Spring is upon us and it’s time to talk about the transition occurring in our fishery. But before getting into it I want to say that in my winter home of Port Mansfield, with only a few exceptions the past two months, we experienced more days of 80⁰ or above than we did 70⁰ or below. Probably due to abnormally warm weather, I have already seen egg development in trout. Water temperature is not the only stimulus that triggers spawning but definitely one of the majors.
Knowing this gets me to thinking more toward windward shorelines and spoils where hard sand and scattered grass beds exist. Personally, I have more confidence when fishing shallow for springtime trout when I have prevailing SE wind pushing into or along a shoreline.
Wind drives bait to shorelines and adds a sandy color to the water, and these factors will concentrate normally scattered game fish. If I have said it once I have said it a million times, “Wind is our friend.” Another related comment I offer frequently, “Fish care far less about water clarity than fishermen.”
Every day I see anglers running past very good bottom structure that is holding fish, simply because they have zero confidence in their ability to catch fish on lures in anything except “pretty” water. This is one of the biggest misconceptions I see in fishing today, despite the endless stream of reports and articles to the contrary. Remember this: The prettiest water is quite often the least productive.
Spring’s approach will be interrupted by a few late-season fronts. Some could be severe and drop water temperatures while pushing the tides out, which will call for adjustments to game plans for a day or two. Adjusting to changing conditions during transitional periods makes it very difficult to catch fish. I find myself teaching people to go back to the basics when in doubt. Find the prominent structure for the season, submerged grass for me most of the time, add a food source, and then connect the dots. Connectors are slicks, tidal movement, and pelican feeding activity. With the opening of Cedar Bayou, tidal movements are more predictable and more ambush points or zones have been created. This will play huge in our springtime game planning.
I tend to gravitate toward outside beaches of barrier islands where I focus almost totally on areas of submerged grass that make up the parallel guts common along these beaches and also along spoil islands. Add to these areas a strong presence of finger mullet or menhaden and I am good for the day. Of course, water color sanding up from the wind helps immensely but, there I go again, talking about fishing dirty water.
I believe trout, especially really good ones, setup in these types of areas and allow the conditions coupled with the solunar effect to allow them to feed with as little effort as possible. These are also prime spawning areas, which is about to get underway. Spawning can concentrate that 5% of the trout population that so many are searching for.
I continue to see the best trout in the same areas year after year during the transition into the spring season. This tells us that the areas have similar bottom characteristics and repeatedly favorable water conditions. Water conditions change with changes in weather patterns. An abundance of rain or the lack of can change these longtime patterns for a period, so savvy anglers need to be well-versed in what’s been occurring weather wise. Bass anglers monitor lake levels and water releases from reservoirs to predict where fish will stage and feed. We should take a lesson.
We will be seeing increasing numbers of menhaden and, for me, this species is one of the greatest keys to locating and staying on the bay’s best springtime trout. There are lots of ways to locate menhaden; birds, especially pelicans being some of the easiest.
Menhaden tend to hold slightly deeper than finger mullet, making working shoreline drop-offs more productive than the skinny stuff. Due to personal height restrictions, I don’t like to fish deep. But, like it or not, over the past two years, I have seen an increase in the numbers of larger trout that we are catching in the deeper water. My take is that the abundance of rain and the opening of the bayou have combined to create more favorable water quality and water movement along our barrier islands. Water movement concentrates bait, making ambushing them much easier for gamefish to catch. Trout like it easy, by the way.
On the flipside, during the same two years, I have also noticed more trout and much larger trout in the back lakes. Again, I mainly credit the abundance of rainfall and increased flow through Cedar Bayou. Prolonged periods of unseasonably high tides and two years with the 5-fish limit no doubt also contributed. Years three and four will tell us more about the impact the new limit has had on the fishery.
A few more words on back lakes, I believe fishing is generally good because traffic is light back there and the grass is abundant. But not all back lakes have suitable bottom for wading and you certainly need the right boat to get there. Assuming you do and you’re able to wade softer bottom, there are great opportunities waiting for trout and, of course, redfish. Remember to be respectful of others that might already be using the water when you arrive. Don’t crowd and don’t burn the area they are fishing. ALL boats and ALL anglers have the same rights.
I will be throwing lots of 5” Shad Bass Assassins in clear-silver colors in the clear springtime water. Cajun Croaker and Bone Diamond are two of my go-to baits. Days with overcast skies or slightly sanded water would be hard for me to not have plum, root beer, or June Bug in my line up.
Notice that I did not mention chartreuse tails on my go-to baits. Piggy perch are notorious for nipping brightly-colored tails and without the tail the action of these lures is much diminished. If you feel you need the attraction of chartreuse, try instead a 1/16-ounce chartreuse jig head.
Should I feel the conditions call for the attraction of chartreuse, I use Bass Assassin’s Magic Grass and Fried Chicken in both clear and dirty water. Sometimes this is what they want, and I certainly believe in giving them what they want. But carry a good supply and change often when the piggies come calling. I’ll also be throwing Soft-Dines and Soft-Dine XL, Custom Corky Gold Series, and MirrOdine XL. The trout we entice to eat these are typically the ones we are looking for.
If you’re having trouble getting trout and redfish to take topwaters over shallow grass in back lake areas, the Soft-Dine or MirrOdine might be the ticket. Don’t be afraid to work these lures with rapid retrieves and aggressive rod tip action. A pause in cadence at unpredictable intervals can routinely produce aggressive strikes.
Spring 2017 promises to be one of the best in many years, if the weather patterns continue to cooperate. I hope to see many of you on the water somewhere along the Middle to Lower Coast.May your fishing always be catching. -Guide Jay Watkins