After weeks of constantly changing winds that have driven anglers crazy, it now seems that better days are officially here. The traditional late-summer and fall programs are now actually fishable, and anglers have more options than just hiding from howling wind. Sabine and Calcasieu have now become much more fisherman friendly, and it seems that not only has the weather begun to cooperate, the fish have also decided to join the party. The best thing about this time of the year is the endless possibility of patterns available to chase and catch fish. From the river to the gulf, they all begin to work as summer gives way to fall.
Let’s start with the easiest program out there and that’s chasing schooling trout under birds. This program has been much more predictable in the past several years and this year is no different as gulls and terns alike continue to work over schools of fish towards the southern end of Sabine Lake. This program is exciting and can produce unbelievable numbers of fish when the conditions are right.
Anglers scanning the horizon with binoculars are often rewarded with flocks of birds wheeling and crashing to the surface of the water, chasing shrimp that have been pushed to the top by trout and redfish, a very welcome sight to say the least. There are however a few drawbacks to this program and the biggest of them is traffic. You can bet if the program is easy you will have company and plenty of it; so pack your patience because you will need it. Another drawback is often the size of the fish. Traditionally, fish under the birds tend to run to the small side, so you may have to go through the numbers in order to find some keepers. Now, the flip side of all that is that on occasion the school you encounter under birds can be made of mostly quality specimens. In years past I can recall when Sabine was famous for schools of fish under birds running almost entirely within the 3- to 5-pound range; but even back then this was rather an uncommon exception to the rule. We can only hope that class of fish will return in greater numbers someday.
Now another program that produces well during the latter weeks of summer and early fall would be working slicks. A slick is a shiny spot on the surface of the water that is made as trout and redfish feed and regurgitate some of their stomach contents. Slicks can be easy to see and quite often detected from a distance by their sweet aroma; not unlike watermelon. The best way to learn to identify a slick is by observing a line of freshly baited crab traps. A slick is actually an oily sheen on the surface, and crab baits contain lots of oily fish scraps. Likewise, the stomach contents of fish that are actively feeding are also quite oily.
Now, if you see a slick on the water, the rule is that the smaller the slick the fresher it is. Be sure to scan the area and make sure the slick didn’t come from a crab trap. Slicks that are elongated by current and wind can be less useful in predicting where the feeding activity may have occurred. Numerous slicks of a few feet diameter are the best indicators, by far. The best strategy for fishing them is to idle or troll upwind or upcurrent of the location and begin fishing.
By fishing slicks, anglers can escape the crowds who are chasing birds and often catch better fish, especially redfish. Just recently I ran into some slicks in the mid-lake area and found some nice trout as well as a big herd of redfish rooting around the bottom and stirring up a big mud boil. The fish hung around and we caught good trout on successive drifts through the area for quite a while, until the oversized redfish came in and crashed the party.
For many folks, the thought of staying in the lake when the wind dies almost completely is not an option as they head for the gulf or the beach. The “big water” is only kind to anglers on so many days, so you have to take advantage of every opportunity. Light seas and calm surf mean clear green water gets closer to the shore and with this beautiful water comes all sorts of new players; jack crevalle, Spanish mackerel, and tarpon, to name but a few. The light seas are custom made for the “mosquito fleet” and you can bet a dollar to a doughnut that these folks will head for their favorite rig or wreck with a big smile on their face and they will return with some equally big fish stories. You just never know what kind of fish will show up when you enter the gulf.
The myriad of options presented at this time of the year will certainly lend to increased boat traffic, so be prepared to share your water regardless whether you want to or not. The nicer weather and proximity to hunting season will entice more anglers to the water than just about any other time of the year. The folks who have stayed away from the triple-digit heat will descend upon the bays and rejoice as the successive fronts roll through bringing nicer weather by the day. Still others, like the hunters, will try to get their last fix in before they dedicate the next few months to chasing deer and ducks. Mark my words, you will see more bass boats in the bay in September and October than at any other time of the year because the fishing is just that good. Those guys who swore they would never put their boat in saltwater will be some of the first ones to hustle a hungry school of trout under working gulls, and nobody can blame them. It’s simply too much fun to pass it up.This month is the beginning of the best time of the year, hands down. Better weather, more cooperative fish, college football, and hunting season are upon us and it’s great to be in Texas. The options are virtually endless and there is a program for everyone to enjoy. Each day going forward will do nothing but get better, and if that doesn’t excite you then you should go see a doctor and have both your pulse and eyes checked. I am really hoping to see some better quality trout show up in the coming months because both Sabine and Calcasieu have been on the upswing for a while now and the numbers would prove that. The average trout is not only healthy and fat but they usually have plenty of friends with them, so the numbers continue to improve. At a time like this it’s critical to remember to release those better fish and only keep what you want to eat fresh because the overall populations are still fragile. Do your part and respect the resource.
So, finally after weeks of cursing the howling winds, local fishermen will get the break they have so desperately begged for and it should last for quite some time as summer begrudgingly gives way to fall. The feeling of the first good north breeze will rejuvenate everything from the fishermen and hunters to the fish and all the wild game. The good stuff is finally here, so take advantage of it while you can. And as always, if you get a chance, take a kid fishing and share the outdoors with them.