Another year has come and gone and what a wonderful year we had fishing here on the Middle Coast. We enjoyed some of the most “consistently good” fishing I have experienced in quite some time. Even though we endured one of the most devastating hurricanes on record, the weather (for the most part) was favorable. We were blessed with plentiful rainfall throughout the year, but not too much, thank God. And we were not hit with red tide. I'm praying that our winter is normal with no major freezes.
Speaking of good weather, this past fall and early-winter we have enjoyed generally calm winds that allowed us to fish the open waters of San Antonio Bay more often than years past. January will bring more blustery northers but hopefully we will manage to target the mid-bay reefs on calmer days.
The other day during dinner, Gary and I were discussing how similar our summer and wintertime techniques are when it comes to fishing San Antonio Bay reefs. During each season, when temperatures are at their extremes, whether it be hot or cold, we fish it the same way. When it's hot we go deep, and when it's cold we go deep. During all these conditions we almost always find the fish on the deepest drop-offs. We also fish our lures the same way - low and slow. It turns out, whether it's really hot or really cold, the fish prefer deeper water and slower presentations yield the most bites on average.
Also, when fish are holding deeper due to temperature extremes, they not only prefer a slower moving bait that is easy to catch but they prefer smaller baits as well. I find that when fish are not feeding aggressively they tend to “short strike” longer plastics, usually biting off the tail of the lure rather than taking the whole bait. Recognizing this, my lure selection favors shorter baits like Bass Assassins' 4-inch Sea Shad, preferably in a lighter natural color like Mama's Chicken. Natural lure colors really shine when the colder water temps reduce the abundance of suspended algae. In winter we can sometimes and see bottom in five-foot depths.
When the winds are not favorable for fishing mid-bay reefs, we shift focus to shorelines that adjoin marshy areas dotted with narrow drains and sloughs that connect to back lakes on Matagorda Island.
Why these areas? When a strong norther reaches the coast, bay waters are initially driven southward and inundate the marshes and back lakes of the Island. Then, as the norther plays out and tides recede, water than has become warmer in the lakes drains back into the bay. The plumes of warm water spilling back into the bay become magnets that not only transport bait in the currents formed but attract bait and gamefish species from the surrounding, colder, bay water as well. It’s not uncommon to find a mix of trout, reds, and flounder taking advantage of the feeding opportunity. Carry a wading net. Flatfish are notoriously difficult to grab with bare hands.
Patience is the byword in drain fishing. Take your time and move forward very slowly. Fan your casts methodically to cover everything you can reach, especially the points and coves. The best bite location varies daily with current strength and water temperature. If the water is draining swiftly, most bites will typically come from just outside the drain. If the water is barely moving, I often get them just inside of the drain itself. Always try to position yourself so that your presentation will follow the direction of the flow.
Reef hopping on San Antonio Bay and fishing the drains of Matagorda Island are just a few areas to get in on good wintertime action. The muddy-bottomed back lakes will likely hold the larger trout specimens, but that is a whole other article.
Remember that our water levels are much lower in January and February. If you are not familiar with the Port O'Connor/Seadrift area, don't be shy or embarrassed to seek advice from fellow anglers or local guides before heading out. Many of our back lakes are shallow and can be tricky to navigate. It's better to know before you go.Gary and I want to wish everyone a New Year filled with prosperity, joy, contentment and lots of laughter. Happy New Year!