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Another relatively mild winter may be upon us, and on warmer days people get the urge to fish.
Yes, there are fish out there. In fact, if you like quiet angling with a bit of a challenge but a potentially big upside, this time of the year is for you.
Winter fishing is often a feast or famine deal. One great example is the puppy drum.
Small red drum never leave inshore waters, and if you get on a school that is feeding you can catch them on virtually every cast. Then again, if you miss the school you can spend fruitless hours fishing in the same place without a bite and think the creeks have emptied of fish.
One key point to remember is that even though you may not see it, there is still bait in the water.
Fish have to eat, and even if some species feed less often and with less gusto in the cold water, they aren't going to stay still and starve themselves to death. Because the entire food chain is less widely dispersed, however, you have to choose your fishing spots more carefully to avoid wasting time.
A lot of open, sandy spots that produce in the warm water won't cut it in the winter, even if there is strong water flow.
Surf fishermen wading from a featureless beach, for instance, may be able to do very well in the spring and fall but will be lucky to get into them in cold weather.
Open places cleared for shore fishing on an inlet or waterway will not produce the same. Spots that boaters often anchor at should be bypassed if they don't have some sort of structure to hold winter fish.
That structure is what you want, and in winter more than any other season you can use your eyes. Bridges, docks, inlet points, feeder creeks and piers concentrate critters so small you can't see them, and they attract the larger predators.
That isn't to say fish don't cruise in the winter. They do, but you don't want to spend a lot of time chasing them at unlikely spots.
Another thing to keep in mind is how tightly fish pack together in the winter. Even more than during the rest of the year, species like red drum and speckled trout will be found in large schools or not at all.
This is one good reason why it isn't advisable to spend all day in one place if you are not catching fish.
There are fishing guides who run in the winter and specialize at finding roaming schools of drum, knowing the hot places to look. If you aren't with a guide you will have to take your best shot, and if you guess wrong move on instead of lingering.
It is much harder to get live bait in the winter. Some folks have a talent for finding bait with their cast nets in even the worst conditions, but tossing a dripping wet cast net in very cold weather can make your warm couch start to seem very appealing. Most anglers cut to the chase and use lures.
A slower retrieve is crucial to success. Since fickle speckled trout are out there, it is also advisable to keep trying different lure color and style variations if you aren't having success.
Black drum are a year round resident of our waters, so you can fish cut shrimp on the bottom for these often overlooked fish. But they will only be found in an area that has some sort of pilings or other shellfish habitat to hold them.
As everyone knows, the winters of the last few years have been remarkably warm, with water temps adjusted accordingly.
I know I caught spot last year right on into February. All of the usual winter game fish bite on through to spring.
In fact, in my experience of the last few winters, it was often the warmer days that turned the fish off and the colder weather that seemed to bring me better luck. With sincere apologies to Al Gore, global warming seems to be having a pleasant effect on local fishing.
Very few people fish during the colder months at night, but it can be extraordinarily productive. Drum, both red and black, come alive at night, having nocturnal tendencies that are quite familiar to anyone who fishes for freshwater catfish on a river.
If I am fishing from shore and not a boat, I won't even fish for drum during the day this time of year. Since I can't chase them, it is better to wait and find a bridge or pier I suspect they'll be feeding at after dark. One thing is for sure, if you like fishing alone then winter night fishing is for you.
Don't believe anyone who tells you there are no fish out there in the winter. They are there. In fact, you can stand on some lighted bridges and piers at night and see them in the clear, cold water, slowly moving along downstream from the pilings.
Be warned, if they aren't in a biting mood, that is actually a rather frustrating thing to do. I know.