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Photo by Chase Fountain / TPWD

NICE CATCH

Cold Fish

Wintertime, and the fishing's still fun.

By Randy Brudnicki


It’s winter, after all, so expect it to be cold. But winter’s only sporadic in Texas — there are plenty of nice days that are surprisingly warm. Pick and choose your days, if you can, so you’re ready to fish whenever you see a few warm days in a row approaching.
Photo by Randy Brudnicki / TPWD

LAKE LBJ • LARGEMOUTH BASS

January to February is a big transition time on Lake LBJ. Normally, March is considered a good fishing time in Texas, but LBJ bass fishing begins sooner. By February, areas of the lake can warm considerably because of the warm water discharge from the power plant near Horseshoe Bay. Water temperatures in Horseshoe Bay and surrounding coves warm quickly into the 60-degree range, so bass are in a pre-spawn mode now.

A word of caution: In January-February 2019 LCRA lowered the water level by 4 feet to allow property owners to work on their docks and boat houses following the flood from the previous fall; LCRA plans to lower it again in January-February 2020. Lower water levels limit the launching options, but it’s still possible to launch and fish very successfully. It’s also a good time to explore the lake and look for likely future fishing spots when the water level returns to normal.

You should find shallow fish with moving baits such as crankbaits, spinner baits or chatter baits. Follow the shoreline contour and cast your bait out in front of the boat. Try to find water temperatures in the upper 50s to low 60s to improve your chance of success; stay in the lower part of the lake this time of year.

Many docks normally good for fishing are going to be out of the water now. However, the steeper shorelines have docks in deep water; those will still be in play at this water level. With the lower lake level, spend some time graphing for brush piles because they can be easier to fish with jigs/craw trailers or Texas-rigged worms now. You’ll know where they are when the water comes back up.

If none of these techniques are working, go to the dam area and fish a drop-shot rig with a small shad-shaped plastic bait or plastic worm.

Photo by Earl Nottingham / TPWD

LOWER COAST • BLACK DRUM

In late winter, starting in February, black drum school up for spawning. Much like the “runs” of some freshwater fish (think white bass), large “bull” drum gather in the deeper bays or channels and begin moving around jetties and passes. They may spawn almost anywhere, but they hang around areas accessible to anglers now.

The drum can get big — up to 40 pounds. Don’t expect an acrobatic display of jumping. The fight is more like tussling with a bulldog on the other end of a tug-of-war. Most people use a medium saltwater rod, but if you get into a school of large fish, you may want to have a heavy backup rod and gear.

Black drum feed by smell, so it’s best to use natural selections such as cut bait or aged, peeled Gulf shrimp. Fish right on the bottom. If there is a current, use enough weight to keep your offering down. A circle hook is highly recommended because it hooks up solid and yet is easy to remove. Black drum have a slot limit, so be sure you’re able to unhook and release a fish quickly. The fish on the lower end of the slot are usually better eating than the really large fish.

For this time of year, concentrate your efforts from Corpus Christi southward. The Laguna Madre provides plenty of access and action.

Photo by Earl Nottingham / TPWD

RICHLAND CHAMBERS • BLUE CATFISH

Set your sights on big blue cats this winter. Catfish can be anywhere, but try narrowing your starting point to the timber along the Richland Creek channel. Try fishing on the bottom in water depths of 25 feet. Some days the cats may be shallower than that, but 25 feet is a good place to start.

“If the sun is up and the water is warming on a cold winter day, shallow water is preferred because the bait move in and the blue cats are more active,” says John Tibbs, Inland Fisheries District 2B supervisor. “It is not uncommon to catch ‘blues’ in 3 feet of water on a big flat. The key is following the bait.”

Try a 5/0 to 8/0 circle hook using a Carolina rig, about 18 inches below a swivel; place a sliding weight above the swivel. The size of the weight is determined by the strength of the wind. A half-ounce weight (or larger) should be used. With a circle hook, don’t set the hook, but rather let the rod load, then lift it and begin reeling. Bait choices for blue cats include “cut shad, carp or buffalo,” Tibbs says, “and winter blue cat anglers look for concentrations of shad.”

Richland Chambers Reservoir has a 30- to 45-inch slot on blue catfish. Anglers can keep 25 total blues — none between 30 and 45 inches and only one over 45 inches.

Photo by Larry Hodge / TPWD

LAKE FORK • CRAPPIE

January is a tough time to catch bass on Lake Fork, so crappie fishermen take over the water. During winter months, most crappie anglers concentrate their efforts in deeper water (25-35 feet or deeper) on the lower end of the lake. Use your graph to find humps with fish stacked on them. Crappie follow the shad as they try to escape the cold surface layer of water by going deep.

Jake Norman, TPWD fisheries biologist, offers some unique tips: “I would suggest searching the long tapering points in those same areas. Some of these popular points may extend several hundred yards to over a half mile into the lake before they dump into the main river channel (45+ feet). Brush on these points can be beneficial, but definitely not necessary. I almost prefer a featureless, slow tapering point; the crappie will stack up on them like a dinner plate, and there are very few snags/hang-ups to deal with. Also, water temps can really influence the bite, and the colder they get the better. When the water temps remain in the mid- to lower 50s a lot of the baitfish, and subsequently the crappie, will suspend off the bottom and are more challenging to catch. When water temps dip into the 40s almost everything will be pinned to the bottom and you can ‘deadstick’ a crappie jig to your limit of fish pretty quickly.”

Ultralight rods and reels are a blast to use for crappie fishing. Be aware, though — sometimes a big bass will take your crappie offering. Big bass and light line sometimes don’t have a good outcome for the crappie angler. (Did you know? The state record largemouth bass was caught by a crappie angler in January 1992.)

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