By February, most hunting seasons have ended or soon will. Many sportsmen stay home in February, keeping warm by the fireplace while waiting for the coming spring fishing action.
But nothing cures the winter blues like line-stretching action with a reel-screeching bull redfish on the other end. Cold weather doesn’t bother redfish as much as it does speckled trout and other salty species, especially the big bulls. In fact, cold water can concentrate redfish in certain areas, making them easier to catch during the winter.
“(Redfish) are very hardy fish and can also tolerate more fluctuations in the salinity levels. We catch redfish in a multitude of places during the winter,” says charter captain Andrew Carter of Spanish Fort.
When cold weather hits the coast, redfish often seek deeper canals, holes and channels where they can find more comfortable, stable temperatures. Anglers who find redfish holes in the winter can usually continue catching spot-tails until the weather changes.
Mobile Bay averages about 12 to 14 feet deep, but much of it runs considerably shallower. Large sandbars and mudflats dot many areas, particularly on the northern end of the bay near the Mobile Causeway, which connects Mobile to Spanish Fort. However, the Mobile Ship Channel gives redfish abundant deep water. Lined with docks and other structures, the channel and associated waters also give redfish great places to ambush bait.
The Theodore Canal runs about 40 feet deep and enters the western side of Mobile Bay near Gaillard Island. People can also find redfish in the deep turning basin near Magazine Point and in other holes. Fish also venture up the deeper rivers of the lower Mobile-Tensaw Delta and other streams flowing into Mobile Bay.
“In the winter, bait comes out of the marshes so many redfish move into the lower parts of the deeper rivers to intercept anything coming out of the delta,” Carter says.
West of Mobile Bay, the marshes bordering Mississippi Sound near Bayou La Batre frequently produce good redfish action. During the winter, spot-tails get in the deeper bayou as well as the West Fowl River and other streams flowing out of the marshes. During cold days, look for sunny spots with shell bottoms that might hold more heat.
Anglers can also fish the Perdido River delta near the Alabama-Florida line at Orange Beach. Rocky or concrete jetties at Perdido Pass and similar structures make ideal places to catch bull reds. The hard structures absorb solar heat and radiate that warmth into the water. Jetties also make excellent hiding places for crabs, baitfish and shrimp. The Dixey Bar at the southern end of Mobile Bay can provide outstanding action for bull reds.
During the winter, most anglers tempt reds with natural baits on the bottom. A live cocahoe or mud minnow also makes an excellent winter temptation. On a bare jighead, hook a minnow through its lips and out the nostrils. Drag it very slowly along the bottom, pausing periodically. Just the natural frantic wiggling of the minnow should provide enough enticement for a cold, hungry redfish to attack.
“In winter, live or dead bait doesn’t make much of a difference because when redfish are hungry, they’ll eat about anything,” Carter says. “People catch a lot of redfish with fresh, dead shrimp fished on the bottom.”
For bulls, use heavy tackle. Hook on a live mullet or cut baitfish into steaks or strips. A whole crab also makes a great offering for bulls. Crack the top shell so succulent juices ooze out. Anglers could also break crabs in half to make two baits.
While most people use natural baits in the winter, redfish also hit lures. A jighead tipped with a soft-plastic trailer hopped along the bottom can work. Also try slow-rolling spoons or spinnerbaits just off the bottom.
“If we can’t get any shrimp, we start throwing soft plastics,” Carter says. “One of my favorites is a Matrix Shad. Since most of the shrimp left the rivers and marshes, redfish feed more heavily upon finfish. Therefore, anything that looks like a finfish is generally pretty good for redfish in the winter.”
Fishing in the winter takes patience, but in the right place, anglers can warm themselves with great action. Bites might come in spurts, but when redfish prowl, things can get crazy fast.
John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer who lives in Semmes, Ala. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.