South Padre: January 2018

South Padre: January 2018
Great day on the water for Jason Shook with his personal-best speck. Hopefully we will be making many more photos like this in the coming months.

Happy New Year! Looking back, 2017 year gave us great fishing. Here’s hoping that 2018 might be even better.

I mention often in this column that fishing on the Lower Laguna has changed quite a bit the last decade or so. Finding and catching fish on a consistent basis used to be much easier – fewer boats on the water and less fishing pressure. Recognizing these facts, I have come to the conclusion that timing is now more critical than ever.

What I’m saying is that waiting for the fish to feed has become an increasing critical component in turning a slow day into a productive one. Catching fish from an undisturbed school is one thing, catching fish that are frequently disturbed by boat traffic is quite another. I use the popcorn analogy to help explain this to my clients.

Let's say you are lying on the sofa and someone puts popcorn in the microwave. It smells great but you’re not especially hungry. If they happen to walk within arm’s reach you might grab a handful from the bowl. On the other hand, let’s say you’re hungry. The first whiff of buttered popcorn will draw you to the kitchen, waiting hungrily as it pops, even without an invitation. I believe fish behave the same way. A lure dangled right in their face might draw a strike when they’re not feeding – a lure worked anywhere close gets scarfed immediately when Mother Nature tells them it’s time to eat. Timing is everything!

The more factors that influence feeding, that we can understand and apply to the fishing equation, the greater the chance you will catch them. I call it homework and it includes referencing tide and current predictions, solunar feeding times, wind direction, wind velocity, and general atmospheric conditions. These factors should all be included when deciding where to be, when to be there and, most importantly, how long we should be willing to wait for the bite to turn on.

Fishing on the Lower Laguna Madre has improved considerably with the arrival of cooler weather, including the redfish bite. I reported last month that the greatest number of redfish are staged near or north of Mansfield’s East Cut and this is still true. The further south you run the more scattered they become.

Grass flats near the ICW on post-front days can be productive as reds leave deeper water and invade the flats to feed. Focus on potholes. Reds hang on potholes to feed and also when resting between feeds, times when they might still react instinctively to a well-placed lure. Keep in mind that bait tends to hold along edges of prominent grassbeds. Working a soft plastic right on the edge will draw more strikes than over solid grass bottom, on average. Ridges and other undulations in the bay floor also attract predators looking to ambush bait. On colder days expect them to favor the deeper side of the structure.

Last winter, the big trout we wait all year for were very late in showing. This year we have noticed a stronger showing through late-fall and early winter. If this pattern continues we could be in for a banner season.

Our primary key has been mullet concentrations in knee to waist-deep water and the ideal water temperature has been running 65- to 74-degrees. Overcast has given us more big trout than sunny skies. Back to that timing thing, it is almost always a requirement to fish patiently, waiting for the solunar major or minor to trigger feeding. On warmer days, like the reds, the trout are favoring potholes. On colder days they favor guts and gradually sloping drop-offs.

Come January, we will begin working softer bottoms as the water temperature continues to decline. Topwaters will give way to slow-sinkers and my favorite soft plastic for big trout – the K-Wiggler Willow Tail Shad. Working lower and slower is when the fluttering action of the Willow Tail really begins to pay off. Even the slightest twitch of the rod tip imparts enticing lure action.

I'm really excited dreaming about the possibilities and opportunities that the colder weather will bring. I am sure there will be lots of smiling faces this month and the next three months to come as clients pose for photos with their personal-best trout.

The Houston Boat Show will be held at the NRG Center this month, January 5-14. I will be helping out at the Fishing Tackle Unlimited booth. Come by, say hello, and let me know if I can help you with your fishing needs.