Mid-Coast Bays: January 2014

Mid-Coast Bays: January 2014
Windy day back lake trout for an Oklahoma angler!
Finger numbing cold and blustery winds will keep most fair-weather anglers off the water during the month of January but for those seeking a cure for cabin fever or maybe needing stress relief following a taxing holiday season; a day on the bay can be just what the doctor ordered, especially with a little help from the weatherman.

Colder water temperatures affect just about everything in the wintertime, even the tiniest of marine organisms. Various plankton and algae that inhabit our warm bay waters are greatly diminished in winter months and this often produces exceptional water clarity. And while high winds from cold fronts can turn even deeper water somewhat off-colored, our back lakes stay protected from the winds so water will remain clear even during the windiest days. While I have to admit I am enamored by the gin clear water, I know that it often creates some angling challenges.

Natural and live bait will be rather scarce at the bait camps during the coldest months. This really doesn't present a problem due to the fact that most of the smaller baitfish that inhabit the shallows during the warmer months will be moving out to the deeper waters of the bays. Because of this, most reds and trout will be eagerly accepting most any artificial offerings but, color will play an important role when fishing clearer waters.

Fishermen are captivated by the array of lure colors, but this time of year we often find that "less is more." Very few baitfish that inhabit our coastal waters are brightly colored. The colors of most are very basic to their habitat, thereby providing natural camouflage. Juvenile shrimp are at least translucent, sometimes nearly completely transparent, and all but disappear in water of average clarity. So to be successful when fishing these clear winter waters, anglers are going to have to push the brightly colored lures aside and go with something more natural. Bass Assassin's 3.5 inch Die Dapper in either Crystal Shad or Houdini are two that work well for me. The Die Dapper is also impregnated with BANG fish attractant, making them even harder to resist.

Locations I will be fishing will depend a lot on the wind. No surprise that San Antonio Bay reefs will be my go-to spot on calm days. Here lately the reefs have been producing good numbers of trout for us. Most have been decent size but I have to admit it is not uncommon to hit reefs that hold only undersized fish, and lots of them. When you come across this scenario it is best to leave these small guys alone and move to a different reef in order to find a better keeper ratio. These smaller trout are eager to eat and tend to inhale your offerings, making it harder to unhook them and lessening their chances of survival.

Working soft plastic baits with a slower retrieve is often necessary this time of year and this calls for light jigheads to avoid hanging up on shell. I like rigging with the 1/8 ounce Bass Assassin jigs and allowing the lure to settle deep into the water column until I can feel it tickling the shell, and then continuing with a "slow hop" retrieve to keep it down there. Quite often during colder months we find the trout unwilling to rise to a bait, hitting it only when it is within inches of the bottom. And when they do decide to eat it, don't expect an aggressive strike like they do when water temps are warmer. Nope, it's more like a slight "tick" and that's all you're gonna get. The use of braided line and a high-quality rod like my Waterloo HP Lite can be two of the best tools you have out there when trying to catch these deeper-dwelling coldwater fish.

The hardier redfish will still be out in full force but will be more agreeable midday after the flats have had some time to warm up. This is a good time of year to dust off those silver and gold spoons and put them to good use. I prefer to use a 1/2 or 3/4 ounce weedless Johnson spoon and it seems the more scuffed they are the better they work, perhaps it's their natural reaction to more naturally-colored lures in the generally clearer water.

Make sure to bundle up before you go. Layers are easy to remove and being cold is only fun if you're a polar bear. Happy New Year!