So far it hasn’t been much of a winter here in southern Louisiana. I don’t know about you, but I had the air-conditioning cranking in my house and car on Christmas Day. Santa must have been broiling in his suit. But this unseasonably warm weather hasn’t hurt the fishing. On the contrary, with the warmer water temperatures, the fish have been plenty active. So what about winter fishing when the cold fronts start rolling through more regularly in the coming weeks?
Redfish exhibit sluggish behavior when the water temperature drops below 50F. That seems to be the temperature below which they enter a state of near hibernation. Lucky for us, it may only take a few degrees of the water warming up during the course of a sunny day for them to become active again. In terms of locating reds, look for clear water with a dark bottom to absorb heat when the sun is still relatively high. As a general trend, the bigger bulls like to hang out in water 3-4 feet deep, but they may go shallower. It is always amazing to see a big bull sitting on the bank with it's back out of the water, which happens often enough in January and February, but the slightly deeper flats are your best bet. Don’t be afraid to get away from the banks of islands and ponds. Avoid areas with other boats and do some exploring. Shallower flats with dark mud and shell bottom will hold slot size reds during the warmer hours of wintertime days as well. If you cover enough water, you will find them. When the reds are active, they are still keying in to current and bait like the rest of the year. Depending on wind direction, you may want to run out a little farther— I seem to have my best luck on the outside— but wintertime is the easiest time to find clear water close to the launch.
This time of year brings many fly fishers from out of state, and the question I get asked most often after “how’s the fishing been” is “what weight rods do you use?” A 9wt is the go-to rod for southern Louisiana in the winter when we regularly get shots at 20+ lb. redfish. I have a 10wt on board and may hand it to clients when we are lucky to see even bigger bulls in the 30+lb. range. If we are in shallower water fishing for slot size reds I may pull out an 8wt. The way I think of it is an 8wt for 10-20lb fish, a 9wt for 20-30lb fish and a 10wt for 30+ lb. fish. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it would be great if it did. Of course an 8wt is easier, less tiring, and more fun to cast than a 9wt or a 10wt. The 7wt stays home until the spring.
As far as leader choice, there are many guides in Louisiana that fish straight 30lb mono, which is foolproof, especially for anglers without much experience fighting bigger fish— I’ve only seen a client break 30lb tippet once and it was because the fly line was wrapped around the reel and his wrist. A tapered leader is not necessary to turn over the big flies we use for redfish. As for me, I make my leaders from a 4 ft piece of 50lb mono tied to a 4-5 foot piece of 30 lb fluorocarbon with a double surgeons knot. I like the fluorocarbon better for abrasion, and even though it may not be true or matter very much for our saltwater redfish, I feel the lower visibility of fluorocarbon catches more fish— it sure does in freshwater. I tie a perfection loop in the 50lb mono and make a loop to loop connection to the fly line which makes for a nice, smooth transition from the fly line to the leader. Most fly lines come with a loop built in, but if you should have to cut it off because it is old or abraded, it is easy to make a new loop in the end of the fly line with an exacto knife, superglue, a fly tying bobbin and thread. There are plenty of YouTube videos to show you the procedure.
Fly choice is a personal matter, but I think most guides like to fish pretty big, heavy flies that move a lot of water and that the fish can easily see. The maxims “bigger flies for bigger fish” and “dark flies for dark water, light flies for light water” may both be pertinent, but it seems that redfish are more receptive to wilder colors in the winter: purples, yellows, flourescent oranges etc. Also, if you are seeing active fish, by all means try a popper— there is nothing more exciting than whacking them on topwater!
In colder winter water you may want to slow down your retrieve and try to keep your fly in the fish's face longer than usual— I’ve had to show certain redfish a fly multiple time before they would wake up and eat. Contrarily, once the fish turns on a fly, keep it moving. Watching the redfish’s reaction and adjusting accordingly is the game. One important thing I’ve noticed is that in shallower water, a redfish’s field of view is much more limited than in deeper water and you may have to put the fly closer to the fish’s face.
Wintertime out in the marsh is the right time for the big reds. Dress warm, boat safe, handle the big breeders gently and enjoy our bountiful waters.--appeared in Marsh & Bayou Magazine January 2017