Happy New Year! Fishing has improved significantly since my last article and I credit cooler weather and declining water temperatures. We are seeing more fish on the flats and increased daily landings. Warm fall weather lingered forever last year and the early onset of winter patterns has been a godsend here in early December. Bigger trout that usually appear in late January and throughout February have already begun to show in modest but encouraging numbers. I am excited to see what will develop as fronts become more frequent and the water temperatures continue to decline.
Your approach to January fishing can go two ways – quantity or quality – you decide; both ends of the spectrum are in reach on any given day. I think of January as the first of the famed “trophy trout” months, so you’re in luck if attaining a personal-best speck is on your 2019 wish list. Perhaps I can share a few ideas and suggestions to help you reach that goal.
First and foremost you must realize that trophy fishing can be a grind more often than we’d like to see. Plan on making hundreds of empty casts. These fish reach trophy size because of keener-than-average survival instincts. Yes, they can be fooled, but it will take your A-Game and perseverance to land a specimen average anglers only dream of catching.
Weather plays a huge role. The optimum conditions for me have included heavy cloud cover, low to steady barometric pressure, water temps in the low to mid-60s, with steady wind up to about 10-15 mph.
You must be versatile and anticipate what these big fish are wanting/willing to eat. Topwater or subsurface? Noisy or subtle? Large or small? Answers to these questions can only be decided by the angler on the playing field. One certainty though would be any fish’s tendency to feed more readily in the presence of current, whether it be tide movement or wind-generated.
Of course bait presence and ready access to deeper water are always considerations. Birds can be your greatest allies in winter – brown pelicans, ospreys, and even cormorants will show you where the bait is holding when it’s not visible on the surface.
Focus your angling efforts to coincide with solunar feeding periods and stay put. One or two bites in an area is enough reason to keep your feet planted until they’re ready to feed. Running and gunning to a dozen spots is rarely as productive as methodically working a piece of good structure holding bait.
Most anglers would love catching a trophy trout, but many prefer simply getting into a steady bite of nice fish. January on the Lower Laguna offers this too. Reduced boat traffic allows you to set up just about any place you choose. If the catching is good, stay on them. If not, move. Here lately there has been a steady bite in waist-deep potholes all across the Laguna Madre. Tie on a KWiggler Ball Tail Shad and have at it.
Tides often fluctuate significantly with the passage of fronts. Look for trout to move in and out of the flats with changes in water depth and temperature. Continuing strings of cold days will move them to deeper water with muddy bottom, and you can also expect them to pull up shallow to feed during warm afternoons. This describes muddy flats along the ICW perfectly.
Redfish action continues to improve. I look for mud boils when running the flats. Boat noise spooks them and that broad tail kicks up sediments. One mud boil does not describe a place to try but 10 or 15 boils in a small area gets my attention. It's very common this time of the year to find redfish concentrated in small pockets of water but getting them to bite can be tricky. Try a KWiggler Long Tall Sally or Willow Tail on a slow retrieve.
Eight or ten hours of wade fishing poses unique clothing requirements during winter. You simply cannot enjoy your outing if you’re wet and shivering. Over the years I have learned to trust brands such as Simms and AFTCO, and layering is the key. You can always shed a layer but you cannot wear what you didn’t bring. Fishing comfortably is one thing but what if your boat breaks down and you have to spend a night out there?Simms waders are the best in the business. They also offer great headwear like the ExStream Windbloc Beanie. Their Downstream insulated jacket and various underlayers are must-haves for me. AFTCO’s Hydronaut waterproof jacket worn over the Downstream insulation layer will keep you dry in the worst of conditions, and their Sumo sweaters are a great layering option. Look for all these products at Fishing Tackle Unlimited.