March Memories and What They Mean to Me

March Memories and What They Mean to Me
Eddie Cowart with a 7 3/4 pounder.

The NCAA basketball tournament isn't the only unpredictable event that happens in the month of March. Winter ends and spring begins during this windy, tumultuous period, and the feeding mood of fish mirrors the rapidly changing weather conditions. Nonetheless, this transitional month is one of the best for catching giant trout. I have some fond memories of trips made in March; looking back on them confirms that this time of year is ripe with trophy potential.

One of my most cherished memories of trout fishing in March occurred nearly a decade ago. I was camped on Panther Point with my old golf coach Danny Ihrig and our friend Dick Welch. Danny always brought along as much stuff as his boat could hold, and we actually set up a generator and were able to watch some of the basketball tournament while perched on aluminum chairs atop a shell ridge on the shore of San Antonio Bay.

I don't remember who played in those games, but I do vividly recall a wading session I had in the back of Panther Lake on the first morning of that trip. It was a relatively warm week, and the wind had been blowing out of the southeast for a few days when we arrived. Overnight, the noisy breeze subsided to a whisper.

While we discussed the day's plans by the light of a pre-dawn campfire, Dickie said he planned to wade the reefs running off the point, and I warned him that he would be missing out if he didn't come along with me into the muddy lake. He said he didn't want to wade the soft bottom, so I headed in there alone, parking my old eighteen foot Kenner just inside the mouth of the lake and rowing my kayak quietly along the shoreline for maybe two hundred yards before getting out.

As darkness gradually gave way to light, I was throwing a Super Spook, and I did get some weak blowups on it, but I decided that the fish wanted something less obtrusive in the calm, shallow waters. I then tied on a clear 95M Mirrolure with a blue head. The 95M is not popular, but perhaps it should be; its shape closely resembles a glass minnow.

Soon, my quietly clicking minnow lookalike attracted the attention of fish, and I managed to catch five stocky and aggressive trout on it before seven a.m.. One five pounder stuck her wide purple head straight up out of the water, plucked the slender lure off the surface and ducked back under a mere ten feet from the end of my rod tip. When she felt my weight, she exploded to the top and made a bubbling, muddy mess to emphasize her disgust. Another six pound trout walked on her tail for at least twenty feet after I hooked her, slinging her head from side to side, silhouetted between me and the just rising sun.

I'll never forget the way the droplets of water seemed infused with golden light as my darling danced and the way the chunky fish felt in my hands after I won my battles with them. By today's standards, those trout weren't that big, and I didn't catch that many, but the satisfaction I felt with my decision to glide into old Panther Lake that day was only enhanced when I learned that Dickie had caught only small fish out on the reef.

I'd already reached a point where I was willing to catch fewer fish if I knew that doing so would give me a better chance at a big one. Then, as now, it's about quality over quantity. Certainly it was in the Troutmasters tournaments I fished. Another of my fond March memories occurred in one such event, held in Rockport in 2001. While pre-fishing, I found some big trout on soft muddy grass and potholes adjacent to a sandy island.

It was chilly for March; a light, wet front had blown in Friday night, bringing misty rain and a northeast wind pushing twenty knots. I started Saturday morning with a Super Spook as was my usual way back then, but after a couple of blowups and misses, I switched to a chartreuse/pearl Corky Fat Boy and the fish started to stick. By covering a productive set of potholes thoroughly, I caught five trout, all of which weighed between four and five pounds. My weight was good enough to stand me in third place at the end of the day.

I was proud of the way I showed patience and stuck with my Fat Boy to coax those fish into biting on a day when big trout could be caught, but when the catching didn't come easy. What I am not proud of is the way I performed the following day. Sitting at the boat ramp on Sunday, I noticed that the wind had become even stronger overnight and the temperature had dropped. I decided that my shallow, muddy flat was not the right place to be in such deteriorating weather.

Annoyingly, I also did some negative self-talk while waiting to take off. "I bet I screw this up," I said to myself. Then I went out and made sure I fulfilled the prophecy!

I fished places I never had before, ran the boat aground and made a long, rough ride to a less-than-proven spot, then fished it for no more than ten minutes before turning around and making a sloppy return to where I'd been. By the time I realized that I should have started out where I'd caught the fish the day before, it was too late. I pulled up around 10 a.m. to find the water still barely fishable, but it quickly came to resemble a cafe latte. If I'd gone straight there, I might have gotten my three fish, or at least one. That would have been better than the skunk I threw up on the leader board.

Even though I struck out, I only fell to eighth place, as most others in the event had a similarly difficult time catching fish that second day. The pleasant surprise I felt with the outcome was offset by my disgust at the scatterbrained decisions I made.

