When winter weather gets brutal, head south for trophy trout and many reds
Exploring unfamiliar bay systems is an adventure that can make you a more well-rounded angler. Trial and error testing of strategies that produce catches in home waters will help broaden your knowledge and experience. The perfect time to do it is right now.
For more than a decade, I have made traveling south to fish estuaries along the lower coast during the late winter and early spring a tradition. I look forward to it every year because it breaks me out of my upper coast shell, so to speak. Tactics that work in the Galveston Bay complex tend to work in other bays as well. After all, a fish is a fish, no matter where it swims. I’ve also learned new strategies that have helped me catch more fish at home in Galveston Bay.
My affinity for pointing my truck south this time of year stems from the fact that February can be a downright brutal month to fish along the upper coast. Swings in weather and temperature can have a lock-jaw effect on many species, not to mention that shifting weather spreads them across vast, diverse stretches of water.
The deeper waters along the upper coast tend to take longer to warm up than those farther south. For example, in the Lower Laguna Madre, shallow flats might heat up by 10 degrees or more in a day, especially when the sun is out. Deep waters in Galveston Bay and its surrounding estuaries can take days to warm up after intense cold spells.
The fact that bays along the lower coast are shallower also makes it somewhat easier to find fish. They don’t have as many places to hide when cold fronts push tides out and decrease water temperatures, making areas with the slightest changes in depth key hotspots to target.
Lower coast estuaries also tend to handle strong north winds much better than those on the upper coast. Sea grasses along their shallow flats help keep waters clean during strong breezes, allowing water clarity to recover quickly after a passing cold front.
During my early 20s, I fell in love with Baffin Bay. I began fishing the estuary with some more seasoned angler friends and found the system had a lot to offer. From shallow grass flats to stretches with underwater rocks, Baffin is replete with areas known for producing trophy speckled trout and numbers of quality redfish throughout the late winter and early spring. My best trips to Baffin have been between passing cold fronts and three to four days before or after a new moon.
In recent years, I’ve shifted even farther south to areas of the Lower Laguna Madre out of Port Mansfield. The trip to Port Mansfield is challenging because I have to pass up Baffin Bay to get there, but the rewards are usually worth the extra miles.
One of the best at finding trophy fish around Port Mansfield is Capt. Nathan Beabout of N&M Sportsman’s Adventures. Beabout targets the waters out of Port Mansfield this time of year with one goal — to help anglers land their personal best speckled trout.
I’ve spent several days wade fishing the Lower Laguna Madre with Beabout and have experienced the incredible results that come from knowing how to fish this estuary during the late winter and early spring first. Monster specks await those who are willing to put in the effort and time on the water.
Fishing the coastal waters of South Texas this time of year requires the right gear. Quality waders and comfortable wading boots are a must because some of the best opportunities occur while wade fishing. Warm layers of clothing under a pair of waders, along with a waterproof wading jacket, also are a necessity to protect against the harsh elements.
Slow sinking, mullet imitation plugs rule during the late winter and early spring. Some of the best lures include Paul Brown’s Fat Boy, Paul Brown’s Original Corky and Paul Brown’s Soft-Dine XL. All these baits are manufactured by MirrOlure and my favorite colors include pink and pearl-chartreuse.
Another task before trekking to an unfamiliar bay system farther south is studying charts and satellite images of the area. Take note of depth changes, potential fish-attracting structures and places that will be protected from a variety of wind directions. This will help narrow your search for fish before you ever get out on the water, not to mention it’s a good way to find public boat ramps.
As we enter a period of extreme weather changes, find some time to head south. The experience will help you hone your skills, and you just might land a new personal trophy.