KDEN Lures has spent countless hours developing the perfect swim bait, designed to meet the demands of any fisherman. The Blazin’ Shad paddle tail swim bait is available in 4’’ and 5’’ models with a variety of color options to meet any condition. All KDEN Lures swim baits are made in Texas using a revolutionary plastic formula that produces one of the strongest, most durable swim baits on the market. The ribbed V shaped belly design paired with a unique paddle tail creates amazing vibration and life like action while being pulled across the water.
FOREVERLAST Flats Wading Boots – New and improved for 2019 our Flats Predator Wading boots provide a comfort fit while bare foot wading or with stocking foot waders. Now with 6 ports the strain and drain system will not allow rocks and debris to enter and lets water out keeping them lightweight and the EVA material provides comfort fit while hard sole provides traction and stability over structure. www.foreverlast.com
LAGUNA MADRE CLOTHING CO. “Taking Flight” Fishing Shirt – Always at the dock at the right time. A familiar sight of all coastal anglers. “Taking Flight”, by award winning watercolor artist Leslie McDonald, Jr. on our UPF 50 Performance Shirt. Flip to page 40 to read our interview with the artist. www.lagunamadreclothing.com
Shimano Stradic – The new Stradic FK utilizes Shimano’s latest technology while drawing on ways of the past. Hagane cold forged drive gear gear combined with X-Ship provides a smooth, powerful and durable reel. The sleek G-Free body provides a better weight balance to reduce fatigue. Every part has been designed to improve the anglers experience on the water. www.fish.shimano.com
Lifeguard Lanyard – Effective Sept. 1st, Kali’s Law requires boaters operating a vessel under 26’ to wear an engine kill switch lanyard. Tournament redfish anglers, Marty Simmons and Keith McBride from St. Augustine, FL designed this kill switch lanyard with safety and comfort while operating your vessel in mind. The Lifeguard Lanyard can be worn on your right or left ankle or wrist and is designed to stay clear of the steering wheel and other components. Our mission is to promote boater safety awareness by making the Lifeguard Lanyard a part of your day on the water. Available at Fishing Tackle Unlimited, Matagorda Tackle Shop, and Rockport Tackle Town. www.lifeguardlanyard.com
Laguna Salt Custom Rods – Laguna Salt Custom Rods is a family owned company where everyone plays a part into each rod that is built. Once the order is made, owner and rod builder, Michael Garza, will stay in direct contact with the buyer to ensure the components and colors are perfect. All blanks are American made and all other components are ordered in the USA. The buyer can choose any length they want their customized rod to be, choose the type of guides, grips, reel seats and colors they desire. Laguna Salt will even personalize any type of brand, name or company into the rod as well. The imagination is unlimited when it comes to the types and colors of wraps Mike and his family can personalize the rod with. A series of questions will be asked to ensure the right rod is being made for the type of fishing the buyer does. The rod featured to the right is a St. Croix SCV model 7’0” Medium Light/Fast Action rod with Cherry Picked cork rings, Fuji SIC guides and Fuji reel seat. The rod color and wrap were customized to the buyers’ wants. firstname.lastname@example.org
D.O.A. Lures Swimmin’ Mullet – The D.O.A. 5” Swimmin’ Mullet is a great cast and crank lure. The single upright hook allows you to get the lure down in the strike zone without snagging anything but the fish. Featured color above is 318 Chart/Silver Glitter. Made in the USA. www.doalures.com
Capt. Bartt Caron and myself doubled-up on slot redfish while drifitng Land Cut. D.O.A. 3” C.A.L. Shad Tail in 350 Purple/Chartreuse and 4” C.A.L. Jerk Bait in 455 Texas Croaker. Photo: Brian Barrera
UPPER LAGUNA MADRE – BAFFIN BAY – LAND CUT
By Kelly Groce
Bill Carson of Humminbird, was all smiles and laughs while catching trout on D.O.A. 4” C.A.L. Jerk Bait in 455 Texas Croaker. Photo: Kelly Groce
Early in April, I got a call from talented fishing guide, surfer and all around waterman, Capt. Joey Farah, that reminded me of one of my favorite songs by Texas country singer, Gary P. Nunn, “Meet Me Down in Corpus.” Joey invited me to fish the Upper Laguna Madre area with D.O.A. Fishing Lures for their spring Outdoor Writers Event. Baffin Bay and Land Cut are places that I’ve dreamed of fishing for quite awhile and these writers events are always a blast, so without hesitation I was in.
