Fishing and hunting keep the internal temperatures for Bay area outdoors folks plenty warm.
I could hear the boom of shotguns from the backwater bay behind me. Someone was having good luck with the ducks on this cloudy, breezy January day. I heard another round of guns a bit farther back. Yep, those scattergun guys were having some fun with the Delta’s waterfowl. But I couldn’t spend too much time congratulating the hunters on their good luck. I was having some pretty good luck of my own.
My popping cork had barely settled after I made another cast toward the muddy shoreline of the Apalachee River when the cork disappeared. Another fat redfish was on the line. Or was it a speckled trout? Or perhaps a sheepshead! Gosh, it might be a largemouth bass. A few of them had visited me today, too.
No matter what sort of outdoor sport we prefer, we can find it by getting out on the Mobile Delta in January.
First the blast—waterfowl hunting
If there’s anything in the world more dependent upon what happens somewhere else than the duck hunting here on the Delta, it’s hard to imagine. Since our weather and water conditions on the Delta are really pretty stable from year to year, the number and kinds of ducks that actually travel to our waters are almost totally influenced by the conditions up north.
If the country has a mild winter and there is lots of feed for the ducks up in the Midwest, we’ll never see many ducks down here. If the conditions are dry and food is scarce in the Midwest, we may get an overload of ducks.
Duck hunters on the Delta can only hope that conditions up in the Midwest are such that the ducks will need to continue their migration so they’ll make it to the coast and not stop somewhere farther to our north for the winter.
Keith Gauldin, Assistant District supervisor for Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources—Wildlife and Freshwater fisheries Division—tells us that we may have some very good news for duck hunters in January of 2013.
Gauldin asserts that the Delta’s forage conditions for ducks and other waterfowl is very good; one of the best years he’s seen for submerged aquatic weeds. These weeds are primary food sources for most of our ducks that travel to the Delta in winter.
What may be of even more importance to duck hunters on the Delta are the present conditions found in the Midwest. “The Midwest has a lack of water and suitable habitat for most ducks this year,” Gauldin says. “The lack of food for ducks up there should indicate a good year for us.”
Hunters new to the duck hunting game on the Mobile Delta will soon find that the massive Delta has fairly distinct areas as far as species of ducks and where they are located is concerned.
Hunters who concentrate on the upper parts of the Delta—big tree territory—should find an abundance of wood ducks and better-than-average numbers of puddle ducks this year.
Hunters who work the areas closer to I-10 and the big bays north of the Causeway should find very good numbers of redheads, scaup, buffleheads, and some canvasbacks this year. Early reports from Delta observers indicate that a very good crop of redheads and buffleheads have found their way to the Mobile Delta, so at least these species of duck seem to be a good bet for Delta hunters.
Of course, the kinds and numbers of ducks traveling all the way to our coast and massive Mobile Delta will be influenced greatly by water and weather conditions on a daily basis, but January 2013 looks very good for duck hunters.
And next—the cast
For those of us who prefer a quieter but not less exciting sort of outdoor fun in January, the fishing can be hotter than hot when the winds blow cold. Both freshwater and saltwater species concentrate in the various regions of the Mobile Delta, and anglers can usually find fish willing to bite.
Bass fishing on the upper reaches of the Delta and in the main rivers can be very good in January. The bass will be in prespawn mode. That means they won’t chase a lure or bait far or fast, but they will absolutely eat when a meal comes close to them.
Unless we have a particularly warm winter, bass will usually be found in deeper pockets and holes where the water temperatures will be slightly warmer than the rest of the water. Deep holes on the bends of creeks are prime places to find January bass on the Delta, especially if logs and stumps or other solid underwater cover is present.
Anglers can work soft plastics slowly in the deep water. Don’t be in a hurry to make the next cast. Let the soft plastic do its work to attract somewhat sluggish bass.
Bay Minette Creek, Byrnes Lake, and the upper lakes and backwaters toward I-65 can be very good for cool-weather bass.
If high water should occur from upstream rains, Delta bass anglers should not give up hope. Even in the dead of winter, better fishing water can be found in high water conditions by looking for backwaters and smaller feeder creeks that give bass places to get out of strong water currents and muddy water. When fishing these smaller backwaters, anglers should gear down to lighter line and smaller lures. As a final technique to try for winter Delta bass, anglers can use live bait. Minnows and shrimp will both attract bass when they are dropped into sharp drop-offs near deeper holes.
If the winter is warm, crappie anglers can find schools of crappie starting to assemble and getting ready to spawn. Look for crappie in deeper water. They can often be located out in open water near bridge pilings and other structure. Live minnows are the first choice in January, but sometimes crappie like small jigs with grub bodies. Keep in mind that prespawn crappie are not usually going to chase a meal, so let the minnow or jig sit still and allow the crappie to move closer to it and take the bait.
