Fishing Texas’ Saltwater Bays in the Winter E-mail
Written by Mike Price   
Monday, 18 October 2010 12:25

Some great eats, a nice stringer or reds

“They are sitting in that mud.  They will actually push their bellies right down into the grass and you will never see those fish from above.” Captain Dean Thomas, owner of Aransas Pass’ Slowride Guide Service and Kayak Rentals (866-856-9477) was talking with me about fishing from a kayak in the winter with artificial lures. “They are not moving or feeding, but when the shadow of the kayak passes over the fish – poof – the mud explodes, and they take off, and you realize how many fish you have been throwing at and around, but they had no intentions of eating it! The challenge with lures and flies is hitting that window when they are feeding.”

I was watching Dean make tiny gold spoons for fly-fishing, his favorite enticement for redfish.  If they will not hit a gold spoon he changes to a little red spoon. He said, “In the wintertime they are on the deeper reefs. You want to find a flat that is a little deeper than the surrounding area, with a good muddy bottom that is close to deep water. That is the key, deep water. When it has been cold and dreary and the tide turns, that is it!  There’s only a small window of opportunity when the fish feed at the turn.”

At noon that day, armed with Dean’s advice, and a kayak that I rented from him, I paddled away from the shore in a light rain. The air temperature was 62 degrees and the water temperature was 58 degrees. A dense fog obscured visibility, the wind was blowing lightly from the north, and the tide was outgoing. The area that Dean sent me to is designated as a Seagrass Conservation area by Texas Parks and Wildlife. As such, boaters are asked to drift, pole or troll through these flats. The kayak allowed me to glide quietly over the seagrass without damaging it.

I tried fishing a deep hole using a black and yellow soft plastic and struck out. Then changed to a red and white and fished near a shell island, where I caught and released one little flounder. For three hours I moved and changed lures with no action, although I did see puffs of mud as fish startled when my kayak passed over them.

I noticed that the wind had shifted to the south and the tide was now incoming and hoped that these positive conditions would trigger feeding. As I was musing about the variables, I was swimming a pumpkinseed/chartreuse Bass Assassin through the water. A strong jerk, followed by the pull of a large fish running, brought me back to the business at hand. A big trout leaped out of the water and spat out the hook. I continued to drift the deep flat, and a short time later I caught a 17-inch trout, a 24-inch redfish and an 18-inch trout. This was a true feeding period and I was in the right place. I paddled back and re-drifted this flat and caught another 24-inch redfish and a 29-inch redfish.  When Dean met me back at the beach to pick up his kayak, I was feeling a fisherman’s natural high and said “Man that was fun!” He said, “This is the highest tide we have had so far this year” (the date was February 8).

On another overcast day in early February, Jeff Wiley and I loaded two kayaks into my boat and set out for West Matagorda Bay. We really needed the layers of clothing we were wearing because the boat was running at 20 knots into a crisp 50-degree northeast wind that was blowing over cool 49-degree water. In the 1.3 mile run from the bay entrance to the reef the watercolor changed from an ugly chocolate brown to an inviting clear green. About six inches of oyster reef was exposed, but rapidly being covered by a strong incoming tide. We hoped this water movement would force shrimp, crab and small baitfish off the reef and into the adjacent trough where redfish and trout would be hunting.

Some spoon flies tied by Dean Thomas

A boat was anchored a quarter mile into the bay from us and the fishermen were casting towards the reef. Apparently they were not catching fish, because shortly after we arrived they left. We had an advantage that they did not have and we proceeded to launch that advantage – our kayaks – and find out if drifting among the oyster reefs would help us locate feeding fish.

Jeff was first to discover that clear green water and an incoming tide over oysters and mud may just pay off. He landed a 25-inch redfish that took a weedless gold spoon. I asked him how it felt to fight that fish from a kayak. “I was watching the water that the gold spoon was whirling through, and I saw a large swirl. I thought ‘OK it is going to hit NOW!’ and it did – with a vengeance. The redfish tore the line off the reel, turned the kayak, and started dragging me. I figured if the fish wanted to pull the kayak I would use it as part of the drag. But it still fought with tremendous energy until I finally worked it up to the kayak and netted it.”

We went on that afternoon to catch several more redfish on gold spoons and soft plastics. Even though the water was cold and we didn’t have the advantage of the sun warming the mud bottom, we did find action, because the relatively clear water and strong incoming tide flowing over mud and oysters stimulated feeding.

On January 15th the air and water temperature were both 55 degrees. My wife, Janet, nephew Raf and I anchored the boat just off the Intracoastal Waterway in the mouth of a mud-bottomed bayou riddled with oyster reefs. We launched our kayaks and paddled into the snake shaped channel. We said “hello” to a father and his son fishing from their boat. Like us they had just arrived and had not caught anything yet.

The tide was incoming and the water had fishable clarity of 12 to 18 inches. The sky was overcast. After an hour of lackluster casting, the three of us had only managed to catch a couple of undersized redfish. Janet pulled up her anchor and paddled down the bayou to the entrance of a large shallow lake. Around this time the tide changed from incoming to very strong outgoing. Raf and I followed her and when we caught up with her she was fighting a twenty six-inch redfish. We shoved our kayks onto the bank and tossed our lures into water channeling between two oyster reefs. To our delight, Janet had  forced these little critters out of the lake into the bayou. Every time a lure dropped into the water it was hammered. The redfish were between twenty and twenty nine inches. We reveled in an hour and a half of non-stop, fabulous fishing fun.

On the way out, the father and son told us they had caught a couple of black drum and asked how we did. We told them we found the redfish so they cranked up their engine and headed down the bayou. I do not know how they did, but the noise of the boat in the confined space of the bayou was bound to scatter the fish. They did not have waders, so they could not position themselves to drop their bait in the channel between the lake and the bayou. Our being able to quietly approach that spot in our kayaks and catching the changing tide had been our advantage which produced the great fishing.

In order to tip the scales in your favor when kayak fishing Texas’ Bays in the winter, you want to be there when the fish are feeding.  This means considering tidal flow, wind, water temperature, depth, make-up of the underwater terrain, air temperature, and the amount of sunshine.

Using a boat to get farther away

 

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