One of the hardest things to do when fishing at this time in the year is determining productive water, and probably one of the best ways to do this is to veto areas which you know will be unproductive due to winter weather and tidal conditions. Learn to focus on those areas which hold quality fish on a seasonal basis. This seems a monstrous task in the warm weather months alone, but when the wind and water turn cold, it can become an even bigger challenge.
As a generic rule, fishing deeper water in wintertime tends to be more productive, and our general vicinity offers quite a few of what have long been some of the coast's more legendary cold-weather sites and deep-hole hot spots like the Army Hole, the Port O'Connor jetties, the boat basin at Matagorda, and the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). But even closer to the home of Bay Flats Lodge, in the immediate Seadrift area, is the Victoria Barge Canal, one of but many results of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association that was formed back in 1905. The thirty-five mile Victoria Barge Canal was completed to a navigable depth of nine feet and to a width of one-hundred feet in 1968. Then, in 1995, work began to widen and deepen the canal to correspond to the mandatory government requirements that the canal must be twelve feet in depth and one-hundred twenty-five feet in width, and this last leg of the project was completed back in March of 2002. This means that the Victoria Barge Canal now matches the size and depth of the ICW with which it connects, and thus the canal can offer deep water access for fish and protection from the elements for anglers during the colder times of the year. And, because I'm now locating fish that have moved toward the head of San Antonio Bay as a direct result of us not having experienced any mentionable rainfall this past year, the deep water attributes of the canal can prove to be a great place to find wintertime fish that are staging themselves within its confines.
I know a lot of us probably do not get to spend the amount of time required out on the water in order to know where the fish are located on a day-to-day basis, especially during winter in the Victoria Barge Canal. So, in an effort to help alleviate some of the frustration, here are a few productive tips that I have found to be helpful while fishing in the canal these past couple weeks. First and foremost, do not go in the canal under the assumption that you are going to be wade-fishing. The floor of the canal is occasionally covered in treacherous mud and silt, making it difficult to navigate on foot, and the banks of the canal drop-off irregularly and sometimes very rapidly. Additionally, if you were to be wading the shore of the canal at the time of barge traffic, you could very well find yourself in a tough, if not threatening, situation. I prefer drift-fishing the canal, and have found it to be quite successful as of late. I mainly like to key-in on areas where barges have pushed up on the bank and then drift those immediate areas. But a lot of times the fish will be on one side or the other of the canal when the temperature climbs, and the only way to locate them is simply through trial and error. In this situation, my first choice is to setup a drift depending on the wind direction, drifting whichever side of the canal that coincides with the direction that the wind is blowing. However, and when the temperature really drops, you will find me fishing the canal's midsection in order to take full advantage of the twelve-foot depth. If the water is clear in the canal, I will often drift until I locate the bite and will sometimes anchor while tossing a soft-plastic lure up and down the center of the canal. In clear water I like to vary the depth of my lure anywhere from five to twelve feet while I look to determine where the fish are staged. As temperatures warm, the fish will move closer to the top, and I have encountered recent success in clear water while fishing plastic baits beneath a popping cork nearer to the bank of the canal in five to six feet of water. But remember, temperature means everything here, so if it's really cold the fish will be on the bottom. Now, if the water in the canal is muddy I have never found it necessary to stop, anchor, and cast. In muddy water I simply drift while casting my lure and letting it sink completely before bumping it across the bottom and back to the boat. One other item of mention with regards to the canal is that you can never discount tidal movement. As like most any other fishing locale along the coast, I have learned that you need tidal movement in the canal if you expect to have results. A low tide or a high tide does not seem to matter, but you need one or the other. No tidal movement in the canal generally means no fish as a direct result.