Winter fishing and deep water … not for the faint of heart
My first real deal saltwater experience was some 20 years ago; my neighbor Chris Gunn and I bundled up like “Michelin” men and took off for the Sabine River. Chris was a veteran angler who loved to fish the Sabine, especially in the winter when the redfish were ganged up. The 17-foot aluminum boat offered little in the way of a break from the elements unless you actually lay down in the floor; a coin toss usually determined who stayed warm and who got the unenviable task of driving. The ride down the river culminated at an intersection where the old river made a big bend near Conway’s bayou and the old ship graveyard. The deep water held all manner of life, big redfish and black drum, largemouth bass and stripers, and the occasional speckled trout. Our target was always redfish and our weapon was always the trusty Rat-L-Trap, we would crank these baits until we couldn’t crank anymore. The object of the drill was to cover as much water as possible and it didn’t make any difference what depth, fish until you got bit and then fish that water some more.
As the seasons wore on we perfected our techniques and began to concentrate on deeper water, usually around some structure. The deep water pattern paid big dividends and we enjoyed some outstanding days on the water despite the terrible conditions. The thump of a wide shouldered redfish at near freezing temperatures was unmistakable, even to cold numb hands. Once we located the fish we generally were able to catch several more from the same area, these fish got to be almost predictable. I still remember my first redfish, a hyped up 9 pounder who smashed a gold “trap” and forever changed the way I thought about fishing. To this day I still fish some of the same water where I started and the patterns still hold true, those fish gang up in deep water and only those who go looking for them ever find them.
Deep water fishing is a mystery to most inshore saltwater anglers, once you get to about 8 feet most folks get lost and start looking for a shoreline somewhere to beat up. The shallow stuff is great and everybody wants to “get ‘em in the skinny stuff” if they can, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen. The biggest problem that most anglers have when fishing deep water is developing confidence, the shallow water approach has been so hammered into our psyche that we almost don’t know any other way to go about chasing fish. Believe me when I say this “if you can master deep water you can fish without crowds more than the folks who stay shallow”, now if that doesn’t get your attention I don’t know what will.
Several techniques can be used to fish the deeper stuff and they are not that hard to grasp, the month of December is a perfect to try them. Take advantage of your electronics and find a break in the depth or some underwater structure that should offer fish a place to get out of the current and ambush prey. Crankbaits like the Rat-L-Trap and Hoginar are perfect for probing these areas. The crankbaits are easy to feel and stay in contact with even at increased depths. Another good method comes from the bass fishing world, the dropshot rig. This rig consists of a soft plastic rigged several feet above a weight, the hook is tied on with a palomar knot and the depth of the weight is adjustable. By having the weight on the bottom you feel the strike much more effectively, you present the rig in vertical fashion and just shake the line. This works well when fishing deep shell, the ability to put the lure in front of suspended fish and draw strikes is a real bonus.
The month of December will certainly bring us our fair share of cold weather and that will make for some excellent opportunities for those who dare to brave the elements. Take special care to wear a PFD, especially when the temperatures start dropping because hypothermia is real danger if you hit that water wrong. December will see the crowds thin out and there will be more opportunities for the hard core fishermen, if the weather gets bad don’t discount the deep water pattern because you can almost always find some fishable water. Take care, be safe, and have a great holiday season.