Mid-Coast Bays: December 2006

Mid-Coast Bays: December 2006
Curtis Blackshear reaping the rewards of fishing during cooler temperatures.

Fishing here on San Antonio Bay was on fire the entire month of November and should stay consistent until we get our first real cold snap. Our cold fronts in November were coming in steadily about once per week. The frequency and severity will only increase in December, which brings me to the topic of this month's article.

Pre-front fishing is one of the key elements I will have on my mind now through the next couple of months. I try to mention this every year about this time because it is such an important factor to consider when planning your next trip.

Every angler knows that tide, water temperature, and moon phase can affect our fishing success. However there is another factor that often gets overlooked; atmospheric pressure. Although atmospheric pressure can't be predicted with charts, like tides and moon phases, it still has a major influence on fish behavior.

Think about it. How many times have you enjoyed a red-hot bite before an approaching storm or frontal system? And how many days did it take for the fish to turn back on after the passage of that storm or front?

During pre-front conditions the atmospheric pressure is fluctuating rapidly. A falling barometer means that clouds and precipitation are likely. Rising pressure signals that clear sunny weather is to be expected. Usually, right before a storm, the atmospheric pressure will rise slightly and then steadily drop - only to rise again once the storm passes.

I watch the weather reports daily but this time of year I can just about predict what will happen next by paying attention to the wind patterns. I know the closer a cold front gets the stronger the winds will blow from the south or southeast direction and the barometer will start to drop. This becomes noticeable for those of you with achy joints and healed broken bones but for others it usually goes unnoticed. We have evolved into staying mostly indoors and using air conditioners so we do not notice the difference in pressure as much as other animals.

Animals along with fish are still feeling what our ancestors felt during the falling barometer or pre-front conditions. They sense this change and adjust, usually changing their feeding habits as well. During this change of pressure I find that fish will feed more aggressively just before the front. I will even try to plan customer's trips around these conditions if possible.

One reason for their behavior change may be because redfish and speckled trout have larger air bladders compared to other fish like dorado and king mackerel so they will feel the effects of the changing air pressure more. I believe the fish feel the weight of the "higher pressure" pushing on their organs during this phase and tend to slow down. I am not saying that the fish stop feeding all together, but you might find it harder to locate and entice them to feed.

What to expect when the front nears? As changing weather approaches, the skies will become dark with low, dense clouds and the winds will start to increase in strength. During these high winds you may have to find refuge in back lakes or other protected areas. The water will start to become off-color due to the winds but this is usually to your advantage.

When you find a color change like this it is a great ambush site for feeding redfish and trout. I consider this water coloration to be structure, much the same as guts or reefs. Also, with the wind creating so much surface commotion and noise, you will find it easier to get within striking distance of your prey.

Locating baitfish is still an important element when fishing before the passage of a frontal system but you may have to look more closely as baitfish tend to be more subsurface and less active in the cooler water of winter.

The baits you will find me using during these conditions in December may be completely different than the baits I will be using in January or February due to colder water and air temperatures and seasonally lower tides than you will find in the latter months.

My number one lure for pre-front conditions is the "bangedy bang" Mirrolure She Dog and the colors I choose to use are based on what the weather conditions are that day. On rough pre-front days with heavy cloud cover, high wind, and off-colored water, I will stick with a color that is easy for me to locate and monitor while working the lure in choppy water. I like the GCRBO (Halloween) and CHPR (chartreuse/pearl/chartreuse) and #11 (red head, white back and belly). Again I choose these colors because I can easily see them at the end of a long cast and observe my retrieval easier in visually poor conditions. Remember old momma speck won't mind an easier target as well.

If I am consistently getting blow-ups but no hook ups I will switch to a 5-inch Saltwater Assassin on 1/16 oz Assassin jighead. I normally use Texas Roach, pumpkinseed/chartreuse and morning glory. Another lure I have added back into my everyday arsenal is the once popular Cordell Brokenback. The colors I have had the most success with are the gold or the red head/white body. You can work this lure with many different retrieves but the way I work it is by reeling the lure just fast enough to make a V-wake but not so fast that the lure goes below the surface of the water. The lure wobbles nicely when retrieved in this slower manner making it look just like a crippled fish swimming on the surface.

The key to catching during these conditions is to focus on points and coves. The coves in back lakes concentrate baitfish and are the best producers this time of year.

There are risks when waiting to fish until the front approaches. The weather can turn treacherous in just a matter of minutes. Pay attention to the low dark clouds looming to the north of you. Rain usually precedes the fronts but not always. It is important to leave before this point. If you get too caught up in the "catching" you might find yourself in some dangerous gusty north winds.

As mentioned, there are numerous factors that influence fish behavior, and any one of them can make the difference between success and failure. The best strategy is to plan your fishing days around the best conditions. Unfortunately that won't always be possible but at least now you can also blame the barometer if you come home empty-handed!

Fish hard, fish smart!