Fresh Ideas

Fresh Ideas
This thick speck hammered my Double Bubble Texas Custom Lures Double D on a recent trip while fishing in beautiful “trout green” water.

The Lake Livingston dam is currently discharging at 84,824 cfs (cubic feet per second). It’s January 25th as I write this article and we’re coming off yet another hard freeze event followed by days of torrential downpours. The ground is saturated from here to Dallas so the Trinity is getting fed much more runoff than she can handle. The gin-clear salty water of our bay has now given way to chocolate-colored sediment-filled runoff almost overnight. As if we needed more, we have challenges. All hope is not lost, however, because we have the ability to make some adjustments.

One of the biggest problems I see with a lot of anglers is that they want to find that beautiful “trout green” water. And, if they can’t, it gets into their head and plays mental tricks on them. Sure, seeing that pretty green water tends to instill more confidence when it comes to tricking fish with lures, but I also know from experience that off-colored water can actually present us with a major advantage. So let’s try to overcome the mental block of fishing in low-visibility water and talk about some ideas that will produce positive results.

The first question we must answer is how fresh is too fresh? In general, spotted seatrout prefer salinities ranging from 17 ppt (parts per thousand) to 35 ppt. I’ve always heard that they will start seeking other areas when salinities drop below 10 ppt and they need at least 4 ppt to survive. Keep in mind that there are clinal differences among bay systems that will allow trout to survive and even thrive in salinities well outside of these ranges. While we may not have different species or subspecies within our spotted seatrout populations here on the Texas Coast, we do in fact have populations of trout which have adapted to the salinities, habitats and forage species for the systems in which they live.

These regional populations are often referred to as clines by the scientists and biologists who study them. Salinity levels in Baffin Bay regularly reach 50 plus ppt and sometimes higher but that cline of trout has adapted through the years. The other extremes involve the clines of trout in Galveston and Sabine Bays adapting to very low salinities. Both Galveston and Sabine are fed by two major rivers each, so salinities will typically dip much lower than systems farther down the coast during most years. I’ve caught fish in both bays out of water you could drink.

I’ll typically do the old taste test initially but that’s not always a tell-tale sign that it’s too fresh because of the fresh water being layered on top and the salt water lying beneath it. This is especially true when the wind is calm. Sometimes a better way to determine if there’s any salty water under the surface is to look into the prop wash of your big outboard motor or maybe even your trolling motor. I literally did this on my trip today (It’s in the video after this article).

I started near a bayou that has been very productive for me this winter. There was a fresh and musty marsh smell in the air and the water had a rusty color to it. Knowing the history of the area and the fact that we had just gotten more than four inches of rain, I knew I was wasting my time there. Not only was the fresh water flowing out of the bayou but it was also flowing north to south from the Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers. I began to hit areas just south of where I had started in an effort to find the location of the fish I’d been on. My third stop proved to be the ticket as I found suitable salinity and okay water clarity while drifting through deep shell-lined troughs. We caught and released more than two dozen trout to 22 inches along with a couple of redfish in that small “stack up” area.

Throwing dark colored soft plastics is usually the ticket when fishing off-colored water and it certainly was this particular morning. That is until the clouds cleared from the sky and the wind totally went calm. The water on the surface still looked like coffee with creamer but the water in my trolling motor prop wash was green and salty. When skies are bright and you have already confirmed that there is clear water beneath the fresh turbid layer, it has been my experience that brighter colors will actually work better than dark ones. I made the switch to a Laguna Shrimp Saltwater Assassin and it was time to hold on! It was nuts how much they hated that color. I was kind of wishing we’d have made the switch sooner but I’m glad we did, nonetheless.

There are plenty of times when the wind and current will not allow the fresh and salt water layers to separate. This can present a real challenge. There are a handful of approaches I’ve taken through the years that have proven to be quite effective when this happens. Scent impregnated baits such as the MirrOlure Lil John, especially when rigged under a rattle cork, will sometimes draw strikes in the murky water when nothing else will. Inserting small glass rattles into our soft plastics can be really productive too, especially coupled with the vibration of a paddletail bait such as a Bass Assassin Sea Shad. That sound (vibration) resonates through the water and a trout’s lateral line will help them home in on it.

Because of the higher salinity water having a greater density than the fresh, it sometimes helps to fish closer to the bottom. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to drag along the bottom with a heavy jighead. If you do then you’ll most likely be spending a great deal of your time getting hung on shell and that is wasted fishing time. Remember also that if you’re getting hung up it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to Mach 1 your lure over the shell to keep from getting snagged. In essence, all you have to do is gently sweep it through the water column. As a matter of fact I prefer nothing heavier than a 1/8 ounce lead head, especially in early March when we are typically still trying to trick suspended trout over thick oyster reef. You will get a feel for where the bottom is and then you can fine tune your retrieve.

Since there’s really no natural flow from the rivers anymore (because of dam-controlled man-operated freshwater inflow) we have to learn how to react to massive unforeseen flows of freshwater from time to time. It can seem like a major challenge but savvy anglers will actually use the discolored low-salinity water to their advantage. Not only will trout stack up in pockets of higher salinity water but you can usually have the area all to yourself because most others are out searching for that “trout green” water. Stay open-minded and know that sometimes less than perfect conditions can yield near perfect results if you make the right adjustments. Good luck and stay dry!