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Texas: Changing seasons

Coastal Texans this past week endured a nasty winter storm that caused temperatures to plummet to nearly 50 degrees. That's hardly a true measure of the season by Northern standards, of course, but it serves to illustrate how slowly change takes place this far down the continent.

As some folks awake to frost on their lawns and reach for their mittens, Texans for the most part are just wondering when they'll need their long-sleeved T-shirt more than an hour past dawn.

The season is changing. Make no mistake about that. But the gradual nudging aside of fall by winter may last well into January. And until that happens, fishing will continue to be excellent.

This year's flounder run, for whatever it was worth, is mostly done. There was a time when that migration to the Gulf funneled incredible numbers of fish through major passes. What once resembled the Boston marathon now is more like a 3K fun run to benefit the local high school band.

On the plus side, the same conditions that finished off this season's flounder migration had no negative effect on already outstanding action with trout and redfish. This past week's reports from camps and guide services along the entire coast noted consistent bites for both of Texas' top two marine gamefish.

Redfish, more tolerant of temperature and salinity changes, barely noticed that passing norther and the inches of rain it dumped in some areas. Mostly, whether it was along shallow shorelines in upper bay extremes or along the jetties from Sabine to Port Isabel, the reds just ate and ate and ate. Pick your favorite bait — gold spoon, soft-plastic shad on a light jighead, or spinnerbait — and throw it.

Trout were only slightly less active. Anglers who didn't get limits (which is most of them on the average day) tended to have one or two quality fish as legitimate consolation.

As bay temps continue to fall, expect smaller trout to ease into deeper water. Chase them if you like numbers. If one really long, fat trout appeals more than a box of fish that each had to be measured, then turn your attention to mud bottom.

Water over dark mud warms more quickly than the tide that washes over light sand, and a degree or two of extra warmth is all it takes to draw and hold a big trout between meals. Topwaters are still fine choices, but an unweighted swim bait or soft jerkbait makes an excellent alternative.

If you don't feel good about finding trout or reds — never minding that there won't be many better weeks to do so between now and spring — there are plenty of sand trout to be had on jigs bounced down channel edges in the Galveston Bay system, and black drum are making for easy marks in bays along the middle third of the coast.

Fishing traffic continues to thin as hunting seasons pull away a few anglers and the thought of maybe getting cold and wet pins fair-weather fishermen deep in their cozy bunks. The time between now and year's end can be downright lonely on the bays. The only company you may have some days will be big fish. That's not altogether bad.

Editor's note: Doug Pike spent 23 years as the outdoors columnist at the Houston Chronicle, nine years and counting on radio (he's the host of the Doug Pike Show on 790 the Sports Animal), two years and counting as back-page humor columnist for Saltwater Sportsman, 10 years and counting on the masthead for Field & Stream, two years and counting on the masthead and as columnist for Texas Fish & Game, 10 years editor of Tide magazine for CCA. He has won more than 100 state and national awards for writing, photography, broadcast and editing.