90 Proof Winter Clear
Capt. Chuck Uzzle
For the Record
Pardon me for just one moment while I steal a line from a great Texas country music drinking song by Roger Creager “It’s the invisible intoxicant….it’s call Everclear”. Ah, the wonders of clear liquid and what it can do to ones senses. Clear liquid doesn’t have to come in a bottle, be a zillion proof, or cost 10 bucks at the bar to do a number on your senses. The water in your nearest bay during the winter months can easily have the same effect. Catch clear water in your favorite fishing spot and you may be subjected to withdrawals, hangovers, and other maladies that plague those who indulge to the point of excess. I can only speak from personal experience and tell you that once you get the chance to watch your fish before, during, and after the strike you will never feel the same again. Upper coast bays that so rarely get the visibility that the lower coast venues thrive on will on occasion get so ridiculously clear that catching fish becomes next to impossible sometimes. That super clear water that happens during the winter months magnifies the need for a stealthy approach, pinpoint casts, and subtle lure presentations. One cannot go barging across a gin clear flat like an overweight water buffalo on a unicycle and hope to achieve the desired result. Quiet and slow is the name of the game when chasing fish in this kind of water where even the most subtle movement could spook a fish that may change your fishing life. The clear stuff demands a different tactic but it also pays out big rewards when done properly.
I can remember the first time I really fished ultra clear winter time water on Sabine Lake like it was just yesterday. Many years ago during a mild January mid week trip I had my eyes opened to just exactly how clear the water could get and I was truly amazed. My clients and I had worked our way south down the lake chasing schools of unmolested gulls as the crowds were no where to be found. One of those fantastic days on the water where the entire lake belonged to just us and nobody else. About 10 o’clock the tide had just about stopped and the fish turned off for the time being so we decided to make a little run to an area that held some structure and hopefully some fish. The big bay boat came down off plane and I marveled at how the prop wash seemed to be so clear. We settled in to a stretch of water that was anywhere from 6 to 8 feet deep and began probing the area with soft plastics. One of my clients had a small back lash that required my attention so I put my rod on the deck and took care of the problem before making another cast. As I worked on the backlash I happened to catch a glimpse of some color in the water and initially paid it no mind. While handing the rod back to the rightful owner I noticed the color again and this time decided to investigate. What I had been seeing were small patches of shell on the bottom in 7 feet of water, I couldn’t believe it. I took my rod and dropped the jig beside the boat and watched as the soft plastic came to rest on the bottom as clear as it could be. After winding up the slack I picked up the jig to judge the depth by how much line was still out and sure enough it was a good 7 feet. That type of visibility is almost unheard of in Sabine Lake and only happens a few times a year so I was more than shocked to see it first hand. The amount of knowledge I gained on that trip by being able to see first hand what the shell looked like and where it was located was invaluable, especially when the normal visibility returned. My clients and I spent the rest of the trip casting jigs to the previously unknown structure and had a marvelous afternoon picking up trout and redfish that we may never had found otherwise.
Fast forward several years ahead, same time of year, same type of water and nearly identical results. My good friend Johnny Cormier and I were prowling around on Lake Calcasieu during a January day in search of a big fish and the species didn’t really matter. We stopped a couple hundred yards from an area where we knew some fish had been hanging around were preparing to make a wade when we started seeing fish laying right next to these scattered shell piles. From our vantage point of the front deck we could see so much better in the water that we decided to forego the wade in favor of a little sight fishing. The majority of the fish we were seeing were upper end slot limit redfish and they were not bothered by our presence at all as they rooted around in search of a meal. It was absolute chaos for quite sometime as we just made long drifts and picked off these fish one by one on a variety of baits. The opportunity to watch these fish and how they reacted to our presentations was eye opening and something very few anglers get the opportunity to witness. One thing we saw was how important the little things were in the clear water. For instance we compared using fluorocarbon leader to not using any at all and it was hands down better fishing with the clear leader material. Another thing that seemed to fit in line with conventional thinking was using a smaller bait. We continuously changed plugs to see how they would work under those conditions and the smaller offerings won the battle. This is very similar to how we attack the same clear water in the summer, a Jr Spook or Spittin Image will often out fish a Super Spook or similar sized plug in that environment. The biggest difference here was being able to actually see the fish and how they reacted, it was incredible.
The winter months are not exactly what you would think of when the subject of clear water comes to mind but trust me when I tell you it’s a mighty good time to check it out. For some reason the water seems to settle out quicker in the winter and the big fronts that empty the bay will help wash away most muddy runoff and usher in clean clear water in its place. The potential to see things you never saw and catch fish in a way that was previously unthinkable is all you need to know to get yourself out there and see it for yourself. It’s well worth the time and effort to witness one of the coolest things you will see on the water or in the water.