Pro Tips: February 2011

Pro Tips: February 2011
This is what the bottom structure of scattered shell and grass over sand looks like through polarized lenses. This is perfect late winter structure for the Rockport area.

February will find many of us chasing trophy trout along the middle to lower Texas coast. I assure you there will be plenty of articles in this month's issue to satisfy your big trout appetite. I myself have been chasing the bigger fish to the south as well but have also been able to stay closer to home and experience some of the best trout fishing I have seen in many years here in the Rockport area. Back about twenty years ago I did a article on patterning winter trout in the Rockport area during a time when catching trout was simply a matter of being on the water. Even though trout numbers in those days must have been off the charts, one still needed to fish smart in order to stay with the fish. Twenty years later, it's no different. There are still lots of good trout to be caught but they are not everywhere. It's a matter of discovering the pattern and the pattern is a combination of water temperature, bottom structure, and the presence of bait.

The absolute most important tool for this time of year is your water temperature gauge. Don't have one? Get one! They are inexpensive, easy to install and will make a big difference in your ability to pattern the fish you find. I have owned only one boat in my entire guiding career that did not have this feature. I guess the fish were so thick back then it didn't matter but, this is a different day and a different fishery. The water temperature gauge tells us where the warmest waters are in conjunction with the bottom structure that has been holding fish. Find the right water temperature and right bottom structure and you'll usually have some bait activity sometime during the day.

When the water temperature dips below 55 the water becomes very clear and we can see bait and bottom structure very easily. I have many anglers that continue to be amazed at the clarity of our bay waters during the winter months. With lowest of low tides typically occurring during February, clarity can reach all-time highs and even winds gusting to over 20-mph will not muddy it up too badly. This exceptional clarity does create catching issues at times but I promise there are times in the day and conditions that will allow for some fantastic action.

I am typically searching for water temps above 52 with bottom structure being a mix of scattered shell and grass. I do not usually worry too much about current during the coldest months. Water temperatures below 50 will certainly create some decrease in fish activity and movement in my area. About the only areas that produce in these conditions will be the deeper drop-offs along the ICW in areas adjacent to shallow water. Even in these areas the bite can be slow when water temperatures drop to below 50. I prefer to fish the ICW areas as the tides begin to slow or even become slack. Luckily we have very few days during a normal winter when water temperatures drop below this level. If they do, it is typically short-lived as daytime warming allows for quick recovery.

Simply put, I look for the warmest water over the type of structure I believe the fish are using. Once located, my focus then shifts to bait. See one jump or flip and I am out of the boat or on the trolling motor. I promise, once you establish the water temperature in which the fish are the most active, over the right structure, you then only have to repeat the conditions to establish the pattern.

For instance, on a day when the average water temperature is reading 56 over scattered shell and grass, you find 58 water over the same structure with a few mullet working and I'll bet the trout are there as well. I'll go on record and bet that wherever you can repeat this pattern you'll find trout there too.

Here lately I have been able to drift the flats in southern Aransas Bay and Redfish Bay, monitoring the water temperature gauge while over scattered shell and grass. It's not trophy trout fishing per se but it is productive and honestly easy to dial into the pattern and predict bites. Calling the shot for a client is a big time confidence builder for them. This also encourages the client to start looking INTO the water instead of AT it but that is a whole other article in itself. Water temperature, structure and then bait work this trifecta and your on your way to a winning ticket.

In closing I have to say that trout fishing in the Rockport area over the past several months has been better than good. It has bordered on unbelievable at times considering the lack of quality trout present in 2009. Rain no doubt has been the most obvious factor but I have to believe that the lack of spring and summer fishing pressure has provided some relief as well. Redfish seem to be absolutely everywhere and catching big numbers of slot fish has been a daily occurrence when conditions have been right. I look for some further help in 2011 from TPWD in the form of new trout regulations as well. If this comes to pass, in three or four years Texas could easily boast of the absolute best trout fisheries on the entire Gulf coast.

May your fishing always be catching. Guide Jay Watkins