Finding a new approach to cold weather fishing
In all the major bay systems along the Texas gulf coast, die hard big trout hunters are licking their lips in anticipation of finding that one truly big speckled trout of a lifetime. The late fall and winter months are regarded as the best times to pursue real wall hanger size trout, and here on Sabine lake, we are no different. In the past couple of years, we have seen some amazing things come our way to change the way we as anglers looked at fishing.
Some or most of these ideas are not for everybody. They involve more than your fair share of empty grueling hours in less than ideal conditions so beware and be prepared. I am not by any means trying to persuade anyone not to try this type of fishing; I am only being honest about what kind of effort it takes to reap rewards that were long thought impossible for our lake. I will promise you this though, if you try these tactics and experience even minor success, you will understand how addictive this whole process can be.
Fishing in the winter months, after the gulls seem to have left for vacation and the shrimp have all but disappeared, means you must do a couple of important things in order to be successful. Finding the warmest water in your area and finding baitfish such as mullet in that area is a great sign. According to Parks and Wildlife studies, water temperatures in the 60 to 80 degree range are the best for catching speckled trout. During the winter months as the surface temps dip into the low 50’s it is a must to slow your presentations and possibly offer up a little bigger bait. Tried and true late winter and early spring producers like Corkies and Catch V’s should be in every fisherman’s tackle box as well as a few others that don’t get quite as much recognition.
In years past I have really become a fan of the stick baits or shallow divers like the Rapala X Rap or Yozuri Minnows. A new plug that has really made a nice showing is the Rapala X Rap Sub Walk; it has great hardware and is super easy to work.
This plug is designed to be able to walk the dog under water and seduce those finicky fish that won’t come to the surface. In all of the sessions that I have thrown the new Sub X I have been impressed, as have my clients. I am anxious to see how it compares to other sub surface offerings during the winter. If the summer is any indicator, then the new Sub X will do very well.
Winter fishing always invites the heated debate between waders and drifters, which method is better and who catches more fish. Wading is one of those techniques where you either “love it or hate it”, some fishermen cannot stand the work involved or the cold water temps, while others thrive under these conditions. All I can tell you is to try it out and see for yourself. The results are often worth effort.
Now don’t get me wrong wading is not the “end all be all” technique that will guarantee you success; it will at certain times appear that way. There is nothing cooler than watching anglers in a boat continue to try to get into an area where you are catching fish and their boat won’t go. You can just see the frustration every time you land a fish.
If wadefishing proves not to be something you are willing to pursue don’t worry. You can drift over the scattered shell reefs on the lake and still have a good shot at catching that big fish. The same baits that work for waders will also catch big fish from a boat, provided you take a few things into consideration. Noise and boat control are tops on the list of factors that will determine success or failure.
Careful anglers know that slamming hatches and dropping gear on the floor of a boat can spook fish and quickly turn a prime area into a virtual ghost town. Also setting up on one of these areas takes careful planning and the right gear, a Power Pole or Stake Out Stick is a great way to position your boat in order to fish an area more thoroughly. Those people who think you can’t catch big fish from a boat need to re-think that statement because with a little effort you can certainly score that fish of a lifetime without having to get wet or wade.
As the mercury dips down outside as well as on the water, don’t let that stop you from fishing just be prepared. February on the Texas gulf coast can be down-right brutal with all the rank weather we receive at this time of the year. Bone chilling winds coupled with humid overcast days can make even the toughest fisherman wish for a warm spot in the truck and hot cup of coffee. As the temperatures outside sag down near freezing, most anglers take precautions and wear the best foul weather gear they can get their hands on.
Nobody forgets to grab that windproof jacket or the thermal underwear because those are no brainers. The one piece of outerwear that nearly every fisherman does without is the most important, a life jacket. Yes, I am just as guilty as the next guy when it comes to not wearing a PFD, (Personal Floatation Device) but that has changed. And I will tell you why.
Several years ago, I met a guy who became one of my best friends; I actually took him on his first real saltwater trip into Sabine lake as well as many trips to Toledo Bend. This guy took to the sport of fishing like there was no tomorrow, and he got pretty good at it along the way. Before too long he purchased a boat and was fishing every chance he got, mostly in Sabine lake because it was close to home. He figured out some of the subtleties of the sport and seemed to understand how to fish and where to go. He had found his hobby.
During one stretch of winter months my friend, who mostly fished by himself, made what appeared to be another normal trip out on the bay. The weather was a little rougher than he liked it, so he decided to head for a protected shoreline on the east side of the lake. Now if you have ever been on Sabine Lake, you know there is little traffic in the wide open middle part of the lake, especially on choppy days.
Now my friend is making his way across the lake as best he can considering the waves and direction of the wind. All was going according to plan until he had motor trouble, which was the first problem. As the boat stalled out and drifted helpless against the conditions, it was just a matter of time before he started taking waves over the transom. It was just minutes until the boat began to stand nose up sink. Can you imagine the feeling?
Within minutes the boat was completely capsized and floating miles from any shore with my friend clinging to the bow eye for dear life. Now mind you this is winter and the water temps are low 50’s so you can just visualize the shock his system has just gone through. While telling me his story, he said he really thought he might die before someone came to help, either from drowning or hypothermia.
Some 30 minutes into the horrifying ordeal he spotted a crabber nearby running his traps, calling to him did no good as he was just too far away. That must have been tough to see help so close yet so far away. After another 20 minutes in the water, his prayers were answered as two men in another boat happened to see him as they were headed back to the dock. The kind strangers gave him a slicker suit to put on and rushed him back to the dock to seek medical attention at the coast guard station.
A warm shower, cup of coffee, and dry clothes were welcome reminders that he had reached dry land and indeed was safe. Every time we fish together I thank the big fisherman upstairs for those two men who saved my friend’s life.
That story really hits home when it’s someone you know and realize that just as easily could have been me or you. Now I agree that the old style PFD’s were uncomfortable and bulky, that’s why nobody wanted to wear them. In the past I was guilty of only wearing one if I had my son Hunter in the boat with me instead of wearing one all the time. With all the new styles of PFD’s out there, you can surely find one that suits you, I have fallen in love with the suspender style models that can inflate on their own or can be inflated manually. They are comfortable and easy to fish in, which means they are less of a hassle to wear.
In addition to the PFD, it’s a great idea to add some sort of signaling device to the PFD, like a whistle. The sound of a whistle can be heard much farther that your voice, especially if you have been screaming for a while or get cold. I have waded with anglers who wear just such a set up and it has many helpful uses. I know one fisherman who used the whistle to signal for help when he got stuck by a ray and couldn’t walk. Just something to think about next time you head on the water.