So when do folks quit going fishing? They don’t! Although most of the anglers are also hunters, there is no reason to overlook some great cold weather fishing. Even back during deer season, many deer hunters, especially in the Hill Country and in West Texas, were privileged to have access to stock tanks. There are also rivers and streams that meander near to or on their hunting grounds. The majority of ranchers that I’ve talked to about fishing in their tanks are super agreeable. In fact, I’ve had the ranchers tell me to catch all of the bass or catfish that I wanted, but do not put any of them back into the water. It would seem that there was an overpopulation of fish due to nobody keeping their catch anymore. As a good will gesture, I would filet the extra fish and either invite the rancher to eat or take some fresh filets to his home.
I believe that the ranchers learned about overpopulation by watching their deer herds. Too many deer made for stunted or inferior animals. That’s also the case when fish overpopulate any pond or lake. They simply become stunted and in some cases, die off and are wasted. With hunting season for whitetail deer now history and few folks going Rio Grande turkey hunting later this spring, it will be next season before those tanks are available. That’s not the case where saltwater cold-weather angling is concerned. That action continues. Likely the more sought after fish species changes, but there is good action available. There will also be fewer folks afloat to contend with.
There are still some of the popular speckled trout around. By this time, the speck fishermen are out after trophy fish. They don’t mind if they only catch a fish or two as long as they’re big females. However, there are some fish that are normally less sought after that will offer some faster action.
By now, the Sabine Jetty is loaded with lots of sheepshead. These not-so-pretty fish rank way up the list of my favorites. Sheepshead are willing to hit and do battle all year long. They do hang out mostly near barnacle-covered structure, and none are better than the jetty rocks. The boat dock and fishing pier pilings are also likely sheepshead hangouts.
Take along some hermit crabs, muscle shells, crabs or scrape off the barnacles from the rocks or pilings and let the chum sink. Then move out a few yards and cast a baited steel hook into that spot. Limpets or shrimp will get you plenty strikes. The flesh from the sheepshead is light and extremely mild.
There are also some black drum and redfish at the jetty and in the ship channel. These fish, for the most part, are outsized. They are fun to catch and they pull hard, but the fish are really too large to be table fare. The black drum favors feeding on crab for bait. The redfish prefer big shrimp or cut mullet.
Just a short distance offshore around the short rigs is a good bet for producing big speckled trout and large numbers of white gulf trout. The only drawback is being able to go when the weather and winds are favorable. There are usually a large number of the white trout, and they are excellent table fare. Practically any type of jig that is used for specks will take the whites.
In the surf this time of year, anglers can expect to catch plenty of whiting. These fish are extremely good food fish, and they are between the beach and the first sandbar. You don’t even need to get your feet wet. Use light tackle, bluegill size hooks, a good sinker and small pieces of shrimp to take a load of these battling white-fleshed wintertime fish.
There has been a fairly consistent wintertime flounder run. When the north winds push the tides further out, then normally the shallow water flounder hangouts become dry. With no water, the flat fish are forced to move out into deeper water than most folks will fish in for them. Even though the water has gotten much cooler, the flounder will be in the area. The trick is to locate them. If you can see baitfish in the area, those are always a good spots to try. Look for submerged points or drop-offs, and anchor on the deep sides of the drop. By casting up on the shallower water areas and slowly dragging the bait to the drop, it is likely to fool a slab-size flounder. I prefer to use live bait right now. It’s better to fish very slowly, and a live mud minnow or mullet would be a better choice of bait. If you’re going for big flounder, don’t hesitate to use a 6-inch or longer offering.
Billy Halfin can be reached by e-mail at bhalfinoutdoors [at] aol [dot] com.