Let me familiarize you with the Land Cut if you don’t know already. Land Cut is a 25-mile stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway between Padre Island and Port Mansfield. On one side you have the Padre Island National Seashore and on the other side is the Kenedy Ranch. It’s a beautiful and remote area that takes about an hour by boat to get to. The fishing is phenomenal there and without a doubt one of the prettiest stretches of the Texas coast I’ve laid eyes on.
My fishing buddies for the event were Bill Carson, Field Marketing Manager of Humminbird, and Capt. Brian Barrera, D.O.A. Fishing Lures’ Manager of Marketing and Business Development, and a fishing guide on South Padre Island that specializes in catching snook and tarpon. Our fishing guide was Capt. Bartt Caron. Bartt is an extremely knowledgeable big trout fisherman that knows the Upper Laguna Madre like the back of his hand. When he speaks about fishing, you listen. Bartt owns a beautiful 25’ Haynie Bigfoot with a 350HP Mercury on the back. That thing hauls ‘tater!
Not only does Capt. Brian Barrera like throwing a D.O.A. Bait Buster in 372 Pearl/Green/Red Chin, but trout like eating it too. Photo: Kelly Groce
DAY 1 OF FISHING
When I say a front blew in that morning, I mean a front blew in that morning. There were wind gusts up to 53 mph and it was raining sideways by 5:15 a.m. After the front passed, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and everyone met at Marker 37 Marina, which is on Padre Island right beside the JFK Causway.
Bartt, Bill, Brian and myself loaded up the boat and ran towards the King Ranch Shoreline. Bartt threw out the drift sock and we started doing some pretty fast drifts since the wind was still howling in the 30mph range. We fished hard til about 4:30 p.m. Everyone caught fish, but Bill was on top of the leader board catching some chunky trout throughout the breezy day. The 4” C.A.L. Jerk Bait in 455 Texas Croaker was definitely the ticket.
That evening back at the condo, we all congregated around as Capt. Joey Farah and Capt. Braeden Thomas fried some drum, redfish, and trout from the day’s fishing trips. Bill Carson made his famous key lime pie for us, which was a real treat. It’s always a good time talking and hanging out with the D.O.A. crew; Mark Nichols, Ed Zyak, Brian Barrera, Ruby Delgado, and Taylor Garcia. Also in good company was Cindy Nguyen, Johnny Lu, Taylor Winzeler, Robert Sloan, Dustin Cartrett, Bartt Caron, Bill Blodgett, Andrew Lassiter, Rocky Guerra and his wife Silver.
