Mansfield Report: January 2011

Capt. Tricia
Mansfield Report: January 2011
Fisheries scientist Megan Robillard of Harte Institute conducting Dietary Preference of Spotted Seatrout research at Port Mansfield.
Just when we thought Mother Nature had forsaken us, she turned right around and answered our prayers. The recovery from last summer's flood is in full bloom and the Laguna is going to be much better for it, perhaps even earlier than imagined. Barring horrible winter weather, January should mark the beginning another incredibly "fishy" year.

Almost overnight, heavy algal blooms triggered by last summer's tropical storm runoff were miraculously gone. When the water temps dropped below 60 the greenish algae began to disappear. Suddenly we could begin seeing our grass beds again, and thankfully, they are already showing signs of recovery. We learned from Dr. Greg Stunz of Harte Institute that the turtle grass was hit hardest by the extended freshwater inundation; the more prevalent shoal grass is still there and rebounding just fine. Now that we have better water conditions, the fishing we all want is rebounding quickly as well throughout the system.

The predominant pattern for the late fall season has been generally over nice, hard-packed bottoms with scattered grass and active baitfish showing. The depth at which to begin your search for the day was almost constantly a puzzle, though. As always, reading your water was critical. Calm conditions made it easy to spot bait presence and gamefish wakes but calm days aren't something you can bank on. It's usually the fisherman with a good eye peeled for all the subtle signals that will consistently enjoy the best catching. We had many excellent topwater days and the Heddon "One Knocker" in Okie shad caught lots of fish. Plastics were good too on either 1/16 or 1/8 ounce jigs depending how deep they were holding and how they wanted it. The old standby pumpkin-chartreuse in cleaner water and plum-chartreuse in the murky stuff were as reliable as any.

Although we haven't caught many true trophy-class trout yet, the three to five pounders have been coming fairly consistently with a few kicker eights in the mix. Rod-bending redfish have been right in there with the trout and the same baits worked for both species. No surprise here as getting on them in the first place is always the toughest piece of the puzzle.

As we move into January, one of the most common questions on the boat will be, "Why here captain? How do you know?"

I enjoy teaching and these are exactly the kind of people I love having on my boat. It is a genuine pleasure guiding folks hungry for knowledge and willing to invest the effort to learn way more rewarding for a guide than a crew whose primary focus is filling the box with no regard for how to pattern their quarry or respect for the resource they are enjoying.

How do you know? Well - that's not an easy one to answer, especially when trying to guess around the fickle conditions of winter, and especially in an area like here with relatively little structure. Anyway - here's what I'll be looking for this January.

Of course the presence of baitfish is high on the list in any season but even more important in winter. Just because you have found bait does not necessarily mean you have found fish, neither does it mean you can catch them if they are there. However, and having said that, finding bait is still the best place to start. Other good indicators are color changes, temperature changes, and water movement. Put these three together with some bait and you should be close. Here is a common example of what we might see in January.

Lets pretend a strong norther has been blowing for two days, dropping both temperature and water levels. As the front passes the water will begin to flow back. There's your current, especially where it's pouring off a warming, skinny flat. Somewhere in the area the water clarity will change from clear to murky to muddy. In my experience, better fish are most often caught in that murky zone. Find an area like this with flipping bait and a few curious birds, and your fishing life may soon be large.

Above all, let's all appreciate whatever Mother Nature gives us, keeping only what we need and leaving the rest. You never know when she will turn on us again, so enjoy what we have and remember to always be courteous to your fellow fisherman.