How Cold Is Too Cold For Fishermen
Capt. Mike Rector of Bridge City emailed me a picture of his 11-year old son and fishing partner, Preston, maneuvering through the ice in his kayak. It only made me colder looking at the picture, but it was an opportunity that thankfully does not occur very often on the bayou and Preston was not going to let it pass him by.
The picture was taken in a slip off of Cow Bayou and the layer of ice on the deeper water was a bad indicator for any fish that failed to evacuate the shallow flats last week. The bigger problem lies in the fact that it did not warm up enough during the day for the ice to completely thaw in some areas.
Hopefully, Mother Nature will leave the door ajar on the freezer and everything will thaw out this week. Aside from being down right uncomfortable, fishermen up and down the Texas coast feared the worst for any game fish trapped in shallow water.
We have been through this before, but as of Sunday evening, duck hunters and a handful of local anglers had not reported any significant numbers of dead fish. The fact that we eased into ice box conditions, rather than having the bottom drop out over night, gave the fish an opportunity to retreat to deeper waters. The proximity of the deeper and safer refuge is the key to survival for everything from the smallest mullet to the larger trout and reds during extended freezes.
Amazingly enough, the bite will recover much quicker than you would think once the surface temperatures climb back into the upper 40’s. The fish will not chase their next meal for any extended period of time and the strike itself is generally very subtle, but there will be a bite to be had.
At least a portion of the subtle strike factor can be directly attributed to the angler’s numb fingers more so than the fish. Fingerless gloves and hand warmers help, but the condensation whirling off the spool on each cast seeks out any exposed skin. Even winning the battle with a trophy trout while wading means that at some point you are going to have to get at least one hand wet in order to remove the hooks.
The warmer alternative for cold weather anglers that just have to fish is to stay in the dryer confines of the boat and probe deeper water for isolated schools of fish. The bites may be equally slow and subtle, but once you locate these fish it can simply be a matter of getting the bait or lure down to them.
For years, area anglers flocked to the warmer outfall canals during freezing weather to cash in on the phenomenal redfish bite. The fish would stack up in these areas strictly because of the warmer temperatures as would smaller bait fish and catching involved little more than dressing warmly and getting there first.
While the water is obviously not as warm at any depth in the ICW or one of the rivers, it is still warm enough to hold concentrations of suspended fish waiting on a better day to invade the shallows. The key word here is “suspended” as more often than not, the warmest water is not right on the bottom and the fish will hold at depths of 20 to 25 feet in much deeper water.
Unless you wish to entrust any possibility of success to pure luck, you will need to keep your eyes glued to your depth finder while idling over structure breaks such as points or drop offs near the mouths of major cuts exiting the marsh. If you are unsure as to what the clutter is on the screen, stop and check it out. At the very least it is probably a school of bait fish and that is a piece of the puzzle.
Vertical jigging so that you can control your depth is a very good technique. My first choice of lures is a Hoginar followed by a 4-inch Assassin Sea Shad rigged on a 3/8th ounce head and tipped with a piece of GULP. A braided line for this type fishing is almost as important as your depth finder.
While it has been unseasonably cold of late, winter fishing at best is a slow process. Pack more energy food than you will eat, add an extra change of dry clothes including rain gear to eliminate spray when running, and wear your lifejacket. As for me, it is much warmer inside the Reliant Center in Houston so I think I’ll just visit with other fishermen at the Boat Show this week.