Good Friday was a perfect morning of fishing. Photo: Kelly Groce
Capt. Bartt Caron with a healthy Land Cut trout caught on a 3” C.A.L. Shad Tail in 350 Purple/Chartreuse. Photo: Kelly Groce
DAY 2 OF FISHING
Good Friday was blissful with warm temps and blue skies. Everyone was at Marker 37 Marina by 6:15 a.m. Red Bull, cold beer, D.O.A. lures, great people – check! We got to Land Cut in no time, thanks to Capt. Bartt’s Haynie, and began our drift. Since Land Cut is part of the ICW, it has shallow flats on each side with a drop off to about 12 feet of water in the middle. I was positioned at the back of the boat and started working my 4” C.A.L. Texas Croaker Jerk Bait on a 1/4 oz. D.O.A. jig head on the flats through grass and patches of sand. Before long I was hooked up on a slot redfish. Bartt and Brian were both sticking some nice trout where the flat dropped off to deeper water. They were using the 3” C.A.L. Shad Tail in Purple/Chartreuse and 4” C.A.L. Jerk Bait in Texas Croaker. We drifted for 2 hours and steadily caught nice fish. At one point Bartt and myself doubled up on slot redfish. It doesn’t get much more fun that that. Capt. Bartt also scored a bonus flounder shortly after. We got to a slough where Bart caught a solid trout. Brian switched up to a D.O.A. Bait Buster in 372 Pearl/Green/Red Chin. I took photos and watched the guys as they caught trout back-to-back and had double hookups. Bartt finished the day off with an upper slot redfish that we all watched charge at a 3” C.A.L. Shad Tail in Purple/Chartruese on the flats. Seeing the wake from a hungry redfish is always a cool sight to see.
Another guide on the trip, Capt. Braeden Thomas, invited everyone to meet at his family’s fishing cabin on Baffin Bay. We pull up to the dock and I’m looking at a piece of Texas paradise. Joey and Braeden gave me a tour of his place that has been in the family for over 80 years. It was like a time warp to the 50’s inside. Old fishing lures, maps, catch of the day photos, and all types of other nautical nick-knacks covered the ceiling and walls. I’ve never seen a place more perfect in all of my life. From inside the cabin you can see the crystal clear water of Baffin Bay through the windows. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon than at Braeden’s fishing cabin.
This fishing cabin, overlooking the pristine waters of Baffin Bay, has been in Capt. Braeden Thomas’ family for over 80 years. Photo: Kelly Groce
Our delicious meal prepared by Chef Jeff at Fishtales Bar & Grill at Marker 37 Marina. Photo: Kelly Groce
Cindy Nguyen, Ruby Delgado and myself ended the day at Fishtales Bar & Grill at Marker 37 Marina. It was very nice walking straight off the boat to a restaurant on the water. We enjoyed a cold Modelo and conversated as Chef Jeff prepared our post-fishing meal. Chef Jeff graduated from Johnson & Wales College, which is one of the leading culinary institutions in the country and he has 30 years of culinary experience. He prepared grilled Gulf shrimp over basmati rice with baby spinach topped with a rich cilantro butter sauce and fresh roma tomatos in addition with a side of lemon scented asparagus and guacamole with lump crab topped with perfectly fried tortilla strips. I was blown away by the aromas and colors from my plate. It was almost too pretty to eat. But I did and it was the best post-fishing meal I have ever had. Delicious food combined with a view of the Upper Laguna Madre, your best buds, and a cold beverage is about all you can ask for after a day of fishing.
My first fish of the day and it was a pretty one. Photo: Brian Barrera
I want to give a big thanks to Joey Farah for the invitation to the D.O.A. Lures Outdoor Writers Event. Thank you for the great memories while testing these fish-catching lures in your backyard. Next time we’re surfing too! I’m forever grateful to Mark Nichols, Ed Zyak, Brian Barrera, and Ruby Delgado of D.O.A., you guys are amazing. Also, thank you Taylor Winzeler from Laguna Madre Clothing Co. for supplying us with top notch fishing apparel. As for Chef Jeff and Marker 37 Marina, I can’t say enough good things about how well they treated us. I will be back soon!
The weather is only getting better and the Upper Laguna Madre fishery is phenomenal, so if you would like to fish this area, contact any of these knowledgable and upstanding guides; Capt. Joey Farah, Capt. Bartt Caron, Capt. Braeden Thomas and Capt. Andrew Lassiter.
Fishtales Bar & Grill at Marker 37 Marina is the perfect place to enjoy a meal by Chef Jeff after a day on the water. Photos: Kelly Groce
Capt. Steve Soule caught this nice red while fly fishing with Capt. Clay Daniel Sheward.
