So what do your favorite game fish eat when the pickin’s slim?
Fish tend to slow down when the water temperature is “cold” for them. They’re cold blooded and move to areas that will warm up quickly during cold snaps – shallow, protected bays with a dark bottom generally warm up faster than windswept, deep water cuts that you might find them in during the summer….but they still need to eat.
One thing to remember when kayak fishing… (and this can be done in the warmer months as well if you’re on fish and they aren’t cooperating) Scale down the size of your lures/flies and employ a S-L-O-W presentation. Painfully slow. Game fish aren’t going to sprint 50 yards across a flat to nail your top water in winter…(even though a top water presentation is a great wintertime tactic) Think about it – think about how hard it is to move fast when you’re cold.
So, once you have a nice, shallow, protected area with a dark bottom, what sort of food supply is available to the game fish?
Recent studies surveying the contents of redfish stomachs during winter months revealed that small (2 inches or less) marsh, mud, fiddler, and hermit crabs are the preferred (or most abundant) prey of choice. Second most found prey items stomachs of winter reds were Gulf Toadfish, and third most found? Gobies and Blennies.
Where can you find almost every one of these prey items just about every time you go there in winter?
Area # 1 – Mangrove shoreline with a dark bottom. These shorelines offer protection from the cold winter winds and the prop roots give sanctuary to blennies, gobies and toadfish. Fiddler crabs often inhabit the branches of the mangroves and can drop into the water when the tide keeps them out of their dens. A small, brown #1 or 2 Merkin or bonefish crab fly can be a great option in these areas. So can a 2 inch root beer Gulp Peeler Crab tossed un-weighted along the shoreline.
Area # 2 – Protected oyster bars. These areas will provide cover for toadfish, blennies and gobies and it’s a good idea to work the outside edges and ends of the bars during the winter negative low tides. Oftentimes, there are deeper pools at the ends of the bar and during a really low tide; redfish can be found waiting out this period until the tide starts to come in. If they’ve been there for a while, there’s a good chance that they’ll be hungry and won’t hesitate to inhale something thrown into the hole. One of my favorite search baits for these situations is a brown or copper Storm Chug Bug worked slowly. A good toadfish imitating fly that I like would be a 2/0 brown/grizzly cockroach tarpon fly. This can be worked slowly along the edges and crevices and looks quite a bit like a toadfish. Gobies and blennies don’t cover a lot of water and tend to dart back and forth 4-6 inches at a time. A small brown/white Deceiver or bead chain eye Clouser make good gobie and blennie imitating options for you to work in slow darting presentations. Storm makes a really nice 2 inch paddle tail bait that is a perfect imitation of these prey items.
One of my favorite locations for winter fishing features an oyster reef bottom that’s less than a foot deep with a big 10 feet deep hole right in the middle of it and is surrounded by mangroves. One cold and blustery day between Christmas and New Years, I paddled up to this spot to find 30 inch gator trout on just about every cast….
Even though I’m not a big winter time fisherman, I can safely say that if you know where to go and what to use, you can have some of the best fishing days of the year.
Read more of Rob's Inane Musings HERE