Fire in the Hole

While you may not be inclined to crawl out of bed before dawn on a chilly January morning, trust us when we tell you that exciting inshore action awaits—that is if you know when and where to look. In all honesty, if you hit the snooze button a few times you may even increase your odds for a banner day.


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Photo: Tosh Brown

With cooler air and water temperatures statewide, most inshore game fish ride out the winter in deep holes, backcountry lairs and other warm water refuges. Redfish on the other hand are slaves to the tide and more tolerant to cooler temperatures. East coast or west, inquisitive reds can be found with relative consistency throughout the winter. Now keep in mind that their feeding patterns and daily movements change from typical fall patterns, so you’ll definitely need to make a few adjustments to score. With that being said, when cabin fever sets in and you’ve got bronze beauties on the brain, take the opportunity to get out and capitalize on what will very likely be an incredible bite. While doing so, pay close attention to what is unfolding around. Before you know it you’ll have a firm grasp on redfish movements, preferred habitat and diet, and you’ll be racking up releases.

If you locate a school of redfish, odds are that they will likely feed in the same area until a severe front interrupts them.

1. Timing

During the winter season extreme tides are the norm, so a firm grasp on water movement is more important than ever. Whether you probe oyster bars, mud flats, grass flats or sandbars, a low tide will offer the best opportunities. Fish will be stuck in troughs and deeper pockets of water that haven’t been sucked off the flats. At times it can be like shooting fish in a barrel. Time it wrong and the flooding tide will provide fresh habitat and forage, giving your quarry a chance to spread out and elude capture. It’s also important to note that prevalent north winds often prevent water levels from reaching their predicted heights, so along with timing the tides you’ll want to strategize a plan of attack for the best possible opportunities. And although redfish are more tolerant to cooler weather it doesn’t mean they aren’t completely unaffected. It’s best to get out prior to an approaching front, but if this is not feasible it will be in your best interest to wait a day or two after a passing front. Once the brisk temperatures have moved on and the winds have settled, the tides will begin to return to normal levels and the barometric pressure will stabilize. Redfish will be ready to feed and the action will be on fire.

2. Location

While tides play a key role in regards to accessibility, in back bays and pockets of water that are sheltered from the wind the shallows can warm a few degrees by the afternoon. Furthermore, mud flats, oyster bars and other dark bottom areas retain heat longer and are favored haunts for winter redfish. With prevailing north winds, target protected waters on the north end of area backwaters and bays. Don’t lose sight of the fact that even though redfish are more active than other species during the winter, they don’t cover as much ground on a daily basis as they would in the summer. If you locate a school of redfish, odds are that they will likely feed in the same area until a severe front interrupts them. It’s safe to assume the fish will follow the same routine for weeks, so make mental notes and pick up on noticeable patterns. In short notice you should be able to predict where the reds will be during any stage of the tide.

3. Presentation

Even though redfish don’t get lockjaw like trout and snook, during the coldest months of the year it takes a bit more to trigger a strike. Since lower water temperatures result in the diminishing availability of forage, this is the ultimate time to fish with artificial enticements. Jerkbaits are proven offerings that fool redfish statewide, and during the winter season seagrass beds aren’t as healthy so you don’t need an offering that’s completely weedless. Scented varieties are perfect and a jighead will add a bit of weight which will help you slice through a stiff breeze. Gold spoons are also worth their weight and will enable you to make long casts to spooky fish. Although lure selection is an important factor, the key to winter success relies in your ability to slow your retrieve and remain stealthy.

4. Stealth

Sure it may be the coldest time of the year, but wade fishing opportunities don’t get any better. Cold water is often extremely clear, so don’t be surprised when fish are super finicky. We’ve said it over and over, but the added advantage afforded by wade fishing is unparalleled. It’s best to anchor or stake out your skiff or kayak on the deep edge of a flat and slowly walk into the strike zone. But just because you are on your feet don’t think you have to keep moving. Boaters often deploy a shallow water anchoring device and simply sit still while they scan the surrounding waters. You should practice the same tactic while wade fishing and you’ll be amazed at the amount of life that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. While you could certainly wade from any launch point or roadside access, with the winter’s extreme low tides it often takes a long run to reach promising honey holes. Since it will be cold, it should come as no surprise that neoprene waders are a must. Sweat pants and insulated socks will keep you warm and make for comfortable fishing.