By: John Callaghan
This time of year your knowledge of your fishing area is going to pay off greatly, predators are less likely to be roaming the flat looking for food, instead they will be holding in comfort zones (as I like to call them) and only moving when necessity demands it, or as more comfortable zone becomes available.
Blind casting can be a fruitless task this time of year, as great areas of a flat will be devoid of fish.
For instance, the deeper pot holes on a flat, channel edges, drop offs will likely be where the fish spend their time waiting for the flat to warm up with the winter sun.
Look for “heat sinks” too, exposed oyster bars, mud flats, dark bottom, sea walls, all of these will absorb heat form the sun during the day and radiate that heat into the water around them. It may only be an increase in a degree or two, but that can make all the difference. Also in winter a slower incoming tide may be better than a quick flooding tide, as the water has more time to absorb the heat energy.
A great tip I received from Capt. Ray Markham is to look for the dying sea grasses. His theory is as the grass decomposes it generates heat and warms the water around it. It’s easy to identify the dark brown grass, often it will be slowly moving with the current similar to tumbleweed. I took Ray’s advice and have caught some nice redfish sitting down in the rotting grass.
In wintertime the fish are still here they are just a little harder to find, but when you do find them the pay off can be big, as those comfort zones can be crowded with fish.
Another good rule of thumb for this time of year is “Go North young man.” By this I mean work the northerly areas of the place you are fishing, the reasons are two fold. Firstly the Northern shore is exposed to more hours of sun light during the day, so will probably be warmer. Secondly the Shoreline should offer some shelter from the colder North winds so the water will not be cooled as quickly, as well as benefiting from any southerly (warmer) breezes.
Of course this not a 100% fail proof plan but its something to bear in mind as you search for fish.
If you study the area you’re fishing, and try to assimilate all theses factors you should be able to identify a “Comfort Zone”.
Another great tool for this time of year is a good submersible thermometer, drop it over the side as you paddle or fish and check the water temps, finding that spot that’s just a little warmer will help steer you toward the fish, or at least to likely fish holding areas.
Be patient this time of year and slow down, if you find a “heat sink” make a note and be there when the tides starts to flood it, hopefully you should be set up and ready to ambush any fish coming into the area.
When it comes to lures for this time of year, a slight change in tactics is required from the summer time.
I still like to throw a Top water lure this time of year, usually a Top Dog or She Dog, I think the bigger bait is more likely to tempt a predator into expending there energy for a good sized meal.
The retrieve, is nothing like the “walking the dog”, quick twitch twitch finger mullet imitating pattern though. It takes a little self-restraint but i like to slow it down drastically. After casting, let the lure sit a while, maybe as much as 10 seconds, then just a make a twitch and sit again for a few seconds. Often i will just rattle the rod tip to make the lure shiver, sending out small ripples without moving forward. Then move it again with just a slow twitch maybe one twitch a second at most, for a short distance and let it sit. It’s a hard habit to break of not reeling and twitching at speed, but if you can master the patience needed, it will work.
The slower presentation that is required to tempt a predator into eating in winter is a sure signal to break out the DOA Shrimp. I prefer to use the ½ oz model in winter, going back to the big bait, bigger temptation theory. Water is generally clearer this time of year due to the lack of algae blooms and other factors, so I will stick to a Night Glow pattern or something with some Chartreuse in it. Work it with a slow retrieve with the occasional sharp pull to hop the shrimp off bottom, then wait and let it settle back on the bottom before retrieving again.
The slow speed needed can be hard for people to learn, a tip I always pass onto first timers, is to forget about trying to reel that slowly. Instead just drag the bait along bottom by slowly moving the rod tip about a foot at a time parallel to the water, not upwards which would lift the bait. Then move the rod tip back toward the bait and slowly take in the slack. Many times the hit will come just as you take up all the slack, as the predator sees its lunch begin to move away. Recognizing the take can be a little harder to, as quite often the fish will eat the bait and not move away, so all you will feel is an increase in resistance on the line. Set that hook as soon as you feel it; lessening the time for the fish to eject the bait. If you pull free without setting the hook, then just let the bait be, sit and wait for it to settle again. You may tempt your quarry into taking a second bite.
Jigs are another good bait for this time of year. As the grasses die off there is less to snags or foul your bait. In Wintertime I prefer curly tail baits to the paddle tails. The Curly tail can be retrieved much slower and still have an enticing action. Once again be prepared to let that bait hit bottom and swim it slowly along, with the occasional jerk and pause, but remember to let it fall before continuing to reel. I favor a pearl, green or chartreuse this time of year to match the clearer water conditions.
This time of year fish are moving less and moving slower, and that is how you need to approach your fishing.
This is one of my favorite times to fish, less people on the water and usually fewer areas need to be covered, to locate the fish.
Once you do find a “Comfort Zone’ take note, it may well be used all winter long.