After an unusually wet and warm winter, spring is upon us. And although the long-term weather outlook for 2012 is still predicting below average rainfall, the recent influx of freshwater from winter rains will hopefully create favorable inland brooding conditions. If you haven't already dusted off your tackle and sharpened your hooks, the time is now. The strong tides and warming waters of spring can provide great fishing. This month we'll take a look at tackle, flies, and strategies to help make the most of spring fishing.
My typical inshore arsenal consists of fly rods in two sizes: 6-wt and 8-wt. The 6-wt rods are great for stalking the flats and picking off fish when the winds are calm and the targets are clearly visible. These rods are nimble, accurate, and a pleasure to cast all day long. But in spring, formidable southeast winds prevail and create casting conditions ranging from challenging to outright difficult. They can quickly sap the life out of a 6-wt rod. This is where the power of 8-wt really shines. The 8-wt rods have backbone and strength to get the job done in a variety of windy and/or awkward inshore fishing situations. They are good for punching flies in a stout breeze and making long blind casts with either floating or sinking lines. When in doubt go with an 8-wt.
I outfit my fly rods with several different lines. The first, of course, is a weight-forward floating line. This is the most common fly line used by Texas inshore anglers and it is a great match for flats fishing or working potholes in water less than 5 or 6 feet deep. Two of my favorite lines in this category are the Scientific Anglers Mastery Series Redfish Line, and the Royal Wulff Triangle Taper Saltwater Floating line. The SA line loads quickly and is a good choice for short casting situations while the Royal Wulff has a taper for smooth long casts.
A second group of lines that are useful are the sinking lines. If you have read a few of my previous articles you know I am a fan of sinking lines. Sinking lines can get flies down to strike zones on channel edges, drops, or deep reefs and structure - especially when a strong current is present. The option to reach into deep water is important during spring because fish are often staged near drop-offs waiting for the opportunity to venture into shallower water and again when a falling tide pours off the flats. Sinking lines are available in either steady sink (entire line sinks at constant rate) or sink tip (tip sinks, running line floats or sinks more slowly than tip). The sink rate of these lines ranges from intermediate (1-2 inches per second) to fast (4-6 inches per second). The intermediate lines are perhaps the most versatile. I have had great results using intermediate lines to fish large slow-moving streamers over potholes, structure, and drops. Two of my favorites are the Scientific Anglers Clear Intermediate Bonefish Line and the Royal Wulff Clear Triangle Taper Intermediate Line. Both of these lines make long smooth casts.
In my experience, spring is one of the few times redfish can become quite selective in what flies they are willing to bite. Small critters (surprisingly small), like juvenile shrimp, crabs, and baitfish are normally present on the flats in the Spring and this is what the redfish are often after. This is not to say a springtime redfish won't crack a big bright fly tossed out in front of him, but in general very small offerings in natural colors are a better choice than large bold ones. For the past few years, my springtime pick is a root beer colored #6 Smartt's Shrimp (tying instructions are in Jan. 2012 TSFM). I have had a lot of success with this fly. Another good choice is the tiny East Cut Redfish Popper, also in root beer. Small shrimp or crab sliders in natural brown or olive colors, small Seaducers and bead chain Clousers will also work well. Again… size and color are important on these flies. They should be small (#4 to #6 hooks), unobtrusive, and look like what the redfish are eating. If you don't have any small natural looking flies, simply tie on the smallest fly in your box and give it a shot. My observations have been that picky redfish are more likely to mistake a small fly for food than a large one.
For trout, I will likely be throwing suspending craft fur patterns like a Meaty Minnows or Toad flies. These are relatively large flies (#1 to 3/0 hooks) with a lot of fluid action. They should be fished slow and steady. Toad flies have wide profiles when viewed from below and fluid actions during the retrieve. I have been experimenting with some craft fur versions of Toad flies tied on large 60-degree jig hooks outfitted with stainless bead chain eyes. They are fast becoming one of my favorite flies for blind casting and working deep structure. These flies look great, cast great, and the 60-degree jig hook is extremely resistant to snags. I believe color is a bit less important than size and presentation on any of these large flies. Chartreuse, tan, or white are safe bets, with a slow, enticing presentation being the key. A large white Toad fly fished slow and twitchy on a floating line with a long leader is a deadly combination.
As during any other season, temperature and currents are key pieces of the Spring fishing puzzle. Fish are no different than any other creatures- they seek out safety/stability and avoid extremes. In the Spring, this means fish might wait for hours after sun-up for the flats to warm before venturing into the unknowns of shallow water. When they do, they sometimes eat like crazy. Likewise, during overcast or blustery days, fish lay low in the comfort of deep water. Understanding this simple behavior is important when planning when and where you will fish.
Currents are perhaps the single most important fish-finding factor throughout the year. But learning to use currents to your advantage is far more than simply knowing what time high tide is. What you should understand about currents is how they interact with structure to create ambush points and feeding opportunities. For example- celestial forces and winds both move water. This moving water flows around points, through bottlenecks and over/across submerged structure. It floods and drains marshes, mediates temperatures and creates mud/debris lines. Sometimes water movement is subtle, other times it is very pronounced. As the water moves, it carries shrimp, crabs, minnows and bits of food. Regardless of how currents are created, predators respond to the moving water. They position themselves in the cover of small potholes, corners, points, drops, and fluvial areas where they wait for prey to wash past. This accounts for why "edges" are such good places to fish. The importance of currents cannot be overlooked. If you pay close attention to when and where the currents flow you will quickly become better at predicting and spotting waiting fish.
I encourage you to get out on the water this Spring. You may have to fight the wind, but the temperatures will be mild, the tides will be strong, and the fishing can be very good.
*CORRECTION*In last month's article titled "Choosing the Right Glue," I reported that Wet A Hook Technologies' Tuffleye acrylic adhesive was cured with a UV light. This was incorrect. The flashlight used to cure Tuffleye adhesive is actually an LED light that emits an intense visible "blue" light. It is safer to use than a UV light. My apologies for any confusion this may have caused. To learn more about the Tuffleye line of products, go to www.wetahook.net.