Be choosy with your fishing ’yak attacks this time of the year

This white trout fell for a jighead and plastic tail combo tight-lined slowly on a mild winter day. (Photo by Chris Holmes)

You would be hard pressed to find any coastal angler that says February is their favorite month to fish, even more so for kayak anglers. Generally speaking, the second month of the year is known for cold, nasty days, with bouts of little to no water. While kayak anglers can get pretty shallow, paddling or pedaling through mud is not anyone’s idea of fun.

However, if you play your cards right, February can provide some good weather days and fantastic fishing.

Unless you are totally mad at the fish, there is no reason to kayak fish on days that make no sense to do so. When cold fronts cause the the temperatures to plummet and the winds to howl, you are better served staying at the house. These conditions are miserable, the fishing is usually slow. Most importantly, it can be downright deadly in a kayak. Should you accidentally flip a kayak on one of these days, hypothermia can set in within a matter of minutes and if you are far from help, it can be a matter of life and death.

Not every day will be a bad one; mild days happen more than you would think and a pattern of a few such days strung together can cause the water temps to rise a few degrees and this can turn the bite on. Those are the times to go fish.

Fish slower

February is also unique in that virtually any technique you use throughout the year may be successful at this time. The key, no matter the lure or method is to fish slower. Drifting, trolling, vertical jigging, popping corks, tight-lining, and yes, even topwater can all be effective this time of year. You may have to consciously make yourself slow down, but if you do, you increase the chance of strikes from otherwise lethargic fish.

The marshes are a mix of shallow lakes, bays and ponds interconnected with deep natural bayous, pipelines and dead-end canals. This varied terrain provides easy access to different water depths and food sources that keep the trout and reds biting throughout the winter.

Of course cold fronts, especially with northwest winds, can drain the water from shallow areas. While this may hinder some access, it also serves to concentrate the fish in the deeper locations. Look for areas with mixed water depths in close proximity. While your favorite pond may be bone dry, that nearby pipeline will likely be loaded with fish.

On the move

Keep in mind that the fish move back and forth between these areas as conditions change. As it gets a bit warmer, they spread throughout the shallower areas and following a cold dip, they head to the deep. Of course, deep water is a relative term. A six-foot canal is deep compared to a two-foot-deep duck pond. A change in water temperature of only a couple degrees can make a big difference in fish activity.

If your ’yak has a depth finder with a temperature gauge, keep an eye on it as you move through an area and as the day progresses. Water depth and temperature are keys to finding fish in winter. Winter fish always stage where they have immediate access to both deep and shallow water.

Fish slow and thoroughly. Many anglers move from an area assuming there are no fish. However, they may have been fishing the bank, when the fish were sitting behind them out in the middle. Structure, such as oysters reefs, can also make a big difference. Oysters constantly filter water. Although it may not be visible from the surface, the water just over the reef will be cleaner than the surrounding areas. Additionally, the shells also radiate heat.

While the fish certainly stack up in deep holes, larger fish will usually be the first to move shallower, onto the flats, when the water temperature warms a bit. When the schoolies are piled up in the middle of a bayou, the bigger fish may be prowling the nearby shallow ponds.

Yes, try the top

Don’t overlook topwater lures on those days where the weather has stabilized and warmed a bit. While the thought of throwing a topwater in winter doesn’t often come to mind, it can be highly effective. Walk it a little slower than usual and you may be pleasantly surprised.

The only live bait available in February is cocahoe minnows and they work great. However, artificial lures are also highly effective. Scented lures like Gulp or some dead shrimp also help convince slow moving winter fish into striking. If fishing jigs, use the lightest head you can. The bites are soft and slow. Using braided line also adds sensitivity and helps detect those oh-so-subtle strikes.

While working the lure slowly, set the hook on any change in feel. What you think may just be grass may well be a trout that lightly sucked in your lure.

Fishing in February may not rival the best trips of the year, but if you have a kayak angling itch to scratch, be choosey and don’t hesitate to plan a trip if the conditions are safe to do so. Dress properly, take along a buddy or two and fish slowly and deliberately. You’ll get your fishing fix to hold you over to those wonderful spring days coming soon.

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