Getting Tactical and Technical for the Winter Hunt
Winter marsh red fish hunting is my absolute favorite time of the year. The waters fall out with strong north winds, dropping tides leave prime sight casting opportunity if you’re willing to put in a lot of work and get a little dirty. The resident reds winter behavior is so exciting for me to learn and pattern. THERE THEY ARE!
Sitting in the shallow, skinny backwater marshes…often times miles away from anything touched by man. Their backs out of the water, tailing in the back lakes or even just laid up resting…ready to be picked up. The chase is on. The hunt. Yes, I hunt in the winter. I hunt those tales. I’ll be glad to share all my tactical and technical tips, the things that make a successful day on the water for me. My preferred method of fishing is sight casting. My main species is redfish for saltwater and bass for fresh, but for right now I’m just going to talk about salt. Here is how I attack my day on the water and what tools you can find in my arsenal on any given day, ready for the hunt.
What am I hunting with in the winter?
Same as the spring, fall and summer. I am a minimalist. I would describe myself as a skinny water, soft plastic throwing, finesse angler. Light tackle, empty stringers and light loads. I typically like to throw an 1/8 ounce jig head, but will throw 1/16 if we have extreme calm conditions. Gear in hand is typically a bait caster and medium light rod, lined with Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon, no leader, 17 lb test. Soft Plastics for finesse fishing are my main go to’s on the end of my line. I like to use scent or attractant matching the current bait fish for the season and body of water. I really like the whipping chicken from Chickenboy Lures best in the winter months. With the whipping chicken, its body is more of a bait fish mimic while the tail is more of an eel. This is prime teasing for winter fish feeding. It’s a great all-around bait. It has a lot of movement and action with the slightest jerk or “whip” which I love. It’s an easy one to fish finesse if you’re a finesse plastics fisherman like myself.
Depending on whether it’s a recreational search mission or tournament day, I begin each of those differently. Casual search missions or stress relieving days on the water, my mornings usually begin as the sun is just peeking over the horizon. I begin to work my way back in the marshes looking for shell pads and bait activity, unusual movement of the grass and shore line. Always looking for backs and tails. I’m usually pitching to activity and movement on the water or to a point or pocket that should be holding a fish until I get a visual. Then it is GAME ON. Dropping a bait right in their face on a sight cast is the ultimate rush. The backwater marsh hunt for red fish is what gets my blood pumping. The hook set on a site cast upper slot is like nothing else. That’s what I’m out there for every time, that feeling I get on the hook set. On these days they all excite me. Rat reds, lower slots, upper slots and bulls all have me more excited than the kids on Christmas morning.
Tournament day looks VERY different. My mornings usually start very early. I’m up by 3 or 4 if I haven’t properly pack down the night before. That is if I even sleep. Something about tournament eve comes with extreme insomnia. I can’t turn my brain off. Pre fish brain, gear pack brain, weather and tides brain…it all comes into play on tournament day. I am at the launch well before the sun rises, unloading my rig and preparing to launch. I really love the excitement building waiting for that 6:00 or 7:00 launch or lines in the water time to come. There is nothing like it.
What am I fishing out of?
I am blessed to find myself part of an amazing team with Jackson Adventures. My preferred rigs are the Blue Sky Boatworks Angler 360 and the Jackson Coosa FD. Both of these are great fishing platforms that allow for standing and skinny water fishing without losing the capabilities of your drive. Although I still enjoy paddling my Jackson Kraken, hands free pedal drives on tournament day, by the numbers, puts the lure in the face of the fish far more often. Lure presentation is the only way to get the fish on the yak. The more opportunity to cast, the better your chances. I spend a lot of time in inches so I need a kayak that has a drive with high performance in inches quietly, flawlessly.
What am I wearing?
Not actually wearing, but let’s talk life jackets. On my body for personal protection I wear life jacket. I prefer I high back pad and mesh back with lots of pockets. Mine as a ton of zipper pockets, more than I could ever imagine or need, along with reinforced zipper pulls to hang my pliers and other tools. It’s lightweight cool and comfortable. Zips up the front too which I absolutely love. WEAR IT!
Although my gear pack down is light here a few other must haves for me any day out on the water. I always have my floating, tangle free, deep pocket net on the deck for safe landing. My folding measuring board is preferred, although some tournaments require you to use one of the long board style measuring devices, another must have. It floats, it folds and it’s an invaluable tool especially if you fish the Tourney X or any other CPR series. For those live weigh-ins and occasional fish dinners, my stringer has never failed me, and I have a 100% live weigh-in for every weigh in that I stringered my fish alongside.
Keeping those fish alive on tournament day is crucial. There are several ways you can transport the fish from the launch to the weigh-in. I typically use a cooler with any style bubbler, but there are some great oxygen response systems out there that provide better oxygen, if you want to get a little more life breathed back into your fish. I’ve never had a problem with Mr. Bubbles, but there are some pretty lively fish that come out of the wells that have been supported with the oxygen response systems out there. One of the things I really enjoy about the kayak industry is the push for conservation and keeping those fish live for release after weigh in. Typically, there’s a bonus or benefit to keep your fish alive and there’s a very high rate of fish being returned back to the water after the weigh-in. Conservation is very important to me and the live bonus and release are an important part of keeping conservation at the forefront of our tournament mind set.
There you have it, a sneak peak into what makes the day successful for me. That’s what I’m working with out there. In my next article, I’ll be talking about more detailed skinny water marsh fishing, how to read the tides and make proper bait color presentation and where to find those winter fish in the marsh. The skinny water game is much different than the open water and deep structure game. Be sure to catch my next article. Until then, find a way to unwind and be kind out there.
ELE. Everybody love everybody ~ Jenn, Champions Outdoors and Team Member at Jackson Adventures