Spring on the upper Texas coast brings warming temperatures, to both air and water. We have longer daylight periods and typically much more sunshine, accompanied by vigorous winds and choppy bays. It also is the time when multiple food sources return to our bay waters and shallows, flowing new life into areas of the bays that may have seemed desolate and devoid of life during the winter. The combination of springtime transitional patterns and occurrences can, and often do, confuse and complicate the plans of bay anglers.
This time of the year, we are still in a back and forth battle with passing cold fronts and swinging temperatures, though the greater trend is warming. With this in mind, we often have to change plans based on temperature. It is key to remember that as air temperatures drop below those of the water, fish will tend to move slightly deeper, and as air warms to temperatures greater than water, they tend to move shallow. This is in part due to the comfort level of the predators, but to an even larger degree, this pattern has to do with following their food sources.
Let’s throw in a little twist to this generalization. The bottom make up of the bay areas that you fish can also play a large role in temperature as well as comfort and availability of food sources for predators. Soft or darker colored mud bottom, especially in relatively shallow water will warm faster on sunny days. This can create comfort zones for both bait species and predators alike. So, as much as we watch temperatures, we also need to be aware of the amount of sun and bay floor make up to help focus our efforts on productive areas.
The longer days in spring trigger spawning activity for many species of fish.
Photo period is an often overlooked part of transitional periods throughout the year. Photo period, the number of hours of daylight versus night, triggers many things beyond the obvious additional heating of the water temperature. It’s well known that this is one of the triggers for spawning periods of fish. It also plays a large role in the timing of baitfish and other prey species returning to various areas of the bays. Coincidental timing I suppose, but since most all plant life requires sunlight to grow, its a well timed natural occurrence for the return or emergence of many of the smaller fish and crustaceans right when their food sources become more prevalent. Here’s an interesting thought about photo period and longer hours of daylight during spring. Even at the same daily temperature, longer days will yield greater warming than shorter days. This helps with the overall warming trend even on days when temps aren’t significantly warmer, purely because of the extended hours of daylight.
COMPARING SPRING & FALL
Keeping in mind that this is a transitional season, spring is one that requires more patience compared to fall. During our fall transition, the bays are at the peak of life, with numerous prey species readily available and in abundance. Much of the activity in fall centers around the mass migrations and attempted exodus from the shallows first,and then from deeper waters. Because the triggers for feeding are falling temperature, photo period decrease and changes in wind and tide, the ensuing patterns become fairly predictable.
In spring, things just don’t happen all at once. There are many factors that affect the return of bait species, and unfortunately, they don’t all happen at the same time. There are counter forces that can slow and change the timing of when they occur. With many of the returning species of bait, we are dependent on favorable offshore conditions along with onshore wind flow to bring them into the bays. Some, on the other hand must move to more open water from deeper inland, in creeks and bayous. Timing and location of these events is different every year.
In spring, wind plays a huge role in many ways. Wind can have an obvious effect on the location and supply of many smaller prey animals. As much as heavy south or southeast winds can make our fishing days challenging, these are much needed to speed the return of many offshore species to the bays. Even though the exact timing and amount of any given species hitting certain areas of the bays is very unpredictable, there are some things we can count on nearly every year.
The gulf passes and outlets will be the first to see many species and typically in the greatest quantities. Shortly after, the adjacent shorelines and nearby structures will gradually blossom with new life. Similarly, the upper reaches of the bays will begin to see an increase in bait flows that seek slightly higher salinities returning from low salinity areas up creeks and bayous. These are great starting points in our search for fish, knowing that these areas will consistently have the earliest increases in food supply for the predators that we seek.
Beyond the challenges of finding fish, springtime winds can make fishing unpleasant, difficult and often unsafe. Some quick thoughts on wind; how it effects fish and anglers when it comes to deciding where to fish. Logic tells us that wind can move many of the small species, especially when it works in unison with tides. Winds can drive schools of small bait to wind blown shorelines, and make movement or escape from predators very difficult. This can and will create something of a buffet line for predators who can more easily move and prey upon small species.
