Should the combination of kids, in-laws, contrary football outcomes and holiday gluttony have you looking for an outlet, look no further than Belton Lake.
Thanks to a slow cooldown and water temperatures still in the mid 50-degree range, many species of fish are still quite catchable in all parts of Belton Lake at this point in the season, and given that no extended, drastic cold snaps are currently forecast, fishing should remain solid at least through the close of the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Unfortunately, fishing in cold weather runs a bit counter to Texas culture, and southeastern and southwestern culture in general. As soon as the kids head back to school in August, school-related activities kick in, then dove and deer hunting seasons start, followed by cold weather, more and more people leave the water just when some of the best fishing of the year begins.
I have tried to convince at least my own clientele to strongly consider booking from late October through December to cash in on this fishing bonanza, and, slowly but surely, folks are doing just that.
Thus far in December I have conducted five half-day trips on Belton Lake resulting in a total catch of 526 fish, or an average of just over 105 fish per trip. These high fish counts do not consist of just white bass, either. In fact, on a trip Thursday, my two clients landed more than two full limits of legal largemouth bass as bycatch while we focused on white bass. Freshwater drum and hybrid striped bass routinely are caught this time of year, as well.
If you have not fished Belton Lake in a while, you will be pleasantly surprised at the quality and quantity of freshwater drum now in the reservoir. I firmly believe that the zebra mussels have served as a readily available alternative food source for the drum and, as a result, they are growing larger and more plentiful than I have seen them in the 27 years I have fished that lake.
There are a few things to be on the lookout for to stack the deck in your favor when it comes to fishing in December. First, if you can time your trip to coincide with blowing winds (7 mph or more) in the first three hours following sunrise, or in the last three hours prior to sunset, you will increase your odds of finding active fish versus fishing in the middle of the day and versus fishing under calm conditions.
Active fish bite more readily and typically hold above the bottom and thus are much easier to find on sonar.
Next, fishing an area quickly to establish whether or not active fish are present will typically beat grinding it out in one area hoping fish will move in or turn on. The cooler the water gets, the less fish tend to migrate. If an area does not give up at least a few fish in the first 3 to 4 minutes I fish it, I move on.
Once fish are found, avoid the temptation to move about the area with a manually controlled trolling motor.
Rather, either toss out a buoy or set your trolling motor onto Spot-Lock so you can stay put right where you caught your first fish. Again, cold water fish are loathe to move very far very fast and will often group up tightly. Work the area where you first made contact thoroughly and you will typically be rewarded.
The majority of the diet of all gamefish in Belton Lake consists of shad. For this reason, I rarely use anything other than shad or shad-imitating lures to tempt them. My experience has shown that once the water temperature hits around 52-53 degrees, the live bait bite sours. From now until early April I will choose to use artificial lures exclusively.
My favorite design is my own Hazy Eye Slab in white color with a stinger hook attached. I jump back and forth between 3/8 oz. and ¾ oz., depending on the size of the forage I see fish consuming. Whether you use this bait or your own favorite, do yourself a favor and make sure the body shape is shad-like and not minnow-like. Also, whether or not you use the stinger hooks I produce, make sure you use a stinger hook affixed to the line-tie end of your slab, opposite the end to which the treble hook is affixed.
As water temperatures fall, the stinger hook will begin to account for more fish than will the “stock” treble hook.
Lastly, slow down. I have written previously this fall about using small diameter spools on my spinning reels with low gear ratios (5.2 to 1, for example) which move only 18 to 24 inches of line per handle turn. As water temperatures approach the 50 mark, threadfin shad really begin swimming at a snail’s pace — something which has been made clear to me since I began using Garmin’s LiveScope technology last autumn. Gamefish grow accustom to feeding on these slow movers and artificial presentations scooting along at an unnatural pace simply get ignored.
If there is one downside to this great winter fishing, it is that it can be a bit one-dimensional with slow, vertical presentations forming the lion’s share of any given day on the water. Teens and adults can deal with this well, but, I find those less experienced anglers 10 and under need a bit more variety to hold their interest at a time when variety is lacking.
So, whether you give me or another fishing guide a call, or delay winterizing your own rig and get out there on your own, give winter fishing a try. If you put the rods away until the spring warm-up, you will have missed out on several months of solid fishing.