Switching gears for winter success
Last updated 12/15/2020 at 8:01pm
Winter time fishing can be worth the effort when everything comes together.
To the casual observer or holiday traveler the sight of a fishing boat during winter is a cry for help, somebody has lost their mind and needs psychiatric evaluation. The raw elements associated with this time of year are no place to place enjoy a sport meant for warm weather. To the hard core fishermen pulling that boat all the traffic on the roads means less on the bay and that brings a smile to their face no doubt. “These poor @#$%^%$ have no idea what they are missing” is what the fishermen think and in all reality they are right.
For many years fishermen on the lower coast have known what kind of magic can happen when the mercury dips and the crowds go somewhere else for the winter. This kind of thinking gains more and more popularity on the upper coast every year. It wasn’t too terribly long ago when folks on Sabine and Calcasieu never even entertained the thought of winter fishing for anything, much less wading. I can remember several years ago when we first started seeing waders, we thought they were nuts because there was no way any trout could be left in Sabine Lake thanks to the cold and freshwater run off. That notion was quickly put rest as we sat one afternoon with binoculars and watched a line of waders catch some huge fish while all we could do was shake our heads. At that point you have a decision to make; you either get going with the program or get passed by. Needless to say we unpacked our duck hunting gear and got in the water, things have never been the same since.
“Who had the bright idea to come out here today?” I asked as my partner as I exited the boat and slid into the chilly water. “Whoever it was needs to have their head examined” he replied. A cold couple of hours later it happened, a lone solitary slick popped up and we both stood there dumbfounded. “No way that’s what I think it is” I thought as I lobbed a Corky Devil towards the fresh slick. The cast was met with a violent strike that took both of us by surprise, the huge trout came to the surface and suddenly we weren’t quite as cold anymore. A quick follow up cast resulted in another hook up, two stud trout on at the same time in the absolute nastiest conditions and not another boat in sight. Both trout pushed 8 pounds and they were not alone, not by a long shot. One small area about the size of your living room seemed to be holding all these giant fish at one time and they were all hungry. The strikes were violent “no doubter” strikes where you either hooked the fish or had the rod jerked from your hand. These fish were so amped up that we started throwing top water plugs just to see what would happen in the sub 50 degree water; the fish crushed the surface plugs just as hard. The melee continued for nearly an hour and then died as quickly as it started.
We caught some excellent fish that winter day all the way to nearly 10 pounds, a dream trip to say the least. Now this wasn’t by accident or a random lucky draw because there was a pattern involved, one that has held true for me during the winter. It is essential during cold weather months that you pay attention to tide movement, water temperature, and bait concentration. In my own personal experience it seems as long as you don’t have an extended period of slack time between tides that the window of opportunity is much greater during the winter. Tidal influence triggers fish to feed so as an angler you need to use that to your advantage. Also be sure to scan the area for warmer pockets of water like drains coming from shallow marshes or muddy protected shorelines. These areas hold heat much better than others and that is a key to active fish. It goes without saying that the presence of bait is a must, the bait doesn’t have to be running for its life all the time but it helps to know bait is in the area. If you can combine all these factors you will greatly increase your odds of success during the winter months.
Now if you don’t want to wade this time of year there is another very often over looked method of catching fish, sight fishing works really well under the right conditions. During the winter months you can have some unbelievably clear water, sometimes almost too clear. Folks on Sabine and other bay systems are not accustomed to this so the thought of actually sight fishing or seeing the fish before you cast is foreign to say the least. Believe me it can be done and it can be incredible. You need to a few things in order to make this method work better, good polarized glasses and some sort of elevated spot to look from. The good polarized glasses are easy, you can pick from a ton of great manufacturers. My pick on glasses is Smith Optics, they have great lenses and they fit me more comfortably than other brands. This piece of equipment is truly a personal choice, try on as many pairs from quality brands as you can and compare them so you can get the best fit. Get a lens color that will be an all around good choice for your style of fishing, I personally love the amber lens as it works well for both fishing and hunting. Again this is a personal choice and your pick may not be the same as mine, just make sure you are happy and you can’t go wrong.
Now the elevated spot to look from is a little more wide open subject. I have seen guys fish or spot fish from the top of their center console to the top of a ladder on the deck, they both get the job done. The only problem with the ladder or the console is they are not comfortable, you need to be an acrobat to hook a fish from there and not take a swim. The traditional casting platform is a much better option for this style of fishing, you can’t believe the things you can see once you change the angle you look from. Now most platforms on small skiffs are on the small side, not much room to move around and you need to pay attention to any sudden movements in the boat. I took all these factors into account when I had a casting platform built and decided to make mine a little larger and much more fishermen friendly. Gary Robertson at Espandre Marine Products designed and built the “Cadillac” version for me and all I can say it’s awesome. The bigger area gives you room to move, fight fish, and not feel like you are balancing on top of a tin can. My clients have been impressed with the comfort so far and I can’t say as I blame them, there is nothing like room to move. The new platform is wide enough that it will accommodate two anglers which makes it perfect to go from my skiff to the deck of my center console bay boat. With a trolling motor extension you can run the trolling motor from the elevated perch and never have to worry about constantly climbing up and down. It really makes fishing much easier and more productive, try it and see.