Knowing where to look can lead to phenomenal wintertime fishing
As winter weather sets in along the upper Texas coast, success on the water can be defined with one word — hard.
Not to worry, in this case “hard” describes the bay bottom in areas where gamefish will gather. Contrary to what you might have been thinking, staying hooked up can be fairly easy when efforts are concentrated in the right spots.
Some of the best areas for action over the next several months will indeed possess hard structure in the form of shell. Whether it’s mudflats containing scattered oysters or clamshell, or significant, heavy shell oyster reefs, these locations are going to afford some excellent catches for those willing to put on a jacket and give them a try.
As the state’s largest estuary, the Galveston Bay complex is littered with stretches of oyster shell and clamshell that provide phenomenal wintertime fishing worth layering up for. Some of my favorite shell reefs lie out in front of waterfront properties lining the western bank of upper Galveston Bay. There are countless, uncharted oyster reefs off the ends of the piers that extend out from this long stretch of shoreline, many of which are not much bigger than a large dinner table. Although small, these clumps of oysters make up for what they lack in size in a large way.
Speckled trout and redfish use these tiny reefs as ambush points to feed around. They are constantly lurking near the edges in search of an easy meal. Some pretty solid specimens from both species are typically present and willing to engulf a lure when the conditions are right.
Without knowing the exact locations of these oyster mounds, anglers can use trial and error to discover them. Pockets of water containing rafts of mullet are usually a good place to start, as the reefs attract hordes of baitfish. Bouncing a bait along the bottom is a good way for anglers to feel their way around in search of shell, once they come across some fishy looking water. If a strike occurs, there’s a good chance there is some oyster shell within casting distance.
Periods of calm weather and light winds between the passing of frontal systems are the best times to fish the reefs in upper Galveston Bay. These conditions generally produce decent water clarity as well as subsurface activity from gamefish.
The upper half of West Galveston Bay contains a plethora of options for anglers to target shell. From the causeway, to North and South deer islands, and down to Carancahua Reef, there are plenty of hotspots to choose from. The water in this part of the bay system tends to stay fairly clean, and sometimes it can get too clear for fish to behave aggressively in. For this reason, patches of streaky, dirty looking water are usually the best stretches to target.
Located in the northernmost region of the Galveston Bay Complex, Trinity Bay offers anglers even more opportunities to successfully pursue specks and reds over shell during the wintertime. When the area is not suffering from flooding rains and strong freshwater inflows, Trinity’s north end can be a dynamite hotspot. Many small clamshell beds are near the mouths of marshes and bayous in Jack’s Pocket, and wade fishing the edges of them can produce bites from giant trout. Some prime locations are near Triangle Pass, Long Island Bayou and Jack’s Pass.
The east shoreline of Trinity Bay also is lined with oyster shell. Both wading and drifting can be great along this bank, it just depends on how deep the water is that the fish are staging in.
When it comes to bait presentations over shell, mullet imitation plugs and soft plastic jigs rule during the winter. One of my all-time favorite lures to use during this time of year is the 52MR sinking twitch bait manufactured by MirrOlure. I like this plug in the number 28 color scheme, which has a red back, gold sides and a yellow belly.
In soft plastics, I prefer a MirrOlure Lil John paired with a one-quarter to three-eighths ounce jig head. Some productive color patterns that MirrOlure offers include Molting, Pink Silver and Gold/Red Glitter.
Besides speckled trout and redfish, shell reefs attract a variety of other species such as black drum, sheepshead and sand trout. When conditions and tides don’t result in a strong bite from gamefish on artificial presentations, these fish can still provide anglers with a tug on the end of their lines and some tasty fillets. They will readily eat a freshly peeled dead shrimp off the bottom and a simple Carolina rig will do the trick to keep the bait in the strike zone.
Water temperatures are continuing to plunge across the Galveston Bay Complex with each passing cold front. There’s no better time than now to find some shell and get hooked on the hard stuff.