Mid-Coast Bays: January 2012

Mid-Coast Bays: January 2012
A redfish with a very unusually shaped lip.

As I give thought to how a whole year has just zoomed by, it also occurs how differently I view a calendar year since having become a fishing guide - not so much by day, or even months, but more by seasons. Fishing patterns can remain pretty consistent and stable for days and even weeks, but each season has its own distinct signature. Learning to apply daily changes in tides and weather dictates where and how we will fish to achieve success.

With that being said there are other factors that can influence where and when fish will congregate - take for example this month's long siege of red tide in middle coast bays. Gary and I first noticed it on October 6 while fishing near Mule Slough. Menhaden appeared disoriented and struggling to breath at the water's surface. Gary quickly called Texas Parks and Wildlife to give them a heads up. Come to find out the red tide effects had started to show up the day before on the Gulf side of Matagorda Island. In the following weeks the algal bloom advanced slowly through Espiritu Santo and then eventually on down to San Antonio Bay and up the Victoria Barge Canal. It didn't always effect your eyes and nose and the water color often seemed OK but the dead and dying fish let you know it was there.

We've seen more dead fish in the last couple of months than any prior red tide outbreaks with menhaden, mullet and hardheads taking the worst hits. Certain areas did have some trout, reds and flounder floating. Birds died too, probably from eating contaminated dead fish. The Lagoon and Shoalwater Bay looked like the Dead Sea for a few days and some of the Matagorda Islands lakes had significant numbers of floating dead fish. Saddest of all was seeing many huge flounder lying dead.

As of this writing the red tide is still with us in certain areas. The Department of State Health Services has closed oyster season indefinitely for the entire Texas coast. Most experts agree that cooler water temperatures along with much needed rain will help dissipate the deadly toxin. The fronts are coming through regularly now to cool the water so let's all pray for rain!

January and February tend to be our coldest months; gamefish and baitfish alike will move off the flats and head to warmer waters of the back lakes so this, of course, is where I will be spending the majority of my time. Wade fishing with artificials is my favorite way to spend my days on the water; however, most of our back lakes have muddy bottom. We always have to match our wading plans with client's physical abilities and desire to trudge through the tough stuff to find the bite. Some days it's just better to stay in the boat.

Bass Assassin's Die Dapper and Berkley's GULP Jerkshad are my go-to choice most days. Rigged on a 1/8 jig under an Alameda or Cajun Thunder rattling float can be beneficial this time of year to help hold the lure in the strike zone of these sometimes slow feeders.

One of the beauties of winter fishing is the "warm-up days" as I call them following the passage of a cold front. It may not prove practical early in the day but quite often in the afternoon we see a really good topwater bite come together. I prefer the smaller plugs this time of year and the bone Super Spook Jr. is probably my all-time warm-up day favorite.

Keying on active bait is vitally important to wintertime fishing success but you may have to be a little more observant to pick up on it. Colder temperatures will keep baitfish subsurface most days so instead of the obvious jumping bait you will need to look for other signs just as swirls and ripples. Redfish will still be doing what they do best, hugging shorelines looking to ambush any smaller fish or crabs as they move out of the protection of the grass.

January can be a fantastic time to get out on the water and enjoy a little of that saltwater therapy so don't let the colder temperatures keep you away. This time of year the weather is less likely to cooperate for a weekend trip so it may be time to (insert fake cough here) call in sick! Best wishes for the coming year - great health and financial success - and great catching!