Accept the Challenge for Greatest Rewards

Accept the Challenge for Greatest Rewards
Wading anglers working deeper guts adjacent to prime nighttime feeding flat.

Local weather reports say summer 2020 has been no hotter than previous years but it certainly feels hotter to me. Maybe forty years of baking sun has taken a toll on my body and brain. Leaving the dock in the dark and getting off the water by 12:00 or 1:00 pm has been the norm for my charters the past month or so. The redfish bite became more consistent as tides began to recede in July; interestingly, the trout bite improved as well. The bite seldom lasts very long but dropping the Power Poles in the proper place and executing a solid wading plan can yield good numbers of fairly solid trout.

During the dog days of August and September, water temperatures commonly reach the upper-80s and sometimes exceed 90° in leeward pockets and coves. These are ideal nighttime feeding areas; a pattern I have mentioned many times. I’ll take it that you understand nighttime feeding and that it becomes more frequent during dog days. Mullet gulping air on the surface is an indication of low dissolved oxygen content in the water (which tends to suppress predator feeding activity) and I see it more in August and September than any other months. You know to fish shallow structure and drain mouths early, and then move to intermediate depths with similar bottom structure. By mid-morning we need to be looking at deeper structure that is adjacent to shallow nighttime feeding areas.

Over the past several years I have become a big believer in working smaller areas longer and watching boat traffic, trying to pick areas where traffic might actually push fish to us. I’ll touch on the smaller areas for longer periods first.

Due to the probability of super-heated water temps by mid-morning to midday, we need to pick areas that include as many of the key factors that encourage feeding as possible. These are a good food supply and bottom structure suitable for both bait and predators to hide in. I also like to see some amount of water movement, preferably windward. I also like depth changes within the area of the bottom structure. So far I’m asking for a lot but when all these bases are covered, I have learned that positioning might be the next most important aspect of the pattern.

We must never wade through or even too close to our targeted area. Capt. David Rowsey is a master at this and I have learned a lot from him. Ideally, we should position ourselves where the structure holding fish can be covered with our longest casts. Any closer and you risk spooking the fish you’re hoping to catch. I cannot count the number of times I have been reeling a fish from such an area and noticed others following it. If we stand our ground and wait patiently, those followers will return to the structure where they were holding earlier. Granted, boats passing too near can blow the deal, but I still believe they will return and restage given enough time to do so. Feeding windows are very short during summer’s hottest days, therefore I believe it better to wait them out and spend our time fishing rather than wasting that first hour or two of daylight running to another spot.

I pay careful attention to every detail of bottom structure in which I am catching fish. Not all grassbeds or potholes are created equal. At first glance it may appear that everything is the same but as we wade we should be able to detect subtle differences, sometimes as minute as the texture of the sand and the grass will vary within a given area.  

For instance, here in the Aransas Bay Complex trout seem to prefer bottom structure that includes grassbeds and grassy humps; I call them moguls. The more contour the better. Locate this type of bottom near shoreline points on windward shorelines and there will almost always be fish present.

In the seagrass department we have several types in the areas I fish. I prefer the more common, shorter and softer shoal grass bottom versus the tougher, flat-bladed turtle grass. However, when wind and tides are both running high we can work lures very effectively across the tops of the turtle grass. The new Texas Customs Jighead with the lead partially covering the eye of the hook allows for a more weedless presentation; note that I said more weedless, not totally weedless. My favorite for working submerged grass is the 1/16-ounce, 2/0 hook size.

At the present time my best trout are holding tight to the grass; like in it, so I need to be able to work the lure through the grass with each cast. It’s short grass, so the lure seldom hangs up. Heaviness on the line is usually a fish, so reel down and set the hook. I noticed today that the trout wanted it barely dusting the top of the grass before they would take it. I could not have felt the grass or the light takes from the fish had I not been using a very sensitive, high-modulus graphite rod. I prefer my custom Henri rods designed by Steve Henriksen but Waterloo and Sarge also make great rods.

Mid-bay shell reefs can also be a great option during the dog days. Trouble with the mid-bay stuff is that everyone knows about it, which leads to daily fishing pressure. Despite the pressure, these reefs can be productive and should not be overlooked. Looking for mid-bay shell its more about the orientation of the reef to the prevailing wind, preferably SE. Prime areas are the points of the reef that taper down to crumbled and scattered shell. Hard sand is even better.

I like reefs that have saddles where water flows through no matter the tide level. On the up-current sides of these saddles we can typically find the reef’s best fish. Many times this forces anglers to cast into the wind or at angles across the wind. I want my lure coming from out in front of the fish whenever possible. Never let dirty, moving water over mid-bay shell deter you from fishing it. I have several areas that look and feel terrible when we get out to wade but if the water is moving through the saddle and terns or pelicans are present, it’s on. Many a time the areas I have just described saved the day, even during the hottest months.

To summarize, focus on smaller areas that we feel can provide opportunities throughout the morning hours. We can pick areas where nighttime feeders can slowly drop-off to similar structure to wait out the heat. We want to stay away from wading through our selected areas. Wade the outer edges, casting to every pothole, grassbed, and edges of grass. Allow time for fish to reload and regroup after a fish is caught. Pick smaller mid-bay reefs with saddles that always have water flowing through them during tidal movement or strong SE wind. Pay close attention to where boats are fishing and where there are none. This allows us to formulate secondary game plans during times with heavier than normal pressure. The areas getting the least amount of fishing pressure can be sleepers, never discount their potential. Focus on prime areas of structure during the early morning hours. Always allow time for a pattern to develop as you work the area.

It has taken me years to develop the knowledge that allows me to work an area with the confidence that I have at this point in my career. One literally must know why the fish are there, where they go, when they are present, and how to make them bite. Add to this the fact that I never allow my clients go to the bait bucket to aid in their success and you’ve got a serious challenge. Huge task, no doubt, but that’s what makes your success so rewarding. Not everyone gets a trophy in this game. Allow yourself to be challenged, you might be pleasantly surprised with your results.

May your fishing always be catching. -Guide, Jay Watkins