These shorelines are often overlooked, and some days they should be for safety. North and west shorelines that see the brunt of the spring winds are great under moderate wind days and days following hard onshore wind flows. On the days that the winds are just too high to fish these areas, it makes much more sense to fish protected shores. Again, look for the shorelines and areas that are nearer to gulf passes or upper reaches of the bays where creek flows will deposit concentrations of food.
Keep in mind that spring winds often can create more than just a comfort problem for anglers, but often a safety concern, making certain areas just not worth the effort or risk to fish.
Topwaters and plugs that imitate mullet are good choices at the start of spring. Downsize to smaller lures later in spring when predators are keying in on newly hatched baitfish.
LURES FOR SPRING
I couldn’t talk this much about springtime transition and food sources without mentioning what types of lures to throw and some timing aspects to consider. This is one of the best times to fish bigger mullet imitations, especially topwater baits, but you will often need to be patient to find success. Timing is often the key here, tides and moon position can make a big difference in getting bites.
As much as I would love to do nothing but throw topwater lures, some days you have to scale down and get lower in the water column to get bites. If you find yourself surrounded by smaller baitfish, it can be well worth the time to try some small plastic swimming tails on lighter jig heads. There are also times when only very light or natural colored baits work when all else fails. Matching the hatch isn’t always necessary but getting close to the size can help.
Something else fun to try during spring are lipped twitch baits, like those from Rapala and Bomber. The erratic darting action and slow rise or suspension on the pause can often be the trigger to get stubborn fish to bite.
Though spring can present challenges in many ways, it can bring equal rewards for those who pull together the many puzzle pieces. Watching tides and winds and planning accordingly can put you in the midst of schools of fish hungrily feasting on ever increasing supplies of small food.
Be prepared to adjust your plans, be thorough in your search and coverage of areas. If you are in an area that you feel sure there are fish, don’t be afraid to stick around and adjust your tactics. Some days a lure change can make all the difference.
Don’t let failure in one spot prevent you from trying other areas, and make great notes about areas that are showing abundant food. Many times the food sources will show before the predators, and knowing this will provide you with great fishing areas to return to later.
This beautiful Lower Laguna Madre trout couldn’t resist the D.O.A. 4″ C.A.L. Jerkbait in Candy Corn.
By Kelly Groce
Back in August of 2018, I was in Port Aransas celebrating my father’s birthday for the weekend. On Sunday, I decided to drop some Gulf Coast Mariner Magazines at local businesses, one of them being Port “A” Outfitters. I see a man walking down the stairs who I know is Mark Nichols, the creator and owner of D.O.A. Lures. I’ve always been a huge fan of his lures, especially that dang shrimp. He’s walking right by my car so I have to say something.
“Excuse me, are you the D.O.A. man?”
“I sure am.” Mark responds.
We shake hands and chat about fishing in Stuart, Fla. where he resides. I hand him a copy of the magazine before we part ways. My day was made.
Fast forward a few months… it’s just another day at the office here in Seabrook. The phone rings and Christmas came early. Capt. Brian Barrera, who is a fishing guide and also works for D.O.A. Lures called to invite me to their 2018 Outdoor Writers Event in South Padre for four days. Without hesitation, I said I’ll be there.
The day of the trip comes, I’m listening to the Bite Me: Texas Saltwater Fishing podcast for the majority of the drive down (if you don’t listen to this podcast, you should) and daydreaming about drifting clear water with grass and sand pockets as far as the eye can see. I’ve been to South Padre three or four times prior, but it was always to go surf, never to fish.
The view every morning before we took off for a full day of fishing and fun.
