- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
In some relatively fresh marsh down the road a few miles from my home, there is a large complex of oil-field canals. The water in them is usually pretty grungy from river effluent, and they have filled in to a point where they are much shallower than they once were, but since 1970 they have provided winter redfish action that has been literally guaranteed.
Much closer to my home is a vast bay. With a few exceptions it ranges in depth from 0 to about 5 feet, it is much saltier than the canals, and during winter becomes very clear. Here, too, redfish abound, though they tend to be less concentrated than they often are in the canals. Also, you fish for them much differently here than you do down there.
Those two scenarios represent a good part of the interior waters found across much of the northern Gulf Coast. Combining the techniques that are productive in each with knowledge of what makes a redfish tick during winter will assuredly lead to more consistent winter action, wherever they are found within the region.
Canals In The Cold
In dingy areas, a proven rig is a jig sweetened with a small shrimp and suspended about 2 feet beneath a popping cork.
Canals can be created for purposes other than serving the oil field, and they can be just as productive. The Intercoastal Canal and those which provide access from marinas and waterfront subdivisions to other waterways are examples. Many folks believe redfish become more common in canals during winter than the remainder of the year. In truth, that just isn't so; low tides simply drive them out of the shallow nooks and crannies they inhabit in the local marshes, making them more available, not more common.
Canals can be very long and seemingly featureless, so finding a concentration of reds in one might appear to be a difficult task. It need not be, as there is typically plenty of fish-attracting structure in a canal. Common forms are clam-shelled bulkheads across intersecting canals, scattered clusters of oysters, small cuts which connect the adjacent marshes with the canal, and odd-and-end forms of junk. Usually that comes as sunken boats and run-down camps; however, it can appear as virtually anything. For instance, with the passing of Hurricane "Camille" in 1969, numerous dilapidated mobile homes ended up along the edges of a nearby pipeline canal. The redfish eventually found this rather unique form of structure, and for several winters thereafter the action around them was fantastic! Anything out of the ordinary is worth a few casts.
The action on my best day took place around a small cluster of willow stumps at the edge of the canal's shoreline drop-off. That position is where the best structure of any type will be found in a canal, and that is the result of the redfish's tolerance of extreme water temperatures. That can be pretty chilly in the shallows at times, but in canals the fish are quite close to deeper and slightly warmer water, should they require a temporary refuge from their shallow feeding areas. Still, when I was much younger and much more resistant to adverse elements, I once caught redfish in a canal when my popping cork would break skim-ice as it splashed down along the shoreline drop-offs. No more of that, though! Simply put, if you must fish the depths of a canal to catch redfish, then it's probably too cold to be fishing in the first place!
Anglers may need coveralls, but redfish can easily adapt to chilly temperatures, and may even hit topwaters.
Otherwise, fish for them with your shrimp-tipped jig suspended no more than 2 feet beneath your popping cork. In canals where the water is somewhat dingy, that is the only enticer you will need. A quarter-ounce yellow, white or chartreuse jig with a stout size 2/0 hook is time-proven; the shrimp should be around 70/80-count. The best retrieve is slow with moderately loud pops and directly across the drop-off, that being determined by the jig suddenly coming off bottom, its weight then causing the cork to sit more upright in the water. A couple of feet either side of that point is the strike zone.
One last thing about canals: On those days when a typical winter norther—not a visit from the Arctic Express!—has the local bays churning and the surrounding marshes almost bone-dry, canals are at their best. Remember that the next time a bunch of fishing buddies from up-the-country time their arrival with that of a cold front.
Sunny Days, Big Bays
The big bay that lies a short distance from my home is a wonderful place to fish on friendly winter days. Assuredly those frequently require insulated coveralls for maintaining a positive attitude, but in many cases they are fairly calm, beset with bright sunlight, and beginning with a very low tide. This type of day occurs after a cold front has blown itself out but before the onset of onshore winds, the water is typically quite clear, and the particulars of it occur across the coast.
I caught my first fish of 2002 on such a day. It was a red of about 10 pounds, and it struck a Top Dog being worked across a long submerged point, which was about a foot deep at the time. Yeah—mid-January, early morning, insulated coveralls which, incidentally, were not shed until afternoon, and surface lures! And you should have seen that strike!
That incident nicely illustrates the general pattern for fishing for redfish in bays on sunny and relatively calm winter days, a pattern based again on the red's resistance to cold, which allows them to feed in their normal shallow habitat during all but the most severe weather.
Reds feed in some pretty shallow water during all but the coldest weather.
I doubt the sun had risen high enough by the time I caught it to have significantly raised the temperature of the water atop the point by radiational warming, but it could have done so just enough to inspire a hungry red to begin feeding, and that's the key. For sure, had the day been thickly overcast, I would have not even attempted to work that point.
Nevertheless, in favorable conditions great fishing can be had during winter in a bay's shallows—even more so if the bay is enhanced with shells or live oysters. The shallows along upwind shorelines can even offer sight fishing at this time, normally taking place between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. when the sun is at its highest point. In any case, drift fishing—or power-drifting with an electric trolling motor—is the proper technique.
And be quiet! Noise travels a long way in cold water!
The surface lure I was using was simply a matter of preference—and confidence in its winter effectiveness. The year's first red would have probably struck a spinnerbait (a quarter-ounce jig-head, a size 4 gold safety-pin spinner, and a soft-plastic tail) or a small feathered spoon, both of which are consistently productive in clear, chilly water when retrieved slowly. I've caught several pick-up-truck loads of reds with those two lures during past winters, but these days I simply prefer watching them do the Dog.
Sadly, not all friendly winter days are bathed in bright sunlight. When it’s cloudy but still reasonably calm, reds may not ascend the really skinny water, but they will be near it. Generally they will be holding to some form of structure like submerged junk, big clusters of oysters, short but abrupt drop-offs, and depressions in the bay-bottom. Here, spoons and spinnerbaits are the best bet. In this setting the largest concentrations of reds occur before the tide returns to and then surpasses mean sea level. If that point is reached before the next front arrives, the fish will scatter into the newly created shallows—sunlight or not—and become very difficult to locate.
Here's one more. No matter whether you intend to fish a canal or a bay, when the tide's well above mean sea level—for whatever reason—stay home and watch TV!