Smaller Areas of Structure – Concentrating on Details

Smaller Areas of Structure – Concentrating on Details
Drone view of nearshore grass edges, guts and individual grassbeds.

I cannot help but get excited as the first real cool front of the season approaches the Coastal Bend this evening. I know the cool down will be short-lived and not the type that will kick off any real changes in our fishery, but I certainly look forward to a few cooler days. Cedar Bayou is open and flowing but still not open to the public due to some unfinished areas. Tropical Storm Isaac brought just enough surge to breach the remaining area of sand that the dredging company was working on. I think TPWD is still looking at a late-October official opening and we are excited to see the positive effects this could bring to the surrounding bays.

Meanwhile, I’ve been seeing a slight slowing of the trout bite as well as a decrease in size. Water temps holding in the 85° to 90° range daily created some tough conditions for anglers like myself that prefer to work shallow and stay shallow for trout. Our bite is still early and shallow for the best trout but it turns off about 30 minutes after sunrise. Mullet are literally stacked in the shallows early and the really good trout are right under them. Slicking has been one of the keys to locating the bait pods that have the trout traveling with them. This morning I had four slicks pop as soon as the Power Pole punched the sand and grass flat we had selected. Actually, the flat selected us. It was not one of the primary areas I have been frequenting but, as I always say, follow the signs!

We had that conversation on the boat later, heading to another area. I find that many anglers, seasoned and unseasoned, have difficulty wiping the slate clean at the end of the day and then allowing the signs to direct them during their next outing. I find it very rewarding to be able to leave the dock with no real plan other than to run a route that fits the weather conditions for the day and then allowing the signs to show us the rest. This mindset can be a tremendous aid, whether fishing water you know well or exploring new water. Trout water is trout water!

Over the past month I have continued to focus on areas with well-established grass edges along drop-offs, as well as smaller submerged grassbeds for the best trout fishing. I have anglers wishing for larger trout willing to work smaller, single grassbeds scattered across larger sand flats that are neither especially shallow nor close to the solid grass edges near the primary drop-off. I personally have a tremendous amount of confidence in this pattern throughout the year. In fact, many of the best trout I catch each winter are in shallow water over smaller grass beds in areas inside the primary grass edges or drop-offs. Larger trout are usually scattered but tend to travel in small packs. The larger singles can be difficult to fool during summer months due to more boat traffic, dolphins, abundance of bait, and hot water. During winter, all the above are greatly reduced, so the fish settle in and behavior becomes more predictable, I believe. My video this month demonstrates this.  

Something I do that might be a little different for some when working this pattern is that I seldom work either of these patterns until the mid-morning to midday hours. Later arrival allows my anglers to effectively see the bottom structure that I want them to be able to target. Trout that are using these two types of grass structure are very structure specific, holding tight to or right up on top of the grass. When we can see the structure and make accurate casts the odds of getting bit definitely swing in our favor.

We saw this this afternoon on our final wade near 1:00 pm. The best trout, although scattered, where holding on the smaller grassbeds while numbers of smaller trout were staged along the solid grass edge of the primary drop-off. It’s easy to be pulled out to the quicker bite, but if it’s quality you seek you should stick with the smaller structure targets.

Last week the owner of Custom Corky and Texas Customs joined me on a wade in the same area. We did not catch any of the large trout we saw but we saw several fish in the 26- to 28-class. Reds were abundant but we were holding off after seeing so many upper-slot trout. I had a very large trout come up and nip my Double D but not eat it. I so wanted to stick that fish with his lure and him there to watch. Lowell and I fished the TroutMaster Tournaments together and remain very competitive when we are on the water together.

My belief in this pattern is easy to understand. In many areas I fish, morning boat traffic and bait-fishing pressure is high. Dolphins have been a problem in Rockport and Corpus bays for many years but the past five years have shown a rise in both dolphin numbers and more aggressive behavior. Trout have been forced to evolve quickly in order to survive, so they are living shallow, not eating when traffic is high, becoming even more nocturnally orientated, moving less, and sticking very tight to structure. Believing this allows me to have higher than average confidence. Confidence breeds patience and this can really be the key to consistently catching some of these fish.

I also find that when I apply the same confidence and patience to other areas of structure; not just submerged grass, but shell, washouts and shoreline guts, the results continue to be positive. Many smaller areas of structure tend to get overlooked by most anglers and that’s a bonus to us.

Friday last week, I walked my guys in behind a group that were in the proper area but working it way too fast. We eased in as they were easing out. Pelicans were pounding an area that I knew held a slightly deeper gut with numerous small grassbeds. We fan-casted the area thoroughly during our slow stop and start approach. It was slick-calm, which made the grassbeds difficult to see clearly. I made the comment that when we get a bite that fish will likely be on grass; make sure you know exactly where it came from so that it can be repeated, even if the strike is missed. I have noticed that when good trout are spot specific they tend to stay put long enough for another shot. Over the next hour we caught four nice trout and two really nice reds. Imagine what might have been there prior to the first group wading through it.

I thought to myself many years back that I always want to know at least a half dozen or more small areas that are holding fish at any given time. During the heat of summer, one can muster up a really solid day if each stop yields three to four fish. The beauty of the smaller area is that you’re not burning up too much clock on each stop. This is extremely important during periods of the year when we are experiencing seasonal change.

I love swimming or lightly banging the Texas Double D in small areas of individual grassbeds. The larger trout really seem to prefer the action and the size of baitfish this lure mimics. I also always have several of my favorite soft plastics handy, rigged on 1/16-ounce - 2/0 Texas Customs jigheads. With the 5-inch MirrOlure Provoker or Lil John XL, I can dust the bottom and then short-hop the lure right through shoal grass. With the proper rod setup one can make these lures do things the others just aren’t capable of. Remember this, unpredictability is exactly what predators expect to see. Recently our best trout are holding on top of and in the grass itself. You can take your favorite plastics and do the same, I promise. The key is to be able to feel the grass when the lure comes in contact with it.

This requires the best of rods to be able to truly feel everything and the 46-ton modulus Henri Custom is my go-to. The Waterloo Slam Mag is another terrific rod as well.  There might be some others as good but none truly better, I promise. It’s all these little things that I keep trying to beat into you the reader that will eventually set you apart from the rest of the field.

May your fishing always be catching!  -Guide Jay Watkins

Sight-Casting Big Trout on Small Grassbeds