I pull up to home base for the next few days, which is a beautiful house right on the pristine waters of the Lower Laguna Madre. When I walk in, I’m immediately greeted by D.O.A. Lures employee/local fishing guide/fish slayer Capt. Brian Barrera (if catching Texas snook and tarpon is on your fishing bucket list, Brian is your guy). As I’m relaxing and meeting fascinating people from all over the country and the industry, Mark pulls up by boat (of course he had been fishing the next canal over, catching redfish and trout). I see Mark and say “Remember me from the Port “A” Outfitters parking lot?”
He says, “Of course I do, welcome!”
The sun starts to set and a delicious feast of authentic pastor and beef tacos are being cooked on the deck overlooking the water by local restaurant, Mr. Taco. We are given D.O.A. Kits that contain their family of lures such as TerrorEyz, Swimmin’ Mullet, Shrimp, Jerk Bait, Shad, Paddle Tails and more. Capt. Brian informs everyone who their fishing guide would be for the next day, we talk a little longer and eventually everyone makes their way to bed.
DAY 1 OF FISHING
Cup of coffee… check. Breakfast taco… check. Camera and fishing gear… check. I walk downstairs and there waiting for us is a fleet of boats, mostly Shallow Sports, to take us fishing for the day. I had the pleasure of going out with local guide and super nice guy, Capt. Joel Ramos. My fishing partner was Tommy Thomson, regional sales manager at Shimano. The weather is perfect, a little overcast with a high of 75 degrees. We drive for about 30 minutes, then Capt. Joel Ramos stops, shuts off the motor and says we’re going to do a drift here. It is just what I imagined… as far as you can see clear water spotted with sand pockets and grass. I started throwing D.O.A. Lures 4” C.A.L. Jerk Bait in one of their newer colors Texas Croaker. It doesn’t take long and we all start catching trout cast after cast. Capt. Joel hooked up onto a pretty 22” trout on the 4” C.A.L. Jerk Bait in Candy Corn. It appeared, the fish liked the contrast of that bright orange lure color. The night before, we were given some D.O.A. 3” C.A.L. Shad Tails in a new color that is not yet named. It’s a brown with gold flake top with a pearl colored bottom. I switched to this bait and caught a few decent trout on that lure as well. Tommy threw on the D.O.A. topwater, the PT-7 (featured on the cover) and had a huge trout blow-up on it, that was pretty exciting. The PT-7 is a fun topwater to work with a lot of action. Capt. Joel wanted to get us on some reds next, so we went to a real shallow spot along a shoreline. I stuck with the 4” C.A.L. Jerk Bait in Texas Croaker, and Capt. Joel stuck with the 4” C.A.L. Jerk Bait in Candy Corn. 22 was Cap. Joel’s number that day, because after a few minutes at the spot, he hooks up to a nice 22” redfish. We get some footage of the fish and let him go. Shortly after, I hook up on a red I’d say was about 20” on the Texas Croaker Jerkbait. The water was so clear it was pretty neat to see the lure hit the water and then a flash which was the redfish chasing after it. After a full day of fun and fishing, we head back to casa de D.O.A.
The D.O.A. legend, Mark Nichols and myself on an evening boat ride.
That afternoon, everyone is sitting around trading fish stories from the day. Mark points to me and says, “Want to go for a boat ride?”
“Yes sir” I say.
We board his Maverick Mirage skiff, which is one beautiful boat. We go for a cruise and enjoy the stunning South Padre Island sunset. SO… here I am sitting on Mark Nichol’s boat with an ice cold Corona overlooking the Lower Laguna Madre while listening to him talk about fishing and his life. Mark is incredibly knowledgable about fishing and has lived a life full of adventure. I learned that Mark grew up in Houston and his dad had a shrimp boat on Clear Lake. That 45 minutes on his boat is truly a moment I’ll never forget.
