Give a little to maybe get a little…

Give a little to maybe get a little…
Rebecca Schmitz came all the way from Washington state to see an alligator and catch her first redfish…both missions accomplished.

It’s way too early in the year to be making excuses or looking for silver linings, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do in order to get through it. Three nasty words describe the conditions that have been plaguing us here on Sabine so far this spring and we just can’t seem to catch a break – cold, fresh, and muddy. Rather than cry in my beer and cuss the hand we’ve been dealt; I’ll take a shot at finding a few positives.

After having experienced more productive fall and winter fishing, the good fortune appeared to be carrying over into the new year as January and February were solid for both trout and redfish as water quality remained well above average. Fast forward to March and that’s where the misery begins; heavy rain, runoff, and late cold fronts stopped a solid bite in its tracks. April produced more of the same with higher water levels being the only real difference. It appeared the trout grabbed their passports and headed for parts unknown. Under normal circumstances these conditions would be catastrophic but in this case they may be a blessing in disguise.

During the second half of 2023 we encountered some drastic drought conditions that greatly affected Sabine in both positive and negative ways. On the positive front we saw ridiculously clean water rush into the lake from the gulf and usher in all manner of bait and game fish species. Speckled trout populations along with redfish seemed to be flourishing and that was very evident as many anglers enjoyed some fantastic days on the water.

Now, with all the saltwater that was pouring into the lake and surrounding estuaries, there had to be a tradeoff, and that came in the form of much higher salinity in the marshes. For those that are not aware of how fragile or fickle our brackish water marshes are, let me explain.

The thousands and thousands of marsh acres that border Sabine Lake are the lifeblood of the entire ecosystem and when they get out of balance bad things happen. In this case we were much too salty and that set off a chain of events that saw pristine backwater lakes and ponds that are normally lush with a variety of aquatic vegetation become suddenly barren and empty. Our summertime brown shrimp hatch was way down, as was the white shrimp hatch later in the fall. These shrimp provide the main forage for most of the fish in Sabine Lake at certain times of the year and when the food source is scarce, the fish will soon be the same.

Fishermen were not the only ones who were affected, the waterfowl folks really took it on the chin when the grass became non-existent in most of the marshes. The wintering populations of ducks that call our part of the world home for a few months showed up to an empty cupboard and quickly made their way towards better areas with more food. The delicate balance between too much or not enough salt had swung too far one way and things got out of hand.

Now, fast forward to today and the current conditions where things appear to be in a much more normal pattern with salinities in a better range for this time of year. The “big flush” that we have received, thanks to some heavy rains and plenty of inflow from Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn, appear to have rejuvenated the surrounding marshes and set up Sabine for a much better year, overall. Thus far I have been very impressed with the amount of quality vegetation that’s flourishing in many places. All the grasses that grow in the marsh offer not only places for bait to grow and hide; they also filter the water on tide changes and help keep erosion in check. The better shape the marshes are in means the better overall shape Sabine Lake will be in, and that is good for everyone.

Speaking of the marshes, that’s where I have spent the bulk of my time lately due to the less than desirable conditions in the open lake and we have had some decent success. The redfish continue to prowl around but they are much more difficult to chase with high water levels. Look for much better conditions to help this pattern as we head into the dog days of summer. There are very few things that get me excited like seeing those double-digit redfish with half their back out of the water, trying to gobble that last shrimp or crab on a shallow flat.

On a recent trip I had the pleasure of showing some of what the marsh has to offer to my good friend and long time Galveston guide James Trimble and Rebecca Schmitz. Rebecca had traveled all the way from Washington state for a visit and wanted to catch a redfish and see an alligator; so Trim told her, “I got a guy,” and they headed my way.

It only took about ten minutes to get the alligator encounter out of the way and then we were off to hustle redfish. My better half, Leslie, also came along for the ride and made the day that much more enjoyable. While Trim and I stood on the bow of my Gulf Coast enjoying the opportunity to just “buddy fish” and catch up on things, we also got to witness Rebecca catch her first-ever red, which just so happened to be a healthy upper-slot specimen. Seeing someone who had never before been in a place like our marsh enjoying everything it has to offer was very satisfying and a reminder as to why I guide.

Another great thing about guiding is being able to help folks catch more fish, and that gets done in a variety of ways; like sharing tips or tackle that might increase their success. In the last month or two I have found a couple of noteworthy items that will definitely help most any angler catch a few more fish.

The good folks over at ZMan have come out with a new swimbait called the Mulletron and so far I have been very impressed with it. The Mulletron can be rigged several ways and they all catch fish. You can use the wide-gap offset hook and rig it weedless where it can be presented as a swimbait, or put it on a regular jig head and fish it like a conventional soft plastic. You can even run it under a cork…each method works well. The Mulletron sports the famous ZMan ElazTech plastic which is virtually indestructible and flexible at the same time, which makes this new bait a must have in the arsenal.

Also noteworthy is a new rod from Laguna called the Javelin. Built on their new American-made blanks, this medium-power extra-fast action rod is a dream come true as you can effortlessly switch from topwater to Corky and all things in between without losing any feel. The Javelin comes in three lengths; 6’2”, 6’5”, and 6’8” so you can pick which length works best whether you plan to wade or fish from the boat. I love the 6’2” option for several reasons including storage when I put them inside my truck or just having the shorter length for those of us who are “vertically challenged” and still like to wade. I have seen the prototypes and they are first-class so I can only imagine how slick the new models will be. If you are looking for a “do everything” rod you may want to take a look at the Javelin from Laguna. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

With May in the rearview and summer approaching we now have some of the best fishing of the year ahead. Take advantage of every opportunity to get on the water and be sure to take a kid fishing every chance you get.


 
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