Wading the Extreme Edges

Wading the Extreme Edges

Around the middle of July, when the searing heat settles in for the long haul and water temperatures climb above 85° on a regular basis, some wading spots produce minimal action at best. In sizzling hot weather, speckled trout prefer places which provide shallow areas for feeding, with deeper, cooler water close by, or they retreat to expansive basins of somewhat uniformly deep water. Many experienced anglers know this, so they spend most of their time targeting trout from the boat during the dog days of summer.  

Obsessive wading anglers like me refuse to do so, for a couple of reasons.  First, we'd rather cool our heels in the water than burn the soles of our feet on the deck of a boat. Second, we yearn for the control of effort and sense of freedom wading affords. Losing those aspects of the endeavor takes away much of what we love about fishing.  

But, we all know catching is more fun than fishing. So, during the hottest days of the year, we need to wade in specific kinds of places to satisfy our urge for earning plenty of strikes.  Accordingly, we normally target trout around relatively shallow structures lying close to deeper water, ideally where tidal movements occur on a daily basis. Spoil banks lying close to the ICW fit the description, as do reefs, sandbars, and rock fields lying next to open basins. Most Texas bays have some of those features. A smaller number of places provide potential for wading close to the deepest parts of our inshore waters—the ship channels leading to our major harbors.  

The Army Corps of Engineers regularly maintains the depth of our major shipping lanes to about fifty feet, on average. These deep ditches accentuate the effects of surging and receding tides moving water in and out of the bays. Consequently, areas lying adjacent to the ship channels undergo profound influence from tidal movements. Speckled trout take advantage of this by feeding regularly in response to the direction and amplitude of currents created by rolling tides.  

Take Galveston Bay, for instance. By the middle of July, many guides and recreational anglers line up to target trout alongside the ship channel, the smartest choosing to anchor in spots which allow them to place their baits atop humps covered by about four to ten or twelve feet of water, within close range of the edge of the channel itself. These places don't allow for wading, except perhaps the shorelines of Atkinson and other islands in the uppermost parts of the bay.    

I have no experience wading those shorelines, but I suspect few, if any, cover elements like grass beds and oyster reefs grow close to the edges of those spoils. I do have some experience wading flats adjacent to the deep channel which separates Texas and Louisiana, at the southern end of Sabine Lake. Though it hides in plain sight, we called the shallow shelf on the Louisiana side just south of the Sabine Lake Causeway Bridge “Secret Cove.”  

I caught trout up to eight pounds there, though the wading was treacherous; a thick layer of pudding-soft muck supports a thin crust of clams in some of the shallower areas. The deeper parts of the flat closest to the channel provided the safest, most comfortable wading, though the bottom out there had some soft patches too. I wouldn't recommend anyone get out and wade there today without first executing a thorough inspection of the bottom with some kind of probe.  Two other places do provide excellent wading potential along the edges of a ship channel, provided the wader exercises caution.  

First and foremost, anyone choosing to wade along the edge of a deep ditch used regularly by large tankers should remain aware of the potentially disastrous effects caused by the wakes those vessels generate. Fully-loaded ships create steeper, more dangerous wakes than empty boats. Foregoing the use of a Power Pole and deploying a conventional anchor makes good sense in this scenario. In some cases, waders should stay close to their boats and remain ready to return to the boat and idle into deeper water while ships pass, to prevent the boat from being swamped and/or to escape the powerful pull of temporary currents created by the breaking waves the tankers send into the shallows.

The wakes do present clear and present, short-lived dangers; over time, they also exert positive, sculpting influences on the shorelines adjacent to ship channels. In Ingleside, the spoil humps lying along both sides of the La Quinta Channel provide an excellent example of this. When big ships pass through there and send waves crashing onshore, they dig secondary channels which connect the depths of the main ditch with the shallow areas quite close to shore. These secondary channels run generally perpendicular to the main channel, so they provide fish a convenient pathway to use when moving from the edge of the channel to the shallowest waters in the area. The attached image, labeled La Quinta Island, shows a couple of these clearly.  

Significantly, ample numbers of grass beds grow in the shallow water lying along the shoreline of La Quinta Island. This makes the area unusual among wading spots in Texas, as few other places provide an opportunity to wade and cast around grass beds so close to water of such extreme depths. At times, these grass beds and the trenches separating them provide fast trout-catching action. I've caught plenty of trout in excess of twenty-five inches around them, and I know people who've caught nine and ten pounders in these places.  

Most of my biggest bites have come at the shallow ends of the trenches which offer easy access in and out of the depths. I've caught some big fish in stretches without these guts too, in places close to the Reynold's plant, near the end of the channel. Both sides of the La Quinta Channel can produce excellent catches, especially in really hot weather, when trout seem to enjoy milling around at various depths to stay cool, occasionally venturing into the shallows to grab a quick snack.  

Ideal conditions for fishing this area during the height of summer include an incoming tide in the morning hours. This basic scenario proves productive in most places during summer; it definitely enhances the opportunities for catching in another unusual wading area lying along a major ship channel.  

Near the town of Magnolia Beach, between Port O'Connor and Port Lavaca, on the north (east) side of the Port Lavaca Ship Channel, lie a series of spoils which allow a wader to fish around live oyster reefs close to water around fifty feet deep. A couple decades ago, when I competed regularly in tournaments, I fished these spoils quite a bit during the peak of the yearly heat wave.    

Predictably, I found the catching best early in the mornings, with a tide moving in. Certainly, the bite is best so close to such a deep channel when the water is moving, as long as it doesn't have too much amplitude. Tides of severe strength can muck up the water in places like these. Similarly, the churning effects of the medium-strong winds typical of summer afternoons diminish the chances of catching on these spoils, in my experience.  

I haven't fished these shell humps in many years, and my recent study of Google Earth indicates they've changed quite a bit, probably in part due to the effects of strong hurricanes like Harvey. I can tell some of the primary spoils do still look much the same as they did back around the turn of the century, when I spent most of my time there. I always favored parts of the spoils with sandy shelves extending out from oyster-studded spines, in the direction of the Lavaca Channel.   

I had the best luck on humps which had no exposed islands emerging from their shallowest parts. Discovering the most productive sweet spots on the submerged spoils always involved walking around on them when light winds allowed the water to clear up enough so I could see the layout of the entire structure clearly. I usually did this late in the morning, with the sun fairly high overhead, at the end of a wading session. I suspect these spoils still provide plenty of ripe opportunity for people willing to spend a little time learning their layout and picking the right times to try them.

All these areas close to the steep walls of ship channels provide excellent potential for catching numbers of trout when the Mercury rises to its yearly high points in the thermometer.  Shallow structural elements covered with oysters or grass lying close to such deep water provide trout with much of what they need this time of year.  Savvy anglers who choose to wade in these places while keeping an eye on passing ships to avoid the dangers they create will likely experience fast and furious catching at times; they might also encounter a monster or two.