months of cold weather trout feeding habits and locations become a little more defined. Mud flats with varied structures of grass, scattered shell or rock that lie adjacent to deep water can become havens of fish activity during warming trends and prior to frontal assaults. For the most part the smaller baitfish will leave the shallows but some larger mullet and shad remain. These "one meal wonders" as I call them are the keys to locating areas that will be holding trout of the size and weights that many dream of this time of year. One mullet pushing or flipping over a soft muddy flat can signal the start to a fabulous day on the water, yet after thirty-plus years of doing this I am still amazed at the number of anglers who continue to fish areas with NO BAIT PRESENT only because the area has produced good results in the past.

Without the presence of bait your chosen area will likely not produce. I spend the majority of my time looking for bait activity, in fact; I use my GPS to mark areas holding bait from day to day. My reasoning behind marking the bait is simple, the bait moves depending on weather, water and tidal conditions and when the food source moves the gamefish follow. I am a firm believer that trout never stray far from the bait this time of year. They simply stage nearby, eating when needed, and then doing nothing for long periods. Depending the size of baitfish eaten, the no-feed period may last two days or more. And thus, monitoring weather conditions, water temperature and bait location becomes critically important to your success.

Over the past three weeks our weather has been controlled by steady low pressure working out of the Pacific southwest. When these systems collide with colder air from the north our area receives rain and heavy cloud cover for several days. With water temperatures in the mid to lower 50s it can become difficult to get some of the bigger fish to pattern. This is especially true if the air temperature and water temperatures are about the same. Mature trout simply opt for staying along deeper drop-offs and eating only when they absolutely must. By positioning ourselves near fast warming shallows on the day the sun pops out and air temperatures rise above water temperature we dramatically increase the odds of getting a shot at a truly special fish.

One of the absolute biggest trout I have ever seen was during a winter warming trend after a bitter three day storm that dropped the water temperature into the 40s. I was unable to get that fish to eat anything I threw as she moved slowly from one pothole to the next. She had two large fish with her but she was by far the largest of the trio. I swear she had to have been twelve pounds or more and the other two appeared to be ten pounders. I know they all look bigger in the water and the big ones always seem to escape but, trust me, these fish were all monsters. To this day I continue to slip in and work this small section of shoreline every time the mercury drops into the freezing range and is followed up by a bright sunny day. Who knows, maybe her DNA is still swimming in the fish that currently reside there.

Locating numbers of large trout in the Rockport area has been hit and miss but decent numbers of what I call solid fish have started to show. My pre-front bite has been much better than my warming trend pattern but I expect the warming trend pattern to strengthen as the fish become more acclimatized to prevailing cold weather.

Catching larger trout on a consistent basis during late-winter requires extensive local knowledge. Minor changes in bottom contour that you can almost ignore in other seasons become critically important. Water temperature variances during the day are always a controlling factor and monitoring bait location and movement is something you simply must become good at. Your approach to the fishing area also requires great attention to detail. You can't crowd the area. Mature trout feel your presence; I promise. Working from "outside-to-inside" is my preferred approach. If the fish are holding on structure near the shoreline I approach from as far offshore as I can, and vice-versa if they are holding deep. Always remember to give the area a wide berth and you'll being doing yourself a really big favor in the odds department.

May your fishing always be catching! - Jay Watkins