The new year has already been good to us on the Lower Laguna Madre and I am excited to be headed into the much-anticipated wintertime big trout season. I can't say enough about the condition of our water from Port Mansfield down to South Padre, clarity has been excellent, even on some of the windiest days.
February is our coldest month in South Texas, and thus far the water temperatures have dipped to a chilly 45° several times. Given the generally shallow nature of the Laguna, our fish and other sea life are vulnerable in these cold water temps. Luckily though, the shallow waters warm up very quickly as soon as the fronts pass through.
Timing is everything and this is never more evident than during winter down here. February weather can turn ugly in the blink of an eye, so keeping an eye on the marine forecast is critical for fishing success as well as your own safety. Water temperature will determine where fish will stage and a moving tide will sometimes trigger a bite even if the water temp is below their comfort level. Finding bait in the colder months is more important than any other time of the year. Fish might not feed as often but will feed for extended periods during optimal weather conditions. Waiting for the sun to warm the shallow flats can sometimes be the best part of your game plan.
I have found that our fish will seldom bite when the water temp falls below 54°. As soon as it rises above 55° and edges toward 60° you can find a few bites, nothing aggressive at first, soft bites that many mistake for hanging their lure on grass. The magic happens above 60°. Fish become more active and begin to chase bait and lures. One of the most valuable tools on my boat is the water temperature gauge and you can bet that I keep an eye on it throughout the fishing day.
Winter fish patterns are easy to decipher if you can keep an eye on water temperatures, tide levels, and bait availability. There are many more factors, but I feel if you can master these three you can stay on fish consistently.
Bigger trout have been showing in normal haunts since mid-December and have become more numerous lately. We are catching some but not nearly as many as I believe are available. As I said earlier, timing is everything and we haven’t been so lucky fitting our fishing efforts into the timing of the conditions. We will continue to grind it out, and at the right time and place, someone is going to have a smiling face holding a personal best trout.
Grass flats with scattered potholes continue to be hot spots for both trophy trout and keepers. The key in getting them to bite has been rigging KWiggler Willow Tails (Turtle Grass) on the KWiggler weedless hooks and dragging them just above the grass. The Barboleta LeLe has also produced well for us. The LeLe tends to sink as you twitch it and floats toward the surface on the pause. Most bites come as it begins to rise. MirrOlure's Corky lures in both floating and slow-sinking versions have been working in 2 to 4 feet of water. From what I’ve seen thus far we could be in for a banner big trout season.
Redfish action improved significantly as soon as the cooler temperatures arrived. When the trout bite has been slow the reds have helped us maintain focus. The KWiggler Ball Tail Shads (Plum/Chart) bumped along mud/shell bottom in 2 to 3 feet of water have been keeping our lines stretched. Gorge feeding during prolonged warming periods has been a delight to experience. Finding mullet and small crabs scurrying along bottom is the place to be.
The wintertime snook bite continues to be the best I have ever witnessed as large schools are roaming deeper channels. Tide movement, coming or going, is a must when targeting these feisty and tricky fish. Twitchbaits cranked down 3 to 5 feet have been effective and we have even enjoyed some sightcasting success. No doubt this colder weather has them schooled up for now in the deeper habitat.In closing, I would like to say that we’re off to a good start and hopefully 2019 will continue to be filled with lots of tight lines and screaming drags. Keep in mind that it’s our fishery that feeds our passion, not the number of fish we kill for a stringer shot to prove we’re better fisherman. Keep a few fresh fillets for dinner and let the rest swim for another day.