Back to School…in Home Waters

Back to School…in Home Waters
Kurt Robertson got a kick out of watching marsh reds gobble the Stanley Ribbit.

Before attempting to provide any semblance of a normal fishing column this month, let me say that my thoughts and prayers are focused wholly on the plight of the millions of Texans whose lives have been horribly interrupted by Hurricane Harvey. We likely all have friends and possibly family residing somewhere between Beaumont and Corpus Christi that lost homes, vehicles and maybe even their livelihoods during the storms. I remember vividly the hardships my own family endured during Hurricane Rita in 2005 and again during Ike in 2008. My heart goes out to everyone affected by this latest disaster.

I also remember during those dark days when storms wreaked such havoc, we found relief from immediate problems by simply relaxing and thinking happier thoughts for a few moments. For me it was fishing. So, if you are one who might benefit similarly, find a quiet place and thumb the pages of TSFMag for a few minutes – it can be good therapy.

Easily one of the most difficult fishing related problems many anglers will have after a storm like Harvey will be realizing that their bay or body of water will not be the same. The immense tide surges, high water and wind, will put a facelift on the coast and it will be our challenge going forward to re-learn each area.

Old reefs will be covered with silt and new ones will appear in strange places. Navigable guts that existed for decades between productive flats will run in new directions after being re-carved by the incredible power of rushing water. Productive areas that were once tried and true will be all but a memory in some instances, while new ones will have been created in other places. New opportunity will be abundant once we relearn the landscape. If fishermen can look at these areas as just that, new opportunities, it will certainly help the learning curve as everyone goes back to school to get a new handle on the bay.

Now, before we start thinking about what lure we are going to use or where we want to start fishing, our greatest concern has to be safe navigation.

Large debris will be scattered everywhere the tide and wind could carry it and extreme caution must be exercised to avoid damaging your hull and lower unit. During the days following Hurricane Ike on Sabine Lake, we encountered all manner of floating and partially submerged obstacles. Trees, lumber from piers and docks, refrigerators and other objects wrecked lower units and props of unsuspecting boaters as the mass of trash and debris worked its way through our river and bay system for weeks.

Good Samaritans who took time to hang markers and place buoys on objects they found floating or stuck in high-travel areas were greatly appreciated by all boaters. This simple act of kindness could help save another boater in many ways and just one of many things you can do to help the next guy. I spent a good bit of time dragging floating debris to shore in many areas of the marsh where fishermen and hunters frequently run. I can only imagine what would happen to a boater who struck any of those objects so please be aware as you navigate the bays after the storm.

Okay – with all the talk of the storm behind us, let’s take a look at what we hopefully have in store going forward. October and November are historically some of the best fishing months on Sabine and Calcasieu and provide patterns to suit just about any style of angling. The most obvious and probably the most anticipated occurs when the white shrimp begin exiting the marshes and begin migrating toward the gulf. Speckled trout go berserk!

Schools of hungry trout will be shadowed by tell-tale gulls and terns, making it very easy for anglers to zero in on the action. Feeding activity can reach frenzied levels on falling tides near marsh drains with the only prerequisite for success being the ability to plunk any lure or live offering anywhere near the melee.

Soft plastics rigged under rattling corks are about as close to a sure bet as anything you can throw. The single hook of a jig head allows for easier and quicker releases while also minimizing time lost untangling hooks in landing nets. If you are looking for larger trout around these schools and don’t mind untangling trebles, you can grab a topwater and increase the odds significantly. My favorite topwater for this situation is the MirrOlure She Pup; the high-pitched rattle and size that matches the forage are a great combination.

Another quality option will be chasing flounder as they begin stacking up before the fall migration. Anglers targeting flatfish will be pleasantly surprised with both the numbers and size of fish that will be leaving the marshes and gathering near the mouths of the bayous and drains. The artificial guys will throw small grubs, tube jigs, or swimbaits tipped with shrimp or doctored with synthetic scent. The artificial approach allows anglers to cover a lot of water quickly and probe structure more efficiently.

The live bait folks also enjoy exceptional flounder fishing – flounder love meat! A Carolina-rigged finger mullet, small shad or mud minnow, is just what the doctor ordered for truly big flounder. Most of those heavyweight flatties will be caught closer to deep water and a little later in the fall but October will certainly give them a fair share of good fish. Keying on distinct depth changes along channels will be the best bet for the biggest flounder of the season. Whichever you choose, numbers or size, this time of the year is made for both and choosing between the two is a great problem to have.

Under normal circumstances this time of year, I would also recommend one of my favorite patterns which is probing the deep water in the Sabine River and ICW. However, due to the unbelievable rain and runoff from Harvey that plan will probably be greatly delayed, if it ever materializes this fall.

The absence of the river and canal program is certainly a blow to local anglers – given the convenience and productivity it provides. Having such a quality backup plan in protected water is awfully nice for the guides as well, reducing the worry of getting blown off the lake on windy days. Hopefully the river will settle out and we will get at least some of that good fall fishing we all look forward to.

In the meantime, for many folks along the coast of Texas and Louisiana, there will be a period of learning and discovery as the bays and lakes that we knew like the back of our hand have undergone a transformation of sorts. Hopefully a rejuvenation of the waterways will offset the inconvenience of learning our way around again.

For readers that were spared the wrath of Harvey, please find a way to help those still in great need. Keep all your fellow Texas anglers and Louisiana neighbors in your thoughts and prayers.