As a fishing guide, two things make me shake my head in disbelief this time of year.
The first thing is how folks will call me in droves from around the end of the school year in late May or early June and up until the kids head back to school in August to get out fishing when the bite is the toughest and the weather is the hottest. Yet, at this time of year, when the weather is spectacular and the fishing is going through the roof, bookings drop off to just 3-4 trips per week.
I have speculated that it is because people are hunting, or watching football, or both. Or, maybe they are afraid of a bit of cold weather; or maybe they just do not realize that fishing — awesome fishing — takes place in other than the heat of the year.
Whatever the reason, the fact remains: The best fishing of the year takes place now — typically from the first or second week of November through at least the third week of December. Some years this peak will extend into January if the water cools more slowly thanks to a warm fall like the one we are now experiencing.
My single best trip ever took place in early January some years ago. My party of three landed over 360 fish in advance of an incoming cold front. Our efforts were greatly aided by observing fish-eating birds as they fed over top of actively feeding schools of fish.
I had an opportunity early in the week to fish with three different Central Texas families on Belton Lake.
My two trips on Tuesday for the McLaughlin party and the Renner party yielded a total of 241 fish. The following morning I fished with the Snelgrooes family of Liberty Hill, and the three of them landed 136 fish during their four -hour trip.
As the water cools, fish are simply hard-wired to both congregate and to feed well to begin egg and milt production for the following spring’s spawn.
Nearly every one of the 377 fish landed this week on Belton was taken on a small, white 3/8- or 3/4-ounce slab with a Hazy Eye Stinger hook attached fished in 32 to 52 feet of water.
We landed white bass, hybrid striped bass, largemouth bass, freshwater drum and blue catfish. Any fish that eats shad can and will be found congregating in deep water at this time of year.
Later this past week, I headed to the Texas coast as a client aboard Captain Randy Foreman’s boat, accompanied by local insurance agent and friend Jerry Worley of Harker Heights. We fished primarily for redfish in Sabine Lake, a shallow, 12-mile-long, 7-mile-wide, brackish tidal lake fed by the Sabine and Neches rivers near Beaumont.
In the full day (eight-plus hours) we spent aboard Foreman’s vessel, I was struck by the similarities in the fishing, despite the vast differences in species and location. Foreman explained that as the cold fronts become more frequent and severe, the shallow water in the tidal marshes cools. The baitfish (pogies and mullet) and the shrimp vacate this cooling water in favor of the deeper, more stable environment of the main body of Sabine Lake.
As the tides change, and in particular on the incoming tide, bait gets pushed and disturbed by the tide’s force allowing gamefish like redfish, speckled trout,and flounder to take advantage of the vulnerable small fish and shrimp.
As occurs on Belton Lake and on Stillhouse Hollow, feeding fish force bait to surface, which in turn draws the attention of gulls and terns, which in turn can be spotted by, and responded to, by savvy anglers.
We threw Down South Lures’ paddletail swimbaits in their Bone Glow Chartreuse color affixed to ¼- and 3/8-ounce Mann’s unpainted jigheads. Most of the fish we caught were holding on or near patches of shell on an otherwise sandy bottom in under 3 feet of water just yards from shore.
I liken the redfish in inshore waters to the hybrid striped bass found in our local waters. They hit hard, fight hard and just have a mean disposition.
I mentioned there were two things that make me shake my head this time of year. The second is this: According to Project: Time Off, 662 million vacation days were left “on the table” by American workers last year.
If you like to fish, and you have “use it or lose it” vacation time accrued, you owe it to yourself to get on the water in what is left of November or in the month of December. You will be pleasantly surprised at what awaits you.