Winter Beach & Jetty Fishing

Most Texas light-tackle anglers love taking advantage of summer's excellent surf fishing opportunities. However, a great number of these same fishermen fail to realize winter also offers plenty in the way of beachfront bounty. Whether fishing from dry sand or using a granite jetty to extend their reach, surf fishermen have plenty of available options over the winter months.

WHAT TO FISH FOR
Although many of the 'fair weather' surf species such as Spanish mackerel and speckled trout have more or less abandoned the beachfront, there are still plenty of hard fighting fish around for winter surf and jetty anglers. The vast majority of these fish provide a spirited fight on light tackle and most provide good-tasting fillets as well.

Pompano - Without a doubt, pompano are the glamour species of the winter surf. These tropical-looking panfish can be found along the entire Texas coast. However, the further south you go, the better you chances at intercepting pompano on a regular basis. From Corpus south, they are common catches. Along Boca Chica Beach and in the South Padre Island surf, they are the main winter surf fishing target species.

Pompano feed on a variety of small crustaceans and baitfish. Fishermen wanting to throw natural baits should utilize small shrimp, ghost crabs or sand fleas. Artificial lure fishermen can score plenty of pompano on small spoons and jigs, as well as small swimbaits like the 1 1/2-inch Creme Spoiler Shad.

Most Texas fishermen targeting pompano use 'fish-finder' bottom rigs baited with shrimp or sand fleas. However, once a school is found, the action can be fast and furious on artificials or live baits thrown on a light Carolina-rig. Medium light rods offer maximum enjoyment when fishing for pompano.

Black drum - While the pompano may be the 'sexy' species in the winter surf, the black drum is the working stiff. Not known for its looks, the black drum, particularly those oversize fish often found prowling the beachfront during the winter months, are bruisers that can keep anglers tied up for quite some time. Even the smaller, 'slot fish' offer quite a pull and keeper fish are also decent on the table.

Although it is possible to tempt black drum with artificials in the bay, along the beachfront black drum fishing is primarily a natural bait activity. Dead or live shrimp, cracked crab, and a variety of cut baits work well when pinned to the bottom.

When targeting black drum along the beach or off a jetty, be sure to use stout enough tackle. Medium to medium heavy rods paired with reels loaded with around 250 yards of line are necessary to tame bigger black drum from a stationary position.

Bull reds - Most people think bull reds are only in the surf during late summer and fall. While the largest concentration of red drum are there during that time of year, there are some big redfish along the beachfront year around.

As is the case with black drum, fishing for redfish along the beachfront is primarily a natural bait pursuit. However, when fish are known to be in an area - especially if there is clean water - a variety of jigs and lures can be successfully used. The biggest problem to casting lures for bull reds in the surf is the fact the schools move up and down. So, unless a school is passing through, there can be a lot of empty casts. It is usually much easier to have a baited rod sitting out, waiting to intercept a school as it passes by.

Although redfish are much sought-after for their fillets by bay fishermen, most of the fish found in the winter surf will be well beyond the maximum length limit. With that in mind, fishermen specifically targeting reds in the winter surf should be advised to rig heavy - medium heavy to heavy rods with reels loaded with 250 yards of 15 pound test.

Whiting - With their underslung mouths, whiting somewhat resemble red and black drum, but on a much, much smaller scale. The average whiting is around a pound or so and a 'good fish' is a couple pounds. However, when taken on light tackle, these fish can put up a spirited fight. And, they are quite tasty and usually plentiful, making them an excellent target for anyone looking to load up on fillets.

Every so now and then whiting will take small jigs, but fishermen targeting them specifically are much better off throwing natural baits such as shrimp, squid, ghost crabs or cut bait. Another bonus for whiting fishermen is these fish are often found cruising just a few feet off dry sand, so long casts aren't usually necessary. And, since they are quite voracious, when a school is in the area, long waits are necessary either, as baits are usually gobbled up as soon as they reach the bottom.

To maximize their enjoyment when fishing for whiting, anglers should use light tackle and just enough weight to get the bait to the bottom.