No surprise was ever more splendid than the chain of events that unfolded on Baffin Bay in early March of 2003. I found a light current rip running out of a tight slough on the shoreline into a wide raft of jumping mullet. Soon I discovered a that a school of magnum trout had also found the ripple. The first of these fish I caught after I watched her take aim at my Fat Boy from some four feet to the side. She seemed to hunker down on the bottom before gathering herself and charging, mouth fully agape, snatching my wobbling lure then racing away.

That first trout was "only" about six pounds, but as I and two others stood in one small area and watched, amazed, other bigger fish began to show themselves. Privileged to find ourselves in the midst of such a rare school of fish, we marveled at our luck, watching the long, black trout milling around in two small potholes next to a grassy ridge when the sun peeked out.

The weather had been raw and overcast for nearly a week, but on that morning, things turned warmer, and when the sky cleared, all hell broke loose in the knee deep shallows between us and the bank. Throwing our Fat Boys onto the grassy shelf, engaging the reel handle before they landed and skimming them off into the potholes, where we worked them in a steady walk, we managed to make about two dozen of those fish take a bite, landing thirteen. All of the trout we caught weighed over six pounds, with five over eight, the biggest a thirty one inch ten pounder.

The size of those sows was memorable, yes, but the way we they attacked our Fat Boys in plain sight was the sweetest part of all. Some we saw slither out of the grass and rush toward our lures like silver streaks, their charges culminating in flashes of lavender light accented by gold as they opened their ample mouths and ate. Once, I saw a fish racing on top fully five feet to the right of my plug with her wide open, yellow mouth half in, half out of the water. I was so excited I could barely hold my rod in my hands while I anticipated the bite; when she attempted to eat my plug, she made a sound akin to a kid cupping his hand and plunging it into a backyard pool, but I never felt a tap. She whiffed my Corky, snapping her jaws together a few inches from its rear!

Eventually, all such sessions must end, and when that one did, I walked over to the potholes we'd cast to for fully three hours and spooked a giant out of there that made the ten look like a little sister. She must have seen our lures come by a hundred times, but we couldn't tease her into chewing on them.

I had that same problem with another gigantic trout I spotted in Baffin in March of 2005. I'd just caught and released our seventh trout of the day over seven pounds and remarked to my client that we ought to be able to sightcast a fish, given the clear water and bright sky. We watched my fish swim away and made a mental note of how it looked in the water.

Moments later, he turned around and asked, "What's that?" when he saw a mullet shadowed by a longer, darker form in the shallows.

"Duh, it's a big trout," I said. Upon closer inspection, it looked identical in size to the one I'd just released. "I'm throwing at her. She might be the same fish I let go, but she might not." We both began casting ahead of the trout, which seemed intent on staying close to the mullet's tail, but not attacking.

Eventually, our attempts seemed to spook the fish, and she began to swim purposefully, though not frantically away. I followed, still casting in the direction in which she was headed, and then I nearly stepped on a trout that could have been her grandmother. At least thirty two inches, maybe closer to three feet, she came off a grass bed onto the sandbar atop which I walked, passing no more than three feet in front of me. Needless to say, when her eyes looked up straight into mine, I knew she was not likely to strike at what I was offering. Trembling, I tried her anyway, and when I found that she would not blow up on my Skitter Walk, I attempted to tie on a paddle tail, but while I was fumbling with that, she swam away, not to be spotted again that day.

Later that month, in deeper and dingier water, we had another incredible day, on which I and six other anglers caught at least fifty trout over twenty five inches. Every single one of us had a trout at least twenty seven inches, the biggest pushing twenty nine. Pink and red were the colors of choice on that calm day, and Corkies outfished the floating plugs in the slick conditions, though I did most of my damage with a bone Super Spook, ripping it forcefully for several feet, then stopping it.

It's possible to trick a whopper with different sizes, shapes, colors and types of plugs in this productive, potentially puzzling month. Those who make the best adjustments in lure choices and presentations will be the most consistent in this time of many changes. The weather varies radically from day to day, as does the feeding mood of the fish. Undeniably, there is ample opportunity to catch some giant trout in shallow water during this transition from winter to spring.

Anglers who sustain their efforts in water less than waist deep while chunking a variety of fish-imitating plugs might find themselves attached to the trout of a lifetime in this month of madness. Going back over these memories reminds me that March is pregnant with potential, though the catching is sometimes tough.

That behemoth trout I saw two years ago was finicky and hard to trick. I'm betting she's even bigger now and I'll be out there trying to find her again; she might be in an entirely different mood the next time we meet!