Two Louisiana Myths – Winter and Off-Season Fishing
Louisiana winters pale in comparison with our northern neighbors, but if we have a winter season, February would be the heart of it. Sure we get cold spells near the holidays or an occasional snow flurry, however, even in the depth of our “winter” we often see days that fill the rest of the country with envy.
The same goes for our state having an off-season for fishing. Many believe our coastal fishing takes a break this time of year, but nothing could be further from the truth. The fish are there to be caught, they didn’t leave and they have to eat. It’s the people who are scarce.
Temperatures are on the low side and most natives prefer sweltering heat to a thermometer striving to break 45 degrees. Add the fact that the month is the shortest of the twelve and that both Valentines day and Mardi Gras can often be jammed together in that time and no wonder so few people have fond memories of fishing in February.
Now I’m not saying we don’t have cold weather, we do. I am not saying that fishing in February doesn’t have its challenges, it does. But, with a little patience and a an understanding of what the fish are doing to cope with the cold, an angler can easily have a successful day on the water coming home with a box of great fish.
So for those hardy enough to plan a day on the water in search of an angling trophy or just dinner, let’s talk about the basics of cold weather fishing.
Cold Weather Fishing Keys
Just as the cold weather makes your fingers move more slowly, the fish slow down as well. No matter where you are fishing, remember this:
• Slow your retrieve
• Fish will generally be in or near deeper water
• Lighten up on the jerks you use to bounce the bait
• Don’t be afraid to set the hook. Some strikes are going to be so slight, the motionless Oysters will sometimes feel like it hits harder.
• Moving water is still important; fish want the bait to come to them.
• If the temperature is warming the fish will likely move from deep to shallow and vice versa.
Picture a cold blooded fish in 45 degree water. Food is relatively scarce, being choosey isn’t an option. What they want is the easy meal, no matter what it tastes like. A fish this time of year would love a shrimp or a minnow, but a small eel, a worm or leech is just as good. So these fish move where the temperature is warmest and usually over some structure like an oyster or shell reef. They move slowly looking for food. If the food is scattered, so are the fish.
Fishing in areas where deep channels move into shallow bays with shell bottoms or other structure is important. Drifting down channels or across shell reefs is a great way to find trout that have no reason to school up. Just drift slowly with the wind and tide together.
This is a time of year is less forgiving than other seasons. A few extra items should be on board, just in case.
Repellant – You should always have it, but this time of year, mosquitoes the size of private jets are out and when the gnats want to swarm, limited-visibility warnings start to pop up on the weather channel.
Rain Gear – Another item that should always be on board. Beyond the obvious of keeping you dry in the rain, good rain gear is also excellent wind protection for someone who is getting extremely cold or is already wet. Blocking the wind is half the battle in keeping warm.
Extra Towels – Keeping warm again is the key goal, keeping dry is a big step in that direction. Towels go a long way to keeping dry.
Dry Storage – Along the same theme here. If you don’t have a place on the boat where things absolutely stay dry, bring some 33 gal., heavy duty garbage bags. Clothes, towels, rain gear and other things can be kept out of the weather and water spray.
Communication – VHF radio, cell phone you know has a signal where you are fishing, courier pigeon or any other way you can get assistance is vital this time of year. Once something happens, you will have a limited window of opportunity when the weather is harsh.
On the bright side, fishing in February can be a great time. There is nothing like a brisk morning boat ride to get your heart pumping, that is until the first strike on the line. The sun rises late and letting the water warm up is a good thing, so you can sleep in a bit. The fish are in the marsh, so the boat ride is short, and long sleeve shirts and pants do wonders for keeping the bugs and the UV rays to a minimum.
A cool day fishing is also a lot better than a bad case of cabin fever. So don’t let Louisiana’s “Slow Fishing Season” pass you by. Our slow season for fishing is still better than 90% of the country’s fishing peaks. We’re just spoiled.
The fish have to eat and you have to fish, that’s all there is to it.
Get Out and Get On’em!