“So, Jay, why do you still fish weekends?” This question comes mostly from anglers who enjoy the luxury of flexible work schedules.
Others may see me washing my truck or doing other chores on Saturday and ask, “No fishing today?”
Finally, folks see me and my wife or buddy Lowell Odom, putting in at noon on Saturday and just shake their heads.
Honest answers include; Some of my clients can only swing weekend trips. I take some weekends off to rest up or get things done around the house. Sometimes I just want to fish for fun with those that I enjoy spending a day with on the water. Last but not least; I like to test the skills and theories I have developed over the years, many of which I have written about in this magazine.
With spring in full swing and only weeks away from schools breaking for summer, it might be time to start thinking about what you’ll need to do if life only allows you to fish weekends. Hopefully I can provide something here to help you deal with summer fishing pressure, enjoy your time on the water, and catch a few more fish.
I search constantly for areas with good structure that are smaller and off the beaten path. Small patches of scattered shell along main shorelines, less defined points, small guts and sandbars along spoils that separated flats from main bays, and areas within well-known spots where boat traffic can and will drive fish away. Displace might be a better term, but over my guiding career I have definitely seen boat traffic drive fish away from primary structure to similar secondary structure areas nearby.
This requires setting up in a position where you’re actually creating a quiet zone in the secondary area. If you’re not a believer that boat pressure moves fish, you need to maybe try and be more observant the next time you’re out there. The Sunday Hole in Rockport earned that name for good reason.
Quite often I see the effects of idling into a flat or shoreline by fish suddenly slicking (evidence of spooked fish) or mullet suddenly jumping erratically. Boat noise and hull slap will move fish from a greater distance than many believe. Not as prevalent years ago but to a certain degree, boat noise has always had a negative effect on the fish we are trying to catch. Today, with so many people involved in fishing and so many shallow running boats on the flats, fish are more aware of our presence than ever before. My many years of observations have taught me this, even without scientific backing.
Hurricane Harvey changed our shorelines, mid-bay reefs, spoils, and flats quite drastically. If you don’t spend much time exploring with your feet, you might not have noticed as many of these as I have. Some can be seen easily from the deck of the boat. Such changes have created lots of smaller areas for fish to use on a daily basis, as well as during times of heavy fishing pressure.
The fewer fish holding in a small area, the more likely that they might hold for us if we approach stealthily. This makes sense when you consider that there are fewer lateral lines picking up sounds of intrusion, and that even though there are fewer fish concentrated in the area, it’s also likely that there’s less bait. Which translates to equal or even greater competition for food.
Many times I stick a nice fish in a small but well-defined area of structure and see other fish following it. Key here is to understand where the others came from and allow them to relocate or reload to their original position. I have great confidence in this pattern, which enables me to stand and wait for it to happen. When working with clients who haven’t experienced this yet, I am their confidence factor, and it is necessary that I stand with them from the time we get in the water until we leave.
I honestly find few anglers that have confidence to believe fish can be present in large numbers and not be caught. There are simply days when the fish win. No matter what we do we have little success. More times than not, however, we are not seeing or sensing what the fish are wanting us to do but trying instead to make them do what we want them to do. There are definitely times when you can bang your favorite topwater across shallow, gin-clear water and draw instinctive strikes from big fish. You can also spook everything in two counties. The best anglers make adjustments that allow them to gain insight into the day’s specific pattern, and then win the day.
So, boat traffic will definitely move fish from primary structure to secondary. Simple key here, locate the secondary structure; which is typically fairly close to the primary, and then setup, fish, and observe. I often see boats running along a primary ledge 100 yards offshore in waist-deep water where I might normally prefer to fish and notice a handful of mullet frantically jumping toward me. What we don’t see is the handful of trout or redfish that disturbed that bait when they were spooked by the passing boat.
One day last year on Cat Head in Baffin, a boat ran between me and the shoreline. I know that is the safest route to avoid the rocks there and had no problem with it. I made the comment that I was going to catch a fish due to the boat running some toward me from the shoreline. The boat wasn’t 100 yards past me when I hooked up. Just block out the distraction and do your thing.
I had one of the best trout tournament anglers tell me that he had a boat run right over the line where the big fish they had located where holding. Instead of getting twisted off he thought about what I had told him, about boat traffic and how it can sometimes be used to advantage. Within a few minutes he noticed an eight-pound-class trout gliding his way. He caught the fish because he stayed calm, believed in the pattern, and had the skills to put it all together. Leroy Navarro is his name and he is an absolute top stick. The takeaway is this; fishing pressure and boat traffic affects fish movements and patterns, but we can use it to advantage if we position ourselves properly.
Timing is everything. Mike McBride and Miss Tricia made a living timing the bite in Port Mansfield. Being in the right place at the right time is everything, but it is the when part of the equation that causes so many problems. Where is really not much of a secret anymore, given the abundance of information available today. You’re getting some right now reading this article. The when part is a totally different animal. I use the Solunar Table but Mother Nature can create situations of her own that can either enhance or totally defeat our chances, even during the best of solunar predictions.
I think the best thing I ever learned from several great fishermen was to NEVER tromp through your targeted area. This goes back to pressure. Busting through an area they want to be at the wrong time can move them, making the right place the wrong place when the time gets right. It is best, I believe, to ease into an area and fish the fringes, creating a comfort zone between you and the fish.
We can learn to detect the presence of gamefish by simply watching bait activity. As Yogi Berra used to say, “You can see a lot just by looking.” I try to take in everything. The way a mullet jumps or flips, the size of the mullet, its position relative to structure. The paths that the birds fly repeatedly, and water currents – wind-generated and tide movement.
Putting all this information together aids in calculating the probability that the area you have chosen is the right area. Now we just have to make sure that we spend the best times of the day fishing it.
Yes, boat traffic can disturb the whole area and totally mess things up. This is why you must focus on locating the secondary area adjacent to the primary. The secondary can be a small tabletop in a flat, a slightly deeper swag in the bay floor, or shallow white sand along a grassbed where traffic is minimal. Find the fish at the right time and your odds of getting that right bite goes up no matter that traffic might have forced them to relocate. You can bet it’ll be close to where they wanted to be in the first place.
During the summer months I go heavy with soft plastics such as the 5” Shad Bass Assassin and the MirrOlure Lil John and Lil John XL. I like clear body colors during midday to afternoon; Cajun Croaker, Opening Night, Blue Moon and Bone Diamond. For early morning and days with overcast or slightly off-colored waters I like basic Plum, Watermelon and June Bug. If I feel I need chartreuse, I’ll usually opt for chartreuse colored jigheads rather than tails. Tail biters get tough in summer and I hate having the tails nipped off by non-game species.
Texas Custom’s new Double D hardbaits by MirrOlure have truly earned a spot in my wade box, all year ‘round. These highly versatile lures have proven to be excellent producers of trout, red fish, black drum and flounder. The swimming action is unmatched and when paused the lures rise slowly and irresistibly to the surface. MirrOlure means quality and this lure is just that.
Hope some of this helps this summer if you’re fishing in areas with lots of pressure.May your fishing always be catching! -Guide Jay Watkins