Grouper - Found primarily on the lower half of the Texas coast, gag grouper are quite prevalent around rock jetties in the territory in which they occur.

There is a misconception that gags will only hit natural baits. While it is true they will quickly scarf up a wide variety of fish and crustaceans, they will also crush a variety of lures. Swimbaits and diving plugs are right at the top of their list, along with artificial shrimp such as the DOA Shrimp.

Like all grouper, gags hold tight to cover and near the bottom. Therefore, whatever lure or bait is being used should be presented close to the structure. Although most of the gags caught inshore along the Texas coast are juveniles, they can still be stubborn and anglers should use fairly stout tackle to help coax them from cover.

Mangrove snapper - Another species that likes to hang close to cover, mangrove snapper are renown for the fighting ability as well as their fillets. Once confined to the extreme lower portion of the Texas coast, mangrove snapper have taken advantage of a series of warm winters to spread their range to cover near two-thirds of the Texas coast.

The majority of anglers seeking mangrove snapper along jetty structures do so by freelining live shrimp or finger mullet. These feisty fish will also readily grab a variety of jigs, swimbaits and plugs.

Again, moderately heavy tackle is in order. Line capacity isn't a consideration, as mangroves will run just far enough to get back into heavy cover. Rather, a stout stick and line are the key components to preventing them from burying deep inside cracks and crevices.

Jacks & Bluefish - Two hard fighting fish that deserve at least an honorable mention in a list of winter surf species. Both are violent strikers and hard fighters. Neither offers much in the way of table fare. Winter beachfront jacks are apt to be in the double-digit poundage range, with fish over 30 pounds not uncommon. Bluefish along the Texas coast are quite a bit smaller, with most fish running a couple pounds. However, when the surf turns slick, each of these species is quite apt to attack a surface plug.

WHEN TO FISH
Not to sound simplistic, but there are fish to be caught in the winter surf under pretty much any condition. There are, however, some species that are better candidates under certain water conditions.

Rough water - Many anglers tend to avoid fishing in rough, muddy water. This can be a mistake, especially when it comes to winter surf fishing. Although species such as pompano will be scarce is a roiled surf, other species such as bull reds and big black drum feed voraciously in the turbid beachfront waters.

The biggest keys to fishing rough beachfront waters are having well-scented baits and using enough weight to keep them pinned to the bottom.

Smooth water - On calm, clear winter days, the surf often becomes smooth and clear/green. These are the days surf fishermen dream of. When the beachfront becomes 'ice cream' during winter, all species are in play. Under these conditions, surf fishermen can also be quite successful with lures. The cleaner the water, the better the odds for success with species such as pompano and mangrove snapper.
WHAT TO THROW
As was mentioned in the above fish descriptions, some available winter surf species will take both natural and artificial baits, while others prefer simply natural offerings. As a rule, cut bait and cracked crab will work well for the 'big game,' ie: black and red drum. Squid is a good choice to keep 'bait stealing' whiting from making off without getting hooked.

Shrimp will catch just about everything that swims in the winter surf. Often times, surf and jetty anglers use fresh dead or frozen shrimp. However, South Texas fishermen have learned that placing live shrimp in a combination of sawdust and ice will keep them in somewhat of a comatose state. They quickly rejuvenate when the hit the water. This technique makes live shrimp much more portable.

As far as artificials, swimbaits like the Creme Spoiler Shad, along with DOA Shrimp and spoons are among the best 'all-around' lures for winter surf fishing. Each of these types of lures is capable of catching pretty much any fish inclined to eat an artificial lure in the winter surf. The key is to adjust the size depending on the target species. For instance, a 1 1/2-inch Spoiler Shad is deadly on pompano, while the same bait in a 3-inch model will tempt redfish. Ditto for the DOA Shrimp - choose from 2-, 3- and 4-inch models based on the size and species fish you are targeting.

But, regardless of what you're throwing or what you're trying to fish, at some point this winter you should try your hand at surf fishing. Winter surf fishing may not be popular, but it sure is fun.