by Danno Wise
February is generally a winter month in the strictest sense along the Texas coast. This is winter's final full month. But, generally Old Man Winter doesn't fade without a fight, sending down some of the year's nastiest weather during February. As a result, few fishermen venture onto the Texas bays during the year's second month. Of those who do get on the water in February, the vast majority of them are probing deep holes for coolers full of schoolie specks or wading waist deep mud tracking trophy trout. What is most often overlooked during the weeks bracketing Valentine's Day is the outstanding redfish action available up and down the Texas coast.
One thing fishermen should keep in mind during February is as bad as the weather can be on any given day, it can be completely opposite a day or two later. Because of these ever changing weather conditions, fishermen are likely to encounter redfish in a variety of locations and see them exhibiting a variety of different behaviors during February. From shin-deep shallows to the depths of the ICW and everything in between, under the right conditions redfish will be found in virtually every type of bay habitat this month. The key is knowing where to look under the prevailing weather pattern and knowing what to throw in order to illicit strikes from late winter reds.
Although redfish will transition between shallow, mid-depth and deep water throughout the month, they will consistently be in areas that provide a good 'winter home.' Simply put, anglers need to focus on areas of their local bay which provide a variety of a depths and habitats in a relatively small area. Basically, these fish want the convenience of being able to transition to various depths quickly as the weather changes. What anglers should look for are flats that have small channels bisecting them and/or border major channels such as the ICW. Ideally, the bottom composition should be mud or a combination of mud and sand. Having shell, grass, humps and other features is a nice bonus. Essentially, the key is rapid depth change. But, the more features a fish can find within a short swim, the more likely it is to spend its winter in the area. The good news is once this area is found, fishermen can be assured the fish are there. They just need to find the right depth and specific location in the area based on the weather conditions at the time.
FURIOUS FOUL WEATHER ACTION
Probably the biggest surprise to those unaccustomed to catching redfish during late winter is the quality of action that can be experienced under some of the worst winter weather. Of course, there are degrees of foul weather during February. And, many of those find fish in different areas.
Following a stretch of relatively warm weather, as the wind machine begins to crank, redfish will still likely be found in relatively shallow water. If anglers can find good quality water - likely along a lee shoreline - they may still be able to spot cast to reds in two to three feet of water. In this instance, the wind is actually an advantage. Although it does take some adjustment on the angler's behalf to ensure casts are accurate, the surface riffle prevents the fish from being too cautious or spooky. This generally allows anglers to approach closer to the fish. And, as the front is approaching, the fish usually begin to feed more aggressively.
On warm windy days when the water is too dirty to spot fish or fish just aren't being seen, but are known to be in the area, blind casting while "power drifting" an area can be productive. Throwing paddletail baits is the best way to quickly cover a lot of water. If fish are scattered throughout the flat, there is no need to slow your drift with a drift sock - just allow the wind to push you quickly across a flat while you fan the area with casts. The closer an approaching front is to the coast, the more anxious fish will be to bail out to deeper water. So, under these conditions it is usually best to concentrate your efforts within a quarter mile of a deep channel.
When the weather turns wind and cold, look for the fish to be in deeper water. Depending on the temperature, redfish may be cruising the channel edges or hunkered down on the bottom of the deepest hole or channel they can find. Only experimentation (or electronics) can help pinpoint their exact depth. Crankbaits run the length of a channel edge are a great way to find redfish under these conditions. When the fish are sulking on the bottom, use heavily weighted jigs. Traditional "tout" tails work well for this duty, as their slight profile allows them to fall faster than bulkier plastic tails.
SUNNY DAY SUCCESS
Although they represent a small percentage of late winter days, there are some absolutely gorgeous weather days during February. Generally, these occur a few days after a front passes through when the sky is clear, the sun is bright and the weather is warm(ing). When these conditions occur, reds begin prowling the shallows.
Under these conditions, fishing the flats for reds isn't a whole lot different than it is during summer or fall. In fact, they exhibit much of the same behavior as they do when feeding in the shallows at other times of the year, which comes as a surprise to many anglers. For instance, often times when fishermen stumble across redfish tailing on a winter flat, they are astonished, believing this behavior is limited to the fall season. While redfish do tail in the fall, that's not the only time they put their nose down and butt up to feed. They'll do it anytime they find something tasty they need to root out of the bay bottom. This often happens on a winter flat, as do a number of other "summer and fall" redfish feeding behaviors.
To attack reds in skinny water during winter, approach as you would in summer or fall. But do so more quietly. Really the biggest difference in winter flats versus other times of the year is how spooky the fish can be. This is primarily a result of the ultra clear water that usually accompanies a calm, clear winter day. Therefore, fishermen need to be extra cautious when approaching fish. Wading, poling or kayaking is best. It is also necessary to "lead" cruising fish an extra foot or two. And, when sight-casting, be sure to use a bait that lands softly on the surface.
YOU CATCH FISH IN THE WATER
Every fisherman has heard the joke where the old salt is asked where he caught his giant stringer of fish. The one where the cagey old angler replies, "in the water." That joke actually holds weight during the winter months. After strong northerns, there is often not much water left in the bay, as the tide is "blown out" with the north wind. On the days following a front such as this, locating fish is quite often just as easy as finding any water deeper than a couple of feet. Channels and holes are easily enough for fishermen to locate and, most often, they will be filled with fish.
Generally the best thing to do in this "fish in a barrel" scenario is either to wade (stand) on the edge of the channel or hole. Boating anglers should anchor or stake out along the channel edge. This is not a situation that requires covering water. It simply requires fishermen to thoroughly blanket the existing water with plenty of casts. Keep in mind, this condition is generally short-lived, as a couple days following the front, the normal water level usually returns. But, while the water is out the action can be unbelievable. And, in this situation, it rarely matters what fishermen throw, as reds will generally strike with abandon.
But, of course, this is but one of the productive redfish fishing scenarios to be had during February. In short, just about every day during late winter can be good for redfish. It is just a matter of adjusting to the prevailing weather and being willing to target late winter reds.
Capt. Danno Wise www.LoneStarSalt.com