DAY 2 OF FISHING
I get paired with Capt. Lee Alvarez. He was born and raised in the area and knows these waters like the back of his hand. I felt like I was getting special treatment since it was just Capt. Lee and myself on his boat this day. There was a front coming in that night, so it was overcast and rain was on the horizon. I had to throw that Candy Corn Jerkbait after the success we had on it the day before. We did some drifts and caught tons of trout on it. We were drifting this one area and a school of about five beautiful upper slot redfish swam right in front of the boat. We saw the school of reds again and we started sight casting at them, but didn’t land one. Either way, very cool seeing fish like that. The rain started coming down pretty good, but the fish were still biting, so I was a happy camper. After all, a little water never hurt no one.
On the ride back to the house, I was gathering my thoughts on the past few days of fishing. Myself alone, caught probably 70+ trout and some nice redfish in just two days on nothing but D.O.A. Lures. D.O.A. stands for Deadly On Anything, and after the non-stop catching I had experienced, that slogan is without a doubt true. These lures are like candy to fish, they can’t say no. An absolute must-have for any angler’s tackle box.
That evening, it was Mark’s birthday. The crew had got him a cake that was decorated with the D.O.A. logo and lures. Some tasty burgers were being grilled on the deck while we continued to celebrate and enjoy each other’s company. My face was starting to hurt after all the laughs.
The next day, it was difficult to head back home. After the few days I got to spend with Mark and the rest of the D.O.A. Lures crew, I must say his lures are amazing, but this group of people are even better. The camaraderie I experienced was bar none. Not only did I learn a lot, but I left South Padre feeling like I had a whole new family.
The stars aligned that day I met Mark in that parking lot in Port Aransas. I never thought I would run into him, let alone be invited to South Padre to fish with him for several days. Mark’s passion for fishing and his energy is contagious. He has lit a fire for me to continue pursing my passion of fishing, writing, and photography. And for that I will forever be grateful to Mark.
Huge thanks to Mark Nichols and the entire D.O.A. Lures crew for an incredible trip. I’ll be back to catch my Texas snook. Until next time amigos!
Mark Nichols and Dave Stewart hold a massive black drum they caught on a D.O.A. C.A.L. Paddle Tail. Photo by Danno Wise
Capt. Brian Barrera stuck this beautiful 28″ trout using the D.O.A. 4″ C.A.L. Jerkbait in Candy Corn. Photo by Ed Zyak
Ed Zyak with a nice 24″ snook caught with Capt. Brian Barrera. Photo by Capt. Brian Barrera
After 51 years of living in some of the southernmost regions of the United States, its very safe to say that I’m not the biggest fan of cold weather. I have however, many years back, learned that I truly love winter fishing.
Once you can get past the initial shock of cold air and water, even the damp and cloudy days can be some of the best that we will see all year. Let’s take a look at why winter is often so good for anglers and how to capitalize on cold weather fishing.
As summer exits on the upper Gulf Coast, our abundance of baitfish and other food sources begins it dwindle. At first glance, this definitely doesn’t seem like it would lend itself well to better fishing. But if we think back to the dog days of summer, one of the most difficult parts of consistently catching fish would be locating the right areas. But when nearly every place that you would consider fishing is covered with mullet and other obvious signs, it can be confusing. I know it seems strange to think, but less abundant food supply can lead to better catches.
Why, you ask? Well, when there are food sources at every location, it becomes difficult to determine which area has not only the proper food sources, but also the predatory creatures we so desperately want to capture. During the cooler months, less can often equal more when it comes to catching redfish and trout. As food sources dwindle, they also concentrate! The resident populations of mullet and other fish now occupy much more limited areas of the bays, and remaining populations tend to become concentrated in areas of greatest comfort and reliable food sources. To less experienced anglers, this may still sound like it won’t help us locate fish. But as you begin to explore the bays in winter, it becomes evident that if you find concentrations of bait fish and other food sources, you will inevitably find concentrations of predators nearby. On the coldest, and most difficult days, never overlook the slightest presence of baitfish!!
Heddon Super Spook in Okie Shad.
