Anglers in the know can find some of the best redfish fishing of the year.
The morning sun was a poor imitation of the summer heat-producer of six months ago. The breeze from the north was downright chilly. When the shallow-draft bay boat left the main body of Mobile Bay and pulled into a feeder creek, the water was clear. You could easily see oyster shells and crabs on the bottom. This was obviously classic winter conditions on the backwaters of Mobile Bay.
The boat stopped at a familiar bend of the creek. The anglers aboard cast their jigs and live shrimp into the deeper water of the bend. Immediately, both anglers caught reds. The anglers lifted a pair of beautiful copper-colored, blue-tailed redfish into the boat. This fast action continued all morning. And here’s the great thing about it: This sort of action happens nearly every morning during the winter. Anglers know where to go and what to do. This will make wintertime feeder streams some of the best redfish fishing of the entire year.
Up the Creek is a Good Thing, Sometimes
Slot size redfish spend much of their lives in the feeder creeks and bayous of Mobile Bay. They find food there and they avoid larger predators that might eat them. The creeks, therefore, are prime spots for anglers to locate and catch these great game fish. However, creek and bayou fishing requires anglers to work just a little bit.
Wintertime reds concentrate in creeks and bayous that offer dark-bottomed shallow water. These spots warm up faster in bright sunshine. Reds also like spots that have deeper pockets with oyster shell bottoms. This is because these places offer more food and security.
On the western shore, very good places to start a winter redfish hunt are Dog River and its tributaries, and Fowl River with its smaller feeder creeks. Both of these major feeder streams carry good populations of winter reds.
The Eastern Shore likewise has a couple of big, nice creeks to fish. Fish River has some deep water, and the reds stack up in the deep holes. Bon Secour River is not as big, but it holds some great redfish in cold weather.
Anglers should use electronic gear to locate the deeper holes in creeks. Also, to identify where the channels run in creeks. Reds will be found in these channels.
Our buddy Yano Serra says that anglers should look for bends in the creeks. This is because these creek bends offer everything redfish anglers are looking for. The outside of bends will usually have deeper water. The inside of the bends will often have the dark-bottom shallow flats that allow water to warm. A spot that should be fished well is the deeper water of a bend that has a structure (oyster shell bottom, blown down trees, or even hurricane debris).
Think Shrimp, Real or Fake
One thing that redfish anglers in winter can count on is that redfish will eat shrimp. A live shrimp is the best redfish bait nearly any time, but it’s especially true in winter. The big problem for us anglers is that sometimes live shrimp are very hard to find in winter.
If the stars align right and live shrimp are available, anglers can just use the standard rig of a slip sinker—1/4 oz. should be plenty in most creeks—and a number 2 Kahle hook or small gold treble hook. Put a tiny split shot on the line a foot above the hook to keep the egg sinker off the hook itself, and we’re in business. Pin a live shrimp to this hook and cast into a promising spot and hold on. If reds are there, the shrimp won’t last long.
Sometimes, it’s hard to find live shrimp. In this case, anglers can turn to one of the many scented imitations on the market. GULP bodies in the three-inch size are reliable redfish grabbers. I have not found the color of the GULP to be important at all. They all work. Redfish anglers can put this fake shrimp body on a 1/4 to 3/8 oz jighead and work the deeper water. Short hops of the jig off the bottom seem to work best in winter. Reds will chase down a lure in cooler water. However, they won’t chase it as far or as fast as they do in warmer conditions. Let the reds have plenty of time to see, catch, and eat the jig. Small hops are best.
Other fish may turn up as well, so be prepared for it. It’s not uncommon to have flounder and black drum take shrimp intended for redfish, but that’s not a bad thing.
“A simple red-and-white thing that sinks fast and moves quickly is my most productive wintertime redfish fly is.”
Now, for something completely different, wintertime redfish anglers can find some of the best fly-fishing of the year up the feeder creeks. Since the creek water is usually not much over six feet deep, fly anglers can sink shrimp imitation flies into the productive water.
Some shrimp flies are available that look so much like real shrimp it’s almost scary. Reds will eat these super-realistic flies, but they will also eat simple flies, too. A simple red-and-white thing that sinks fast and moves quickly is my most productive wintertime redfish fly is.
Whatever kind of gear used for these creek reds doesn’t have to be too heavy. These reds are not the big Dixey Bar bruisers but instead are three- to eight-pound slot size reds. That being said, twelve-pound line spinning or bait casting rigs are fine, and five weight fly rigs are perfect.
A Good Time for Late-Risers
I love to be on the water early at dark-thirty most days. However, in the winter, there’s really no reason to do this. Most days, the best fishing won’t occur until later. This is when the sun has had a few hours to shine on the water and warm it up just a bit. It only takes a couple of hours of sunshine on the water to make a huge difference in the bite you get.
If the day will be sunny, anglers might want to wait until 9:00 or even 10:00 in the morning before setting out. Even then it may be afternoon before the water warms enough for the fish to really get active. Afternoon redfish fishing in the winter can be very good on sunny days.
If the day is cloudy and overcast, anglers can get on the water whenever it suits them. This is because the bite will not be as dependent on the sunshine warming the water. On cloudy winter days, the deepest water is your best bet.
Don’t Get Stuck!
One of the most important considerations for anglers in winter is the water level. Winter tides are low at any time, but when a strong north wind has been blowing for a day or two, the water can get very low. Places that were navigable all summer may suddenly be high and dry in the winter.
Be careful and do not get stuck “up a creek”. When the high tide pulls out and leaves the mouth of the creek too shallow, it becomes difficult to get back to the main channel and home. Before going feeder creek redfish fishing, consult the tide tables and try not to go in on a high tide and then get stuck later when the tide falls.
Also, be sure and wear proper clothes. Some very nice days do occur on the Gulf Coast, even in the dead of winter. However, it can get very chilly very fast when the wind shifts to the north and a little drizzle starts to fall. Layers of clothes with waterproof outerwear are best. Again, when the water gets low and the north winds blow, be an angler in the know.