Of course, one of the biggest attractions of the Mobile Delta is the wide range of fish that can be caught. Salt water game fish make the Delta their home in winter. It’s fun to get into redfish, speckled trout, sheepshead and flounder. They’re all in the Delta.
Captain Andrew Carter of Krazy Kjun Inshore Charters fishes the Mobile Delta a lot, and he says that January can be one of the very finest times for both speck and reds. He says if we don’t get a monsoon up north to bring us a lot of water, then January fishing can be great.”
Captain Andrew adds, “Pick a river—Tensaw, Blakely, Raft, Mobile—any of the major rivers in the Delta. They are all good in January.”
When asked his favorite fishing technique for January specks and reds, Captain Andrew has a ready answer. ”I like the Do-Nothing technique. Take a 3/8 to ¼ oz. jighead, put a clear or gold paddle-tail grub with a chartreuse tail on the jig, and throw it out behind the boat. Let the current or a very slow trolling motor move the boat over deep holes. The trout will take care of the rest.”
Redfish are often caught along with specks with the “Do-Nothing” rig.
One good thing about January fishing for specks and reds on the Delta is that usually it doesn’t take a long boat ride in the cool air to reach good fishing. Particularly in the Blakely River, anglers can find very good fishing just out from the Five Rivers Park facility upstream from the Causeway Bridge. There are some very good holes and humps in that area.
In the main rivers (Blakely, Appalachee, and the bigger bays off the main rivers), anglers can look for feeding birds to point out the fish. Speckled trout in particular will chase shrimp to the surface and the birds will be there to take their share of the bounty. Quietly motor into the vicinity of the feeding fish, make long casts to avoid spooking them, and get ready for some fun.
January specks in the Delta don’t usually run too big, mostly one to two pounds and the occasional three- to four-pound fish. However, the sheer number of trout to be caught in January makes up for the smaller size. An ice chest of January speck trout represents very good eating. The fish seem to be firmer-fleshed and very tasty when they come from the cooler water.
Redfish will be in deeper channels off the main rivers. Look for ditches and navigable channels that lead into ponds and bayous. The reds love to hole up in bends and pockets in the creeks. Drift a live shrimp along the bottom of deep holes and hang on!
One of the nicest things about fishing the Delta in January is the wide range of fish to be caught, often from a single spot. It’s not uncommon to catch redfish, sheepshead, trout and largemouth bass in a single location.
I was anchored in the deep hole behind Trader’s on the Causeway one fine day in January and discovered that I could cast to the middle—deeper water—and catch sheepies and reds. If I cast to the shoreline—shallower water—I would catch bass. It was a whole lot of fun to call my shots to my fishing partner, and then actually be able to catch the fish I predicted.
Of course, the warning
It has been said perhaps a million times, but for any newcomers who are considering a fishing expedition to the Mobile Delta in January, there are some things that need to be mentioned.
First, the Delta is a massive place. It’s easy to get lost. A GPS unit can be a very good thing to make backtracking possible. The channels and creeks and ponds tend to look very much alike in winter, and it can be difficult to get back to the dock sometimes— especially if the weather changes and it gets nasty.
Next, the water levels in the Delta tend to get very low in winter. Winter tides are uniformly low anyway. Combine a low tide with a strong north wind and we can get dry—or only damp—land where just a day or so previously we motored at speed with no trouble. Both anglers and duck hunters must be aware of the low water conditions. It’s no fun being aground at any time, but being aground in deep Delta mud with a cold wind blowing and night coming on is not a good situation. Just be careful and watch the water levels.
Of course, proper clothing is vitally important. Layers of clothing that can be removed and added as conditions change are best. Also, a good set of rain gear is necessary for January fishing comfort. There may be a few things worse than being wet and cold, but it’s hard to think of many.
It’s not that chilly—let’s go to the Delta.
Even if the wind is sharp and the water conditions may sometimes require extra care when navigating, a really great thing about fishing and hunting the Delta is that when we pull the boat out and are ready to head for a warm place to sit and something really hot to eat, an array of excellent restaurants are located on the Causeway. And they don’t mind hunters and anglers coming in to eat. There’s little better to take the chill off than a bowl of gumbo and fresh, boiled shrimp.
Keep dry, keep warm, and keep the boat floating in plenty of water so that January fishing on the Mobile Delta can be one of the high points of the entire fishing year.
Important contact Information:
Captain Andrew Carter
Krazy Kjun Inshore Charters