Praying For Stable Weather Patterns

Praying For Stable Weather Patterns
Amy McCutchin, windy day upper-slot red – CPR!

It’s been a slow start to my springtime fishing in the Rockport area. Weather conditions are having an impact, especially in the planning of areas to fish. April tides were lower than I can ever remember. On Monday last week I observed dry land over the southern end of Blind Pass, a small and shallow channel that is paralleled by a shallow bar that runs between San Jose Island and Aransas Bay. In my 45-plus years of guiding I have never seen this area out of the water. I probably should have stopped and waded to the east side of the channel and fished the drop-off where there are some pretty nice submerged grass beds.

I fish this area on occasion in the late fall and early winter months but have not been seeing as much submerged grass along our barrier shorelines as in the past. Honestly, last year we saw a diminished amount of shoreline grass beds and the trend seems to be continuing. I am seeing a few areas where we already have some pods of menhaden migrating into the bay and I am also seeing some slicking activity in the same areas. When we start seeing full-on slicking my job in locating fish will become easier. Catching them might still be difficult at times but I find that angler confidence generally runs higher when fishing areas with slicking activity and my groups will be more willing to grind for longer periods. This grind-it-out approach will quite often result in good catches.

I am of the belief that platter-sized slicks popping in shallow water are often made by the best trout the area has to offer. I tell this to my guys all the time. But what about the times when we are not able to catch those fish? It is important to remember that trout are not the only fish that create slicks when feeding or regurgitating their food. Reds, flounder, hardheads and gafftop can also make slicks. Heck, even a Lay’s potato chip can produce a perfect slick. You’ll notice much of the time that when you catch a trout in the area where slicks are prevalent, a fish being reeled in will also make a slick.

I am always very positive when it comes to fishing shallow shoreline slicks during the spring months. I have caught some awful nice trout on windward shorelines and spoils where slicking was being observed. Slicking seems to be more prevalent when trout are spawning, a product of gorging and continuing to eat, in order to provide the oil and other nutrients necessary to support roe developing in their ovaries.

Bay systems notorious for growing trophy-class trout all seem to have a mullet-based food source, higher salinity levels, longer growing seasons, and less fishing pressure. I touched on this in last month’s article. This time of year, I am all about trying to locate and stay in areas where there is an abundance of mullet and menhaden. I find that when I can do this the trout we catch are larger and the catching is more predictable. One strong tidal movement or a drastic change in our weather patterns changes everything overnight. Unpredictability is what keeps us coming back. If it was easy, we would move on to something more challenging. At this point I could use a little more predictability and some easier days, although it also true that tough days make us better anglers.

I make varying bay runs each morning depending on the wind and tide levels. I will burn a little more fuel looking for new areas that are showing signs of slicking or new bait arrivals. Watching brown pelicans, royal terns and gulls are helpful in locating menhaden schools and slicking is relatively easy to spot most days. We need to be conscious of the direction the slicks are drifting. Typically, along spoils or shorelines, there will be some type of bottom structure directly upwind or up-current of the direction they are drifting. Locating these areas of structure is a huge deal and will typically make or break your day.

Just a few days ago we located an area where there were scattered grass beds along a windward spoil bank shoreline. This shoreline also has a series of parallel guts running along it. Platter-sized slicks popped as we eased in, pointing us to the proper line that the trout were holding along. Bites came quickly; nothing big, just 16-to-17-inch fish, but the pattern is what mattered. Once a pattern is recognized, we can then decide to either stay with it or move on and try to locate better trout. That decision will usually be based on the conditions of the day and also the clients I am guiding.

As more menhaden move into our bays we will see more slicking, which makes the decision of where to begin our day easier. However, like I said earlier; just because you are seeing platter-sized popping up shallow does not guarantee you will be able to catch the fish that are making them. So, with that said, it is extremely important that we exercise patience and DO NOT enter directly into the area where the slicks are popping. Instead, we need to position ourselves offshore, making long casts to the area, and moving as quietly as possible. Entering the area will spook the larger trout you’re hoping to catch and will likely also ruin it for the rest of the day. We can always leave and return a few hours later and see if they are ready to eat. Is it possible the slicks were made by another species? Certainly! And if they are from flounder they can be difficult to catch at the best of times. Redfish? The answer is yes again. But reds are pretty easy to catch in this situation.

Downsizing our lures can be a good strategy when the bite is tough in shallow, calm, and quite often clear water. For these situations, I try my best to influence my guys to use the best, highest-modulus rods they can afford and the reasons are several. For starters, you need to make long, accurate casts; but the lure is smaller and therefore lighter. My favorite jighead for these situations is the 1/16-ounce from Texas Customs. Another problem I see is that some clients just can’t feel that light tap that big trout are notorious for giving us in clear, shallow water. We saw this all week and the trout I was catching were 2 to 2 ½ pound fish here in Rockport. The one fish near six pounds I did catch tapped the lure so lightly that had I not been using a Custom Henri rod I would not have felt her. By the way, Henri is not the only brand that offers high-modulus rods – there’s also Waterloo, Sarge, and Laguna.

By not feeling the take and not reeling into the bite, we allow the fish to swallow the bait more than I like to see. I know, you might be saying how can you prevent this? The right rod will allow you to feel the slightest of takes and then you must, without jerking or moving the rod, reel into the fish until you feel the line coming tight. Now you can set the hook, and more times than not, the trout will turn away from you and the hook will slide to the corner of the mouth where you have the best shot at getting a hookset in the corner of the mouth.

Here recently nearly all the better trout we are catching have been holding on the upwind or up-current sides of the structure we are working. Right now, I am mostly working grass beds around shoreline points or along windward sides of small spoil islands. I have fished very little shell lately due to strong winds keeping us out of those areas. I have been positioning my groups as far offshore of these edges and structures as possible, just within reach of their longest casts. Right now, if you do not hit just beyond the edge of the grass and immediately twitch the bait off the edge and allow the lure to drop straight down the edge, you won’t get many bites.

It is always amazing to me how much being able to make an accurate cast to the exact spot can determine fishing success. I have some opinions as to why this is happening but no science to back it up. I believe that it’s all about predation from dolphins making the trout stage in the grass. Dolphins are really bad in some areas right now and there is no getting them off of us except to leave the area. My theory is that the trout don’t want to venture away from the protection of the grass that they are sitting in. We certainly don’t get many bites if the lure lands more than a few feet off the edge. The dolphins get theirs no matter what, so we just leave when they start eating what we are catching and releasing.

I am currently throwing lots of MirrOlure Lil John XLs and smaller Lil Johns in Golden Bream, Watermelon, Opening Night, and Molting colors on 2/0 Texas Customs 1/16-ounce jigs. The Texas Customs Double D in Plum Nasty, Truth, Bay Mistress, and Grey Ghost are also getting a lot of play. The Double D is a great choice when the menhaden and mullet are rafted or stringing along shallow shoreline drop-offs. The Double D is also very effective when trout and redfish are only blowing-up topwaters but not actually eating them.

Hopefully the weather pattern will begin to become more stable and summer-like soon and my fishing will become more consistent. We don’t really want it to become too predictable, though. Not knowing is what keeps us coming back.

May Your Fishing Always Be Catching! -Guide Jay Watkins

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