Tips to Reel in a Great Catch During Cooler Weather
Part of the What's Biting Series.
While the vast majority of charter boats perform annual maintenance during the winter, there is another group of dedicated anglers who never stop plying the waters along the Alabama Gulf Coast for some species that will bite during the cold weather.
The difference in the winter is that the fish technique must be slow and deliberate to account for the reduced metabolism of the fish because of the colder temperatures. Many of the fishermen I've fished with in the winter will stick with shrimp imitation baits, like a DOA Shrimp or Vudu Shrimp, but the presentation is much different that in warm weather. The shrimp lure is cast on light line without a cork or any additional weight. The lure sinks slowly, and you have to watch your line for any twitch that might indicate a bite. As the bait drifts toward the bottom without a bite, twitch it and let it sink, twitch it and let it sink.
Most of the inshore species like speckled trout and redfish will head into the rivers and estuaries on the Alabama Gulf Coast, following the migration of shrimp. Of course, anglers always are on the lookout for a brief warm-up during the winter, because it will bring the fish out of the deeper water and up into the shallow water if the temperatures get into the upper 60s for a few days. An incoming tide will bring that warmer water into the shallow areas, and many times the fish will follow. Try finger mullet, small menhaden, and threadfin shad on the shallow fish.
One of the best-eating fish in the Gulf will still be running the shoreline for much of the winter. Whiting will be lurking in the surf on the front beach, hitting bits of fresh dead shrimp. The whiting will hang on the beach until it gets too cold in January, when they will move back into the Gulf.
The Intracoastal Waterway is a place to get out of the weather and catch fish, although it's hard to pinpoint where the fish will be. Look for bait, but you may end up doing quite a bit of casting before you find out where the fish are located.
When it starts warming up in January, the next bounty for the Gulf Coast anglers starts to arrive. A few sheepshead will start showing up in January, and by February, good numbers of the toothy fish will move to the rocks, jetties and pilings, chewing on any crustaceans they can find.
When the sheepshead mark the end of winter, use fresh dead shrimp, live shrimp, fiddler crabs, and hermit crab to fill up an ice chest with the striped species. Because of the size of the head, sheepshead don't yield large fillets, so keep the larger fish and throw the smaller ones back.