I visited Alaska a few years ago and witnessed firsthand salmon returning from the ocean to spawn in the exact headwaters where they were born. Scientists believe they use Earth’s magnetic fields to find their way. This experience came back to me recently as I have begun finding trout and redfish in several parts of our bay system where I used to catch them reliably but haven’t been able to find them for several years. While I realize there is no correlation between trout and redfish, and salmon; I am very pleased to see the local trout and redfish populations thriving and returning to areas that were very productive for us years ago.
More evidence that our fisheries are healthier today than recent years; not long ago a steady redfish bite was hard to find while the past several months have given us reliable action all across the Laguna Madre. Flounder, too, seem more abundant and more widely distributed. Snook have been the biggest surprise of all. Our landings of the linesiders through the warmer months of 2019 exceeded every expectation – both in targeted efforts and random encounters.
Baitfish will be harder to pinpoint in January, especially on colder days, as they tend to hug bottom and often aren’t visible on the surface. When this happens I pay greater attention than ever to the location and behavior of birds. Brown pelicans, cormorants, seagulls, and the ever-reliable osprey all depend on baitfish to survive. Hovering and diving are easiest to spot, but even a few pelicans and seagulls resting on the water and occasionally dipping their bills can point the way to a good day.
Another clue I use often, both when wading and motoring across the flats, are the mud boils produced by redfish as they flee when spooked. Reds are way more tolerant of colder water temperatures than trout, and it takes only a few hours of warm sunshine following a bitter blast for them to begin making their way back into shallow water in search of small crabs and finger mullet. Spoil island shorelines and shallow humps between islands are some of the first and best places I look for them after a cold snap. Slower lure presentations are usually required as the water first begins to warm. Two very reliable baits to try are the KWiggler Willow Tail and the Barboleta Lele. The Willow Tail has great tail action even when retrieved very slowly.
Trout, this time of the year, are a whole other animal, and definitely more weather-sensitive than the redfish. They spend more time in deeper water during cold spells and are slower to move back to the shallows during warming periods. The edges of the ICW or deeper holes are areas you might want to target to find good numbers of trout during the first days of warming weather. A few warm days will usually have them back on the flats, staged in and near potholes in the grass.
I typically key on mullet presence when targeting trout, but like my reference to the various bird species mentioned above, we cannot always find them flipping happily on the surface. There will be many days when all we see are a few flashes or swirls below the surface. Some of my wintertime go-to trout baits are the Paul Brown Original and Fat Boy lures and I have also become fond of the Lele. When soft plastics are producing the KWiggler Willow Tail is my first choice and I certainly never rule out a slow-walked topwater when fishing a warmer than average afternoon with mullet becoming active on the surface.
January is a great fishing month; trout are heavier on average this month, which adds to the opportunity to land a true trophy fish. However, the weather is always a huge factor that must be accounted for when putting a plan together. The early arrival of cold weather this fall reminded us of this fact. A good piece of advice is to never pass up an area that has proven itself in years past to attract and hold trout during cold weather.
Tides will most likely be a good deal lower than average, so caution is advised when navigating the flats. Something I take note of and practice regularly is placing marks on my GPS to identify humps, sandbars, and ridges on the flats that can be important structure features when searching for fish on normal tides.Stay warm, tight lines, and Happy New Year to all.