Rain, cold rain. Extended periods of solid cloud cover. Cold fronts that bring clearing skies but drop morning temperatures into the 40s, or below. A rising barometer. Winds blowing constantly at 10 or more knots.
For a south Louisiana fisherman, does it get any worse?
Yes, it does. All that rain hitting the ground, draining vast acres into bayous and rivers has those waterways look like flowing mud, and running at or above flood stages twice in the matter of four weeks.
How’s that for a challenge.
Usually it’s freshwater folks that cry the loudest, but shifting winds during the past two months, the rain and a lack of sunshine have the saltwater and brackish-water fishermen singing the same solemn dirge.
All those factors that cut away at fishing success, better yet catching success, can be alleviated by rising water temperatures.
Cold water, temperatures in the low 50s, combined with a rising barometer is what sends bass and sac-a-lait to more comfortable deep-water spots, and explains why the bites of speckled trout and redfish are more like a baby mouthing a teething ring than a burly defensive lineman attacking a two-inch-thick porterhouse.
We’re just starting to come through the dead of winter, a time when our sun is at or near its most extreme angle to our part of earth. That means there’s less warming sunlight penetrating the water. Add strings of cloudy days and cold rain and the water temperatures don’t have a chance to rise. And while sunny days can warm the water’s surface, saltwater and freshwater species seem to prefer the more comfortable environs of the depths.
Water is heaviest at 4 degrees Centigrade (about 39 degrees Fahrenheit), so warmer water is sinking, and likely explains why fish aren’t near the surface in winter. Like us, they prefer consistent conditions and even the baitfish they’ll eat (although not often because of their slower metabolisms) are living in deeper water, too.
Yet, there are mitigating factors: Piers, platforms and bridges, concreted bulkheads and rock piles and large cypress trees are conduits for the winter’s suns warmth to reach the water. All these above-the-water features transfer the sun’s heat into the water, which makes baitfish more active and the larger predator species in those areas more active.
Even pipeline crossings and pipeline canals can have water temperatures 5-10 degrees warmer than nearby waters.
There are other factors to guide you to a wintertime fishing hole: Moving water is colder than still water; muddy water is colder than clear water; and, areas with light, sandy bottoms reflect sunlight and heat into the water better than dark bottoms, which tend to hold heat near the bottom.
Then, there’s always reading the barometer.
Most every veteran freshwater fisherman has a reason to explain why bass, sac-a-lait and bluegill don’t bite the one, two even three days after a cold front passes. The first is the high barometric pressure — the “bluebird” day — certainly when the barometer hits 30.20 inches, and most definitely when there’s a 30.30 reading.
Lake Pontchartrain expert Dudley Vandenborre stands firm on his statement: “I don’t care what you do or how good a fisherman you are, when the barometer hits 30-30 speckled, trout don’t bite.”
Grass beds can hold lots of bass, trout and redfish because the beds are usually the largest holding spots in shallow-water areas.
“There are times in the winter when a couple of days of sunshine changes everything,” Barataria veteran Theophile Bourgeois said. “Speckled trout and redfish will move up into grass beds and over oyster beds and will take topwater baits instead of the plastics on the bottom. Those are the days we love the most.”