A guy on the boat last week asked how I have been able to maintain my passion for fishing and people all these years. My answer was simple and to the point, “I love fishing and I like people.”
My dad was a high school coach and biology teacher. He had a master’s degree in biology and always hoped to be remembered for his teaching more than his coaching. I think I got the coaching and teaching skills from my dad and the passion for pleasing people from my mom. My dad wanted things in the classroom and on the field done right but had greater patience in teaching. He always focused more on what you didn’t do well versus your strong points. He believed it helped you improve faster in the classroom as well as on the field.
I find myself having difficulty understanding sometimes what it is about my teaching that some anglers do not get. I guess maybe it’s because my 40-to 50-year-old students, though accomplished in their professional careers, are only grade-schoolers in fishing. Maybe I’m teaching over their heads. Becoming a better teacher is a constant work in progress, something I realize I need to continue working on.
Fishing always came easy for me, as it has for my boys. We just seem to have a knack for it. It is not at all uncommon for me to be unsure which bay or which area within a bay I am going to fish until I can see exactly what the weather conditions are when I crawl out of bed. While true seasonal patterns often provide productive game plans, it is also true that slight changes in wind direction or tide levels can make or break an area. Maybe it’s instinct.
I discuss these things with my boys and a handful of fishermen whose opinions I value. Most agree that there is something instinctive in most all seasoned anglers. When I first started doing seminars I never used notes. Just went and talked about what I knew. When invited by a fellow guide to join his group in presenting seminars, they requested an outline, which I provided. I never looked at it or had to follow it because what I talked about was actually what I did every day. Do I embellish or dress up a story? Guilty! Sometimes the actual events of a day can be somewhat dull.
It appears that over the many years of giving seminars and through years writing for the Rockport Pilot and Saltwater Angler, and today this magazine, what anglers really want is still the basic how-why-when and, of course, the where. My on-line fishing club is a perfect example of how greatly anglers respect being told each day what I believe to be the best areas and methods for finding and catching.
Giving up the real stuff has led these member anglers to appreciate me off the water, and respect me on the water. I truly believe we reap what we sow.
Timing is everything. So, if you have grown bored of listening to me talk about teaching, let’s move on to some real teaching and discuss what I am facing daily on the water. Water temperatures are reaching the mid-80s and winds are becoming calmer. In other words, it’s getting hot.
Early starts are important but not as important as area selection, timing and skill level. Be aware of major and minor solunar feeding periods and plan your day around being in the right area at the proper time. During summer, pay close attention to solunar feeding predictions that occur earliest in the day. I don’t like to fish at night or operate the boat in darkness, therefore nighttime feeding periods are not important to me.
GPS technology, while handy on foggy mornings, is far from foolproof for nighttime navigation. Neither do I depend on my GPS to put me on spots. Heck, for 20-years I didn’t even have one. I mainly stick to fishing shorelines and spoils and I can find every unmarked reef in my multi-bay system with dead reckoning and an old fishing rod as a bottom sounder, if need be.
We leave in gray light for safety’s sake, and I look everywhere for signs of fish activity while running. I think it disappoints some clients that I seldom have a specific spot in mind leaving the dock.
Let’s clarify that. I have tons of spots in lots of areas that I know can produce fish. Make a wade in several of them and the numbers can add up quickly. Hit an area that’s holding big numbers and the day becomes memorable in a hurry.
I have always stood on the premise that we’re in trouble if we are limited to only a few areas or spots. No one ever beats me to my spot because I do not know the spot prior to leaving most days. Furthermore, I do not own any spots. I actually despise the word spot because it’s too specific and I don’t want my anglers thinking small. I hope that makes sense.
Once positive signs are found, such as active bait, slicks, bird activity or just the right amount of water movement, I begin fine tuning my plan. Where along this spoil or shoreline is there a funnel or stacking point? Where is the current concentrated? What line is the bait stacking on? Where does bottom grass stop and broken bottom begin? Easing along slowly can reveal signs of feeding, which then leads to formulating your final approach. I prefer the skirmish line formation, side-by-side slowly marching forward – no track stars, please.
When water temperatures reach the mid- to upper-80s, I prefer to fish smaller areas of structure within the larger area, whenever possible. These would qualify as “spots” if they were predictable from year to year but in most of my areas they are not. Bottom grass changes with drought or abundant rainfall. Mild winters also influence grass development and oyster dredging rearranges reefs.
Just yesterday we jumped out on a very small spoil where bait erupted as we ran past, a short distance offshore. Experience told me that a school of redfish in deeper water probably spooked from the boat noise and frightened the bait. It’s a chain reaction I have seen a thousand times. Swinging wide and easing back, our casts were met with hard strikes from large redfish, trout, and flounder during a two-hour morning wade on a very busy Saturday.
I had zero intention of fishing there, I simply reacted to favorable signs that, combined with prior knowledge, told me it was “the spot.” I explained exactly what I had seen and what I believed had produced the bait disturbance. That to me is teaching. Finding fish is both art and science, something only time on the water can impart.
I prefer windward spoils and shorelines during the hot months. I think the water oxygen level can be slightly higher on windward shorelines though I have no way of measuring this. For sure, the wave action helps trigger a bite. Add submerged grass and bait presence and you’re usually good to go.
When my eagerness to learn daily on the water leaves me I’ll probably be dead.
I have included a photo of the over-all heavy-stringer champions during the recent Babes on the Bay Tournament. They fished the guided artificial-only division and bested all divisions, weighing three trout and one red that totaled 19.86 pounds. Only the second team in the history of this tournament to accomplish it. This group of young women are like family, one being actual family. Their guide was Adam Nesloney. Congrats to all of you!May your fishing always be catching! -Guide Jay Watkins