Had a great weekend of fishing, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the season change. While the early fall was more challenging than usual, the dropping water temperatures have dramatically improved shallow-water inshore fishing. While there are still trout and oversized redfish in deeper water, the baitfish migration near shore has drawn in some of the larger trout, and while large schools of redfish have already made their way offshore, there are lots of solitary hungry fish in close. While the early spring is the most productive time of year to fish the Big Bend, I love winter fishing. For one thing, it’s the one time of the year that large trout school predictably. There’s much less pressure, and while you have to wait out the weather, on great days you can have great fishing that you never have at other times of the year. But when water temperatures get to below 65 degrees or so, you have to change your tactics.
I remember first hearing about Corky lures about ten years ago on a Texas fishing message board. The Texas state record trout was caught on one (a 13 ½ pound fish) and people spoke of them with massive respect. I decided to get a few, and with Capt. Tommy Thompson, we ordered some from Paul Brown, who made them in his garage with this wife in Houston. We had to call, find out if they had the color we wanted, and if they did, send them a check and we’d get them in the mail. Even though they had a website, they didn’t trust the web for payment purposes. When the lures arrived, I was surprised. They are deceptively simple in appearance. They have a soft body, with a tube of cork imbedded inside, and a wire connecting the eye loop with both sets of trebles. And they have large eyes.
Initially, I had no idea how to fish these things. The first thing I noticed was that they sank…but very slowly. Slower than a 52M Mirrolure, my old-time winter plug. My first try was to fish it with fairly rapid twitches, like a Mirrolure. However, the website (which is no longer available) gave some very unusual tips about how to fish the lures…summarized, very very very slowly. In other words, fish the lure as slowly as you possibly can, then slow that down by half. As someone who fishes topwaters 90% of the time, this seemed odd. Topwaters provoke reaction strikes much of the time, and while working them slow works in certain situations, too slow provides a good look at the plug and the fish may turn off. Fishing in cold water, though, one has to remember that cold-blooded fish become very sedentary. They are not interested in chasing anything for any distance, especially if they have to move fast to get it. We played around with the lures and discovered that when you fished them correctly, in certain appropriate conditions, they turned winter fishing into a very positive experience. I remember years ago putting my bay boat up for the winter because I couldn’t consistently find any fish. Now I look forward to cold-water fishing. Last year, Paul sold his business to Mirrolure, and now you can find Corky lures online and in many retail outlets. They are much easier to get…and if you’re planning on fishing cold water for trout, you have to have a few to try. They are now called Paul Brown Lures (http://www.mirrolure.com/paulbrown/index.html).
This past weekend I fished by myself early on Saturday. The air temp was in the high 40’s, the water temp stayed in the low 60’s, and the sun was shining brightly. This is a great time to try fishing these lures in shallow water, from 1 to 3 feet in depth, over bottom that warms slightly ahead of other bottom….either dark bottom areas, or areas with rocks, that hold heat better than a mud bottom. Finding baitfish, especially mullet, is another great way to find productive areas. I only had an hour or so to fish, but managed four trout from 3 1/2 pounds to a nice fat 5 pounder. The next day, Doug Barrett and I returned to the same area….just outside the mouth of a creek south of the Steinhatchee River with scattered limestone rocks and shell bars. We fished a falling tide and as the water warmed slightly, the mullet began moving north along the shorelines. We started catching fish; both of us were fishing only Corky Lures (we had some of the originals; the new models are almost identical as they were manufactured using Paul’s exacting standards). We caught several nice trout, and some surprisingly nice redfish.
We were fishing in 2 1/2 feet of water, casting as far away from the boat as possible, and simply raising the rod tip slowly, giving the lure a twitch or two, and then reeling up the slack. After letting the lure sink a foot or so, we repeated the motion. Very easy, very slow. A Corky bite in medium temperature water can be very active; in colder water, one simply feels a few taps on the line. This makes the use of braided line very important because of the increased sensitivity. At times you will see no surface activity when the lure is taken. After waiting a half-second or so, I set the hook and usually hook the fish easily. We were both using the Devil…a lure with only one treble, because it sinks slightly slower than the two-hooked versions and we were fishing very shallow. I found some nice fish as well, including this nice redfish and this 5.25 pound trout.
We’ve found over the years that many people we tried to convert to using these slow-suspending plugs have given up on them, or fished them too fast. Naturally, finding the right areas and the right conditions are all important, but by and large, once water temps drop below the mid-60s, the topwater bite is gone. If you can’t find a Paul Brown Lure, at times a Mirrolure Catch 2000 or Catch Jr. is a good substitute, but they don’t sink at the same rate as a Corky, and because they are hard-bodied, fish don’t hang onto them as long. The take-home message? Fishing artificials in the winter can be as productive as fishing cut or live bait. In past years we have had days when we caught over 50 trout in two or three hours, with all of them being over 20 inches in length. These lures also work well when really cold weather drives the trout into the Steinhatchee River, especially in the afternoons when the fish move slightly out of the channel onto some of the warming flats. Get some suspending lures, spend some time finding some productive areas, look for schools of mullet, and fish slow….very slow. It could get you out on the water on days you would have passed up.