Colder weather is a game changer
Winter unexpectedly crashed the party Friday night abruptly putting an end to the seemingly endless run of humid days that we were forced to designate as Fall.
We were fishing in shorts one day and scrambling for any piece of clothing thicker than a windbreaker the following morning. By the time Tuesday morning rolled around, rain gear and thermal underwear were in order as well.
At least from a fishing stand point, the colder weather wasn’t all good as the arrival of the cold front ended a great week of catching by driving any angler with even a smidgen of sanity off the water for a few days. I can’t say for certain that the excellent bite shut down as I am just not mad enough at the fish to endure the cold and rain to find out!
I truly hate to fish in a big wind, but having cold rain water pounding any exposed flesh tends to minimize one’s ability to focus on the task at hand. In other words, I find it more and more difficult to summon up the courage to freeze my butt off for one big trout with each passing year.
If last week was an indication of what we have to look forward to this winter, however, I am more than ready to get back on the water as soon as possible. The big trout were starting to find their way up on the shallow flats bordering the ICW and good numbers of three to four pound trout were there as well.
We dealt with a pretty stiff wind much of the week and both my Talon and drift socks spent as much time in the water as our lures, but the bite was worthy of the extra effort. While the lake has gotten a lot of pressure recently due to the decent bite under the gulls, that will not be the case due to the increased number of cold nasty days through early March. In spite of the potential for occasionally experiencing a memorable trip, the guaranteed discomfort is just not for everyone!
Slowing your retrieve to a snail’s pace while grinding away with numb fingers works on the fish, but is counterproductive as far as generating added body heat in an attempt to ward off hypothermia. Talons and Power poles help by making it possible to remain in the boat and fish a small area more efficiently, not to mention not having to deal with cold water sloshing over the top of your waders.
As a guide I still have to carry a crazy number of lures, but the mandatory arsenal is still greatly reduced this time of the year. You are in the hunt each trip with your choice of suspending lures in only two or three colors, a handful of 5-inch tails and few of your most trusted topwaters. Once the surface temperature dips below fifty degrees I seldom if ever break out the topwaters. A floating Fat Boy can be fished in lieu of a topwater and double as a suspended lure by simply inserting a small piece of lead in the body cavity.
Corky Fat Boys and Maniac Mullets get the first nod for soft Mullet imitations with Catch V’s and MirrOdine Xl’s my first choices in hard bodied suspending lures. I prefer 5 inch paddle tails in the winter and can usually get it done with an Assassin Diedapper or a TTF Flats Minnow XL. The wild card is the Usual Suspect Swim Bait and the fish seem to prefer the 4-inch model in cold weather.
The alternative to scouring the shallow flats for the trout of your lifetime is to shift gears 180 degrees and vertically jig the same lures on the 15 to 18 foot breaks bordering the Intracoastal and river. It is generally a much slower bite, but I have caught a larger percentage of my heaviest trout using this technique. Success is critical to understanding the data scrolling across your depth finder screen when idling along these breaks.
If all of this doesn’t make you want to run to the garage and round up all of your cold weather gear tonight then the chances are good that you are still mentally competent. I’ll see the rest of you on the water!
Hopefully, the picture will be included with this week’s column as I had the pleasure of recently watching Karlan Babineaux and his dad, Walter, tag team a bull red that should have long ago left for the Gulf. They were anchored up on a point bordering the marsh and I initially thought that age may be catching up with Walter when he handed his rod over to Karlan after several minutes of tug of war.
Karlan was ready to give it back by the time they finally slid the net under a beast of a redfish. The day before, I caught only the tail end of their struggle with a huge drum, but Karlan said that he knew early on that this was no black drum. It took both of them to land it and both of them to hold it up for a photograph before releasing it. Neither of them will ever forget sharing that experience. After catching his breath, Karlan patted his dad on the back and said, “This is as good as it gets!”
Walter and Karlan Babineaux tag-teamed this huge red!