Check the Box – Yes or No

Check the Box – Yes or No
Grass helps improve water clarity while providing a home for crabs and shrimp.

I have always been of the opinion that indecisiveness (see also: gray areas) will eventually get you into trouble. Simple is often better, less cluttered, and easier to navigate. Think about when you were a kid, just like in the great George Strait song, “Do you love me? Check yes or no.” Having a crystal clear – no doubt about it answer – is what we are all looking for, but things like life and fishing are not always that clear. All you can do is ask the important questions and go forward.

That mental question and answer process is how I try to approach my time on the water and it’s worked well for me over the years. Clearing out the clutter and finding the important factors usually enable me to establish a better pattern, or at least rule out bad water, and most of the time that’s half the battle.

Over the years I have been asked on numerous occasions how or why I started writing and my reply has always been the same, “Because I got tired of reading stuff in outdoors articles that was of little or no value to fishermen and hunters.”

For years I hung on practically every word published in the outdoor sections of the Houston Chronicle and Houston Post, those guys were the best of the best in that era and they always had great information on a wide variety of outdoor topics.

I craved the same from my local newspapers, and more often than not they fell short. A typical Thursday column would be filled with reports of fish biting at such-and-such spot, and on Friday all the locals would be piled in there with no clue why they were there, what to do once they got there, or where to go now that the whole world was crowded into a small location.

Instead of saying “go to this place” it would’ve been much more informative to give a true pattern such as “three feet of water over shell on an outgoing tide.”

Once anglers know the pattern they can find their own water and learn in the process, instead of being completely dependent on others for information. Ask the right questions, check the boxes, and hopefully catch more fish.

One of the lists I use most often centers around chasing fish in the marshes between Sabine and Calcasieu. There are a handful of factors that are almost non-negotiable for me when it comes to finding and catching fish in those vast expanses of salt and brackish marshland. There is not a doubt in my mind that there are other patterns or methods that will catch fish in these areas, it would be crazy to think that only one way was the end all or be all program. In fact, I am always intrigued when I talk to other fishermen who come up with their own little nuances that work for them because I enjoy the discovery as much as anything. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been enlightened by other anglers to a specific pattern or area, and it’s always interesting and fun when that happens.

Okay, let’s put our “yes or no” checklist to work and try to find some redfish. Easily for me, the first thing I want to check off my list is water clarity.

If at all possible, I prefer enough visibility in the water column to be able to see the species I target regularly - redfish, sheepshead, and drum. While all three species can be caught in murky and even muddy water, given the chance, I will press on to a cleaner stretch, and the reason may not be what you might think. Remember this - clear water tends to have more bottom and standing vegetation growing in it, and that usually means more places for forage species such as crabs or shrimp to hide and thrive. So, on my list, clarity gets the nod.

Once I locate some water that I like, clarity-wise, the next box I want to check off is the type of vegetation present. Shoal grass, widgeon grass, turtle and eel grass, and possibly others, help prevent bottom sediments being stirred and suspended in the water column. These grasses provide areas for crabs, shrimp, and other bait to live and congregate. So, if “find the bait and find the fish” is a valid premise, then certainly grass-bottomed areas in the bay and marsh are good places to begin your search.

My preference on finding bait, given that I mentioned my target game fish species would most likely be reds, sheepshead and drum, you would do well to look for crabs. Crabs of any size, but especially crabs that fit in the palm of your hand. All three species absolutely love them.

It’s a rare day when I have decent clarity, suitable bottom grass, and a healthy population of crabs, that I do not soon encounter my target species. Now, at certain times of the year crabs can be scarce in the marsh, and I may switch over to looking for shrimp or even mullet. It’s no secret that redfish, especially, are not real picky when it comes to their groceries. Over the years I have found all manner of things inside their stomachs at the cleaning table – crabs, shrimp, mullet, occasional grasshoppers, and even plastic snack cake trays. If those copper-colored bullies are hungry and feeding, all bets are off and nothing is sacred.

Now, checking off those three boxes might seem kind of simple but that’s the way I like it. Streamlining the process of finding fish is what we are all looking for, and to be able to boil it down to a few no-nonsense questions in my opinion is more than helpful.

Not every outing will result in success and there will certainly be times that you can check off all the boxes and still not catch fish, it happens to everybody. But more often than not, if you can just stick to a simple plan you will be amazed at how much more productive your time on the water will become.