Winter Lure Choices
Now that we have unlocked the key to locating predators in cooler water, we can get down to catching them! Hopefully. Winter is a “pick your poison” time of the year. My personal lure preference are larger mullet imitations for covering open water areas and structure. If I could only fish with one type of lure for the rest of my life, it would have to be a topwater. They prove deadly effective to the patient winter angler. Most won’t have the level of dedication and patience required to fully take advantage. If, by chance you are within the group of patient and you want to see some of the most explosive strikes that fish can provide us with, then tie on a Super Spook or She Dog and be prepared for some fun. Here are a few general rules for topwater fishing:
Make sure that you vary the retrieves!
Don’t assume tight cold water means you have to fish slowly to get bites.
Some days, what you think is slow, isn’t slow enough, so go slower
There are always those days when they trout and reds just don’t want to come to the surface to eat a topwater. Though these days disappoint me greatly, it’s a fact that must be accepted. Coupling this fact with the fact that I’m constantly searching for the bigger fish, I will continue with my larger baitfish patterns during winter. Subsurface finesse baits, such as MirrOLure Catch 2000, Catch 5, Corky original and Fat Boy are some of the most effective winter standards on the Texas Coast, and rank very high on the list of big trout and redfish producers. These subsurface baits, much like topwaters, require a great deal of angler input to be truly effective. But once you’ve mastered a few retrieves, they will astound you with their ability to pry open the mouths of fish in very cold water. The key here is to experiment and vary retrieves and learn some of the many things that these baits can achieve. And of course, just like in the case of the topwater, there are days when slow just isn’t slow enough, so go slower!
Another type of bait or lure that can prove exceptional during the cooler months of the year, and is equally effective in the hands of a dedicated angler, is the “Twitch Bait.” What I’m referring to here are floating or suspending lipped baits. The big brand names that we all know in this category would be Rapala, Bomber, and more recently Yo-Zuri, along with a host of others. This category of lures has been around for many years, and can be just as effective as the others mentioned above. They can do so many things once the operator has taken the time to explore various retrieves. When you’re just getting started with this category, just varying speed with steady cranking can be very effective. Of course, like every other lure type, there are so many options with start and stop, fast twitches, and definitely lots of pauses.
Cold water, though it can provide us with some devastating and explosive attacks from our favorite predators, can also frustrate us with horrifically slow and subtle bites. On these days, learning new retrieves is often the trick that can take a day from zero to hero. Fast, slow, in-between speeds, starts and stops, and often long pauses can lead to some of the best catches when water temps plummet. Winter’s coldest days are the ones that make some of the best anglers shine. These are the days where the average angler just gives up, but for those who possess patience and persistence, and of course, who are in the “right” areas, be prepared for some serious photo ops.
If you just aren’t ready for the “grind mode” and patience isn’t your thing, that’s okay. Soft plastics, such as “rat tail” or “swim tails” will still produce well. Bass Assassin Sea Shads or MirrOLure Lil’ Johns offer less angler input and will typically produce much better numbers when fished though concentrations of baitfish. These are perfect for the drifting anglers and can work just as well for a wade fisher. To be honest, the Sea Shad has become one of my staple baits for sight fishing year round. A small profile with a swimming tail is effective in so many situations. Add to this, these baits require very little beyond just a steady retrieve to catch fish consistently, making them great for those just getting into lure fishing.
Last but not least, of the fun things about winter fishing is the water clarity and potentially extreme low tides. Though for many of us these can make for tough fishing days and potential new oyster rash on our prized fiberglass fishing crafts, they also combine to give us some of the best bay learning and exploration days of the year. Get out there and take advantage of the clear water and low tides. Learn some new areas and expand your understanding of the areas you already fish. Take your time when exploring; make sure that you look for structure. Try to gain a better understanding of the tide flows in these new areas. Don’t get in a rush. Try some new lures and new retrieves, and don’t forget that some days, slow just isn’t slow enough.