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Fishing Plan for a Cold Morning

The fishing plan we made the night before worked for us on a very cold day


Photo © Ron Brooks

A nice 26 inch redfish caught in a small tidal creek on a plastic grub.

Photo © Ron Brooks
Boy was it cold! I mean, the temperature was actually around 35, but at the water and with a breeze it seemed as if we were in a deep freeze! I have fished in cold weather a lot, and I do find it more difficult, but I tend to refuse to stay home when I have a chance to get on the water - regardless of the weather. Ever had that problem?

Cold Weather

Gloves, jacket, head cover - I even had on a pair of long johns trying to stay warm. We backed down and launched the boat, parked the trailer, and headed out. I do have to say - and I don't get any endorsement pay - that my Evinrude ETEC cranked on the first turn of the key, just like it always does. I mention it because of the amazing technology - it's been a remarkably dependable engine.

As we headed out I took to the fishing plan I had made for the day. The tide was incoming and in about an hour it would be high tide. A cold front had just moved through the area, and the sky was high and blue with no clouds. So I headed to my first target, the jetty edge on the lea side of the inlet.

Jetty Fishing

On previous trips in weather like this my fishing log told me I had caught redfish here on an incoming tide all the way up to high. So I planned to work these jetty edges first. I started on end inside the inlet and began working the edges of the rocks with a jig head and live shrimp. I let the tide move the boat along and used the trolling motor to keep the boat parallel to the rocks and far enough off to cast to them.

Fishing this way really makes you stay in touch with your line and your bait. You have to be a line watcher and you have to keep all the slack out of your line. If you don't the current will sweep your bait under one of the underwater rocks and you get to move off and tie on another leader and jig head.

Watching your line and understanding what's happening is an acquired skill. Sometimes a fish will be so subtle when picking up the bait that you may not feel him. But you will see a slight stoppage or a "tic" in the line when he picks it up.

We made two drifts along the rocks, all the way to the end of the jetty, and caught two oversized reds in the process. The slot limit is between 18 and 27 inches long - these fish were both about 30 inches. They really did not fight as hard as they usually do - I believe the cold water had them really in a slow motion mode.

After about an hour of fishing the rocks, the tide slowed as it came up to high. That was my cue to move. I had another place on the agenda to be when the tide stopped.

Structure Fishing at Slack Tide

We moved to a local bridge where several pilings were located in about 20 feet of water - comparatively deep water for this area. Once again, I had caught fish here before under similar circumstances.

The cold water and slack tide meant we would be looking for a deeper hole and structure that would hold fish. We fished the same baits, but we fished them a bit differently. With the tide now reaching slack (no current), we pitched the jigs up close to the pilings and allowed them to head to the bottom. Once again, line watching and staying in contact with the bait were important. As my bait dropped, I felt a tic just before it hit the bottom. I set the hook and brought a nice spotted seatrout to the surface. My partner's bait went all the way to the bottom. He worked it up and down about a foot off the bottom just a couple of times, and hooked up.

There was a small school of trout working the bottom on this high tide, and they were eating literally every bait we put down to the bottom. We had enough fish to eat in short order, so the rest of the day would become strictly catch and release.

The slack tide around the bridge we fished lasts about 45 minutes. After that, the outgoing tidal current begins to get so strong that you can't keep a bait on the bottom. I'm never real sure at this location whether the current prevents me from enticing a bite or the fish leave. Either way, the bite stops and we have to move on. I'm good here for about 45 minutes and four or five nice tide runner seatrout.

Fishing a High Tide

In most locations I fish, the outgoing tide down close to low is best. But years of fishing, trying new locations, and keeping track of where and when I caught fish have left me with a few places I can usually find a fish or two on a high outgoing tide.

So we head inshore in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) to a location I had in my plan. As we move away from an inlet it takes more time for the tidal waters to change because the water has farther to travel. We ran about five miles north from the inlet and the tide was still moving in. It would be another hour and a half before high tide here.

The location was a creek mouth, and the tide was moving into the creek. This particular creek is the waterway that feeds a huge marsh and hard mud flat. The water over that flat is about two feet deep at high tide and the flat is out of water at low tide. With a cloudless sky, the sun warms that shallow water - not like warm water but at least a few degrees warmer than the surrounding water. In my experience, the fish - reds and sheepshead - move onto that flat as the tide moves in to feed. They look for small crabs and other crustaceans, and the area is fishable by wading.

We certainly were not going to do any wading on this day! Our plan was to find the fish coming into the creek and head them off before they moved out onto the flat.

Once again the trolling motor came into play, and we worked the banks and the oyster bars in the creek. Spinnerbaits with plastic grub tails are deadly around these oyster bars, and we managed a few keeper reds as we worked back into the creek. When the tide stopped moving, the fish were up on the flat, and we idled back out into the ICW.

Bottom Line

I had planned this trip to be a half day trip, and by now we had fished a total of about three hours. So we packed it in and headed back to the warmth of the heated seats in the truck! Did I mention that it was really cold?

The bottom line here is that you can catch fish in cold water; you can catch fish in cold weather; and, you can catch fish on an otherwise undesirable tide. The key is knowing where you caught fish under the same conditions in the past, and making a fishing plan that utilizes that information. It's the only way to go!

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