I hear it all the time “Man, you have the best job; you get to fish every day.” That is mostly a true statement. While the fishing part is great my boss is a whole other story. No, I’m not talking about Shellie although she can be tough at times. I’m talking about Mother Nature.
There are mornings during spring when I wake to screaming southeast wind and wish I could just roll over and postpone my charter for another day. Well, that doesn’t work too well when you have an excited angler that has been waiting all year to fish with you. It is a fishing guide’s job to make sure clients have a good time and are successful on the water.
Same goes for howling northers this time of year. I was told a long time ago that you must take the bad with the good and I have to remind myself every morning when the weather isn’t exactly peachy.
I prefer fishing low tides over high tides, so this is actually a plus when we have a norther blowing through the area. Strong north winds push the water from our bays out into the gulf. Back-lakes are similarly affected as soon as the bulge of water that is first blown into the marsh and back-lakes on Matagorda Island begins to drain into the bays that are already draining to the gulf. For this article I would like to share some of the strategies I employ when fishing low tides during winter.
Let’s say before a cold front arrived you were catching trout in a small back lake where the water is typically two feet deep on a normal tide. Along comes Mr. Winter with his thirty-mile-per-hour blast and…Boom! Your back-lake has only about a foot of water left in it, the rest drained down into the bay. The water remaining in that lake has become much too cold with the big drop in air temperature that accompanied the front. Bait and gamefish have flown the coop.
So, where might they have gone? The main bay water temperature is probably also too chilly for the bait to be comfortable so, along with the trout and reds you were seeking, they are most likely taking up temporary shelter in the sloughs or channels that connect backwater areas with adjacent bays. We typically refer to these sloughs and small channels as drains.
Drains will be substantially deeper than the backwaters you had been fishing. Most are deep enough to provide a thermocline.
The best way for me to describe a thermocline goes like this. When you are wading shirt-pocket deep on a bay shoreline in August you can feel cooler water near bottom. That’s a thermocline – the reverse would describe the scenario I am describing in the drain - the warmer water will be at the bottom. During severe cold snaps thermoclines can spell the difference between life and death to bait and gamefish alike.
The drains are but one example of areas that will have a thermocline. Dredged harbors, the Victoria Barge Canal, rivers, and neighborhoods with canals, can also qualify if they are deep enough.
Now that you have pinpointed some areas where your quarry might be weathering a winter storm, you will need to know how to catch them. Some of these likely places (drains) are not as deep as others (Victoria Barge Canal). Different fishing techniques will be required for the depths you are fishing.
When fishing a drain I will bump up the weight of my Bass Assassin jighead from the normal 1/16 ounce to an 1/8 or even a 1/4 ounce, depending on the depth of the water. I also typically downsize my soft plastic lures. Scented lures, such as GULP really shine in this type of fishing. The key is to hop the lure along the bottom. When the water is especially cold and the fish become sluggish in their feeding, it is sometimes necessary to simply drag the lure along the bottom.
Fishing harbors and rivers that run to the bay usually means probing for bites in deeper water – sometimes eight to ten feet – maybe even deeper. In this scenario I would normally use a 1/4 or 3/8 ounce Bass Assassin jighead.
Another proven wintertime lure for deepwater work is the Hoginar made by Hogie’s Lures. Whatever lure you decide to go with, make sure it will stay in contact with the bottom.
These deepwater tactics can be employed in many scenarios throughout the winter season.Fish hard, fish smart!