All the recent discussion about wintertime fishing has left several readers posing a similar question: “Why all the bother? Why don’t we wait for warmer weather?”
Hey, this is Louisiana. We’re not Wisconsin or Maryland. We can fish 365, and, despite harsh conditions — winter’s chill, spring storms and summer’s hurricanes notwithstanding — we can take to our freshwater, brackish and saltwater launches and believe we can catch something for dinner.
Yet, there are tips to help you catch a variety of species living in these diverse habitats under these conditions.
Recent files mentioned factors like barometric pressure, water levels, wind direction and water temperatures, and, as always, fishing on an extra-high barometer is, and will be, a red flag for a trip when you find a barometer hitting 30.15-30.2 and rising. Fish become way too sluggish in the colder water to react to lure presentation, even sometimes to live bait.
In the marshes
Let’s take the brackish-water marches first where the likely targets are speckled trout and redfish, and, lately, largemouth bass in waters east of the Mississippi River and, believe it or not, lower Terrebonne Parish lakes (the edges near bayous), runouts, bayous and canals.
There’s been the move to fishing heavy-wire spinnerbaits over and around grass beds for reds and bass, and you’ll get the occasional strike from a speckled trout.
It’s a fairly common practice to use a double-bladed spinnerbait, something with a gold No. 3½ willowleaf blade on the back and a smaller hammered chrome round blade in front of the willowleaf. This tandem rig give off the vibration of a small baitfish moving through the water, and the chrome blade will give off, to one extent or another, a flash even in cloudy weather.
Experience teaches a willowleaf comes through grassbeds much easier and with fewer hangups than do the round Colorado blades. That’s why you find more willowleaf spinnerbaits in tackle stores around here — we have lots of grass.
This is also a time to prove the fishing adage “dark baits for dark days, and light bait for light days.”
While white and chartreuse skirts (on spinnerbaits) is probably the most common colors for south Louisiana waters — and it’s good for sunshiny or partly cloudy days — adding a darkish blue hue to the skirt seems to attract more strikes in the winter on darker days.
There are blue-white-chartreuse skirts in some tackle shops, but there’s another way. Get a blue Marks-a-lot and color some of the white “legs” blue. You don’t need a lot. Maybe coloring 10 legs will be enough. A blue hue in a skirt also makes the bait more visible in murky water. Don’t ask why. It does.
No. 2, and this is a mystery, but in the winter, trout and even redfish prefer smaller lures. Found this out years ago when guys were using Bagley’s one-inch-plus-long Honey Bees to catch redfish. (Why they would risk mashing a high dollar balsa bait on a redfish was a bigger mystery, but they did.)
The idea was to risk hanging up less than using a lead-head jig, and finding the redfish. After catching one in a spot, then the guys would go to work on what they knew were more reds, and possibly specks, in the same location.
But, here’s what happened. The guy in the front of the boat that day found the reds with a Honey Bee and added another 18-incher then switched to an avocado/red glitter soft plastic on a quarter-ounce jighead — and didn’t get another bite there.
Figuring the near 4-inch long plastic and the jighead were much larger than the Honey Bee, the only answer was to go to an eighth-ounce jighead and cut an inch and a half off the front of the soft-plastic lure — OK, it was an H&H Cocahoe Minnow — and caught reds and specks on at least 20 consecutive casts.
Only later we found out H&H made a Mud Minnow, a pint-sized (and fatter) version of the cocahoe and those have been a wintertime tackle-box staple ever since.
Marsh reds, bass and specks also like hard-plastic plugs, too — jerkbaits. They’re easy to work when there’s at least six inches of water over grassbeds. Follow the dark-days/light-days rule here. Use black/gold on dark days and blue/chrome on bright days.
And, there’s another trick — jerkworms. Tie an offset hook to the line on a spinning rod, then thread a worm. You need spinning tackle to get this light offering to the edge of the marsh grass, then work it slowly across a grass bed, even letting it sink into the grass then using a slight jerk to free it from the grass.
Old friend Jeff Bruhl introduced a bunch to the “bruised banana” color worm (yes, it’s yellow with brown spots), and it worked well, but there are so many other colors that attract strikes, too, that color selection is wide open until somebody in the boat finds the just right color for that day.
Remember, too, if you’re fishing in canals or in bayous, speckled trout and redfish tend to find water temperatures to their liking. Sometimes that means they’re deep and pretty finicky about biting.
Slow down lure presentations, even dragging the bottom, and be ready for a little bit of pressure on the end of the line to indicate a fish has taken your offering.
For some odd reason, things are just the opposite for chasing bass in freshwater-only spots.
In the dead of winter, and, when it’s been cold, even into the first days of spring, bass are holding on deep structure.
Spinnerbaits work here, but “low” and “slow” are the bywords.
Canals usually hold the most bass now, and south Louisiana veterans have been known to work a single-bladed spinnerbait around well-off-the-bank structure.
And, they’re doing it with a large No. 5 round blade.
Bass in these depth react to vibrations from potential food sources, and larger blades produce more vibration than willowleafs or any smaller round blades. The single blade also allows for a more controlled and slower fall in the water.
Because some bass are suspended at various depths, you have to watch the fall for a strike.
When you get near the bottom of a canal, then roll the blade slowly on the retrieve. There will be times when the bass will “thump” the bait, and other times when the bite is so slow or light only a twitch in the line will be the strike signal.
There’s a learning curve to this method, but, once learned, it’s very productive.
And, there’s always the jig-and-pig, but be careful to not to overweight the jig. Black-and-blue is a standard color jig.
The “pig” comes from the days when Uncle Josh’s pork chunks were used on the back of the jig — it made it look like a crawfish — but these days all manners of soft-plastic “creature” baits are added to the jig to make it a sure-fire bass catcher.
One more thing
While we’ve had more than our fair share of moderate-temperature days, water temperature doesn’t always translate into warmer water temperatures.
Years ago, Cocodrie veteran “Captain” Jack Maples explained why he was always seen fishing one stretch of Bayou Terrebonne.
“My boy, look where I am. Did you notice? There’s rocks piled high on the corner of that little bayou running into Terrebonne, and there’s a pipeline maybe 30 feet away. Any clues yet?” he said.
One of the first things you learn about rocks next to water in the winter is that the rocks hold heat and transfer that heat into nearby water.
“The pipeline does, too,” Jack said. “That pipe is carrying heat and that warms the water, too. Now you know, and the fish in the warmer water will be more active, and the things they’re eating will be more active than the places with the same water depths a few hundred yards away.”
And finding similar places has worked ever since.