What a difference a few weeks make. This time last month we were wondering if the wind would ever quit blowing and now we just need a gust every now and again to make life tolerable. The summer heat is upon us and lots of different fishing methods will soon be in play. Many local anglers will seek the cover of night to beat the heat while still others will enjoy a casual wade along a shoreline. One thing that's for sure is that we should start seeing some unexpected guests like sharks and jellyfish, so be careful if you get in the water.
The month of April and the first part of May were downright tough for us on Sabine and Calcasieu, the winds that were so noticeably absent earlier in the year acted like a bad houseguest who came for a visit and decided to stay a while. Besides cursing the wind, we also got a dose of rain and run off from both the Sabine and Neches rivers at very inopportune times. The visibility and clarity went from the penthouse to the outhouse in the span of a few days and it has taken some time to recover from that blow. Hopefully the much more consistent weather patterns of summer will soon usher in some of the best fishing of the year. We look forward to the calm mornings and the ability to fish much more water in a variety of ways.
The open lake has become more accessible and much more angler-friendly as the windsocks and flags have begun to hang limp. The big schools of shad that inhabit the fertile waters of Sabine will be much easier to spot when the waves aren’t breaking over your bow and the water doesn’t look like a stale Yoo-Hoo. Being able to cover more ground is the key and those who venture a little farther into the wide open spaces of the lake will be rewarded with some outstanding fishing and much lighter angler pressure. I’m not real sure about the phenomenon or the “magnetic” pull that the shoreline has but for some reason most anglers rarely ever get any farther off the bank than maybe a half mile. There is a big part of Sabine that sees very little pressure, it’s like it doesn’t even exist.
I have made the analogy for years in seminars that when we were kids all we could think about was being able to cast as far away from the bank as possible because we knew all the fish were out there. Years later we grow up and buy a fancy high-dollar boat and what do we do, we go back and cast to the same bank where we stood when we were kids. I can’t figure it out. Now don’t get me wrong, there are all kinds of patterns and methods to catch fish, and they can be caught in a variety of places and depths. All I’m saying is to be open to a different approach because you never know what you are missing.
Speaking of missing out on the open-water pattern, the summer months are tailormade for exploring the vast expanses of unpressured water in the wide-open middle of the lake. Open-water fishing requires a certain mindset that many anglers struggle to acquire. So many anglers, like myself, grew up becoming “target-oriented anglers”, meaning that we basically needed something to throw at. The thought of not having any visible structure such as shoreline, grass potholes, or exposed shell to cast towards is a truly foreign concept for most and forces you to learn to read the water, visualize underwater structure, and use your electronics more. Saltwater anglers who master those concepts will enjoy many days on the water away from the crowds because the vast majority of anglers will not be comfortable enough to stick with that pattern. A few “spectators” may come by to check out what you are doing but few will have the skill or patience to stick with that game plan. Acquiring the confidence to get away from the obvious will pay big dividends as the summer gets closer and the crowds get bigger. Give it a shot; you can thank me later.
Now as we begin to switch gears from the spring to the summer months, a few new patterns will emerge that will help you catch more fish. The previously mentioned open-water program will work for both artificial and live-bait anglers as well. On Sabine we are big fans of drifting 4- or 5-inch soft plastics rigged under your favorite rattling cork around the huge schools of shad or pogies that will become so prevalent during this time of year. It’s always a good idea to investigate these big schools of baitfish because more often than not they are being shadowed by speckled trout, sand trout, or redfish.
Perhaps the only problem with fishing near these schools of baitfish is dealing with the occasional gafftop or hardhead catfish that will inevitably show up when there is a free meal to be found. If you choose to drift live bait in the same areas, you can expect a few more interruptions from the catfish but you can also expect a few more bites from the more desirable species as well. Live shad rigged on a fluorocarbon leader 2-3 feet below a popping cork so they can swim freely is a deadly combination during this time. Some of the biggest fish I have ever personally put in the boat fell for this method and it continues to produce to this day. A couple of recommendations for this set up would be using a Kahle hook because they make releasing fish in good shape so much easier than the various types of J-hooks. Also making things easier is using a spinning rod and reel to cast the awkwardly long leader and cork. Compared to using a baitcaster, the spinning set up will make things a lot more efficient and enjoyable.
Other solid patterns that will take shape this month will be the pre-dawn topwater bite down on the jetties. If you want a heart-stopping program, I highly recommend chunking your favorite surface plug along the granite rocks as that green water floods through full of bait. I don’t know what it is about trout at the jetties, but they seem like a completely different species of fish with the way they fight, it always amazes me how aggressive they can be compared to their next of kin in the bays. A pre-dawn tide change accompanied by a good moon phase and maybe some light wind is the type of recipe that fishing dreams are made of this time of year. If you get the chance to take advantage of this program do not miss out, it’s worth the price of admission.