Getting back on my home waters, I have discovered the grass in our back bays and barrier island shorelines is coming back very quickly due to warmer than normal water temperatures through the winter months and very favorable salinity. Driving to Victoria last week I noticed the Guadalupe River and several sloughs running near bankfull. Farmers who haven’t planted yet may not be too happy but this is a great sign for fishermen. Freshwater inflow plays a critical role in our estuaries and my records say that years of above average rainfall and inflow produce above average trout fishing. So, with that said, I am already seeing terrific numbers of very solid trout in a whole lot of areas in the Aransas Bay region.
I made mention last month the importance of focusing on edges of grass beds that lie adjacent to slight drop-offs. This is such a reliable structure situation that I want to follow up and add a few more thoughts for your spring arsenal. For the past two weeks I have been fishing different bay systems and different shorelines and spoil areas within them to understand how the fish were relating to the structure. Fishing 6 to 7 days a week since returning to Rockport I have already identified numerous areas in several bays currently holding the type of trout I like to target.We are seeing some slicks, which helps confirm what we think we know. I like testing myself, head game stuff, and enjoy presenting these ideas and lessons to my guys of equally competitive and inquisitive fishing nature.
I have always believed the wind is our friend and in no season is this more evident than springtime. Seasonally high tides create larger zones of clean water along most of the barrier island shorelines. Where the wind can get a grip on the water, along protected shorelines, we see water color changes beginning to occur. These are super areas to target IF certain factors exist.
First – We need the water color change to come in close enough to the shoreline to cover up the OUTER EDGE of the submerged grass that makes up along the edges of the drop-offs.
Second – The water color change and the submerged grass edge needs to be located on or close to the migration line on the shoreline. What’s the migration line? Bait fish definitely use specific paths along water depth changes when entering and exiting coves and secondary bays. Current controls this line and can be formed by tide or wind. I have no science to support this, just years of experience.
Third – We need bait to be present along the line where water color change covers the bottom structure. A frequent problem for me is my height. Casting toward the desired structure from offshore when tides are high and we’re still in waders, I face the constant threat of getting wet. When tides drop it becomes easier, plus with lower tide levels the color line usually makes up nearer the shoreline.
I like to work on a zig-zag path along the shoreline for the simple reason that it allows working varying depths to discover where they have chosen to set up for the feeding period that day. Don’t get stuck on a specific line until the fish establish that line for you. This often changes throughout the day, so being aware of things such as changes in wind direction, bait fish location, tidal flow, water clarity and water temperature changes all play big roles in your ability to follow the pattern as the day progresses.
And, don’t forget the dreaded but inevitable boat traffic. Traffic moves fish but over the years I can honestly say that I have obtained great confidence in placing my clients in areas where boat traffic actually helps rather than hurts us. Let the traffic push the fish toward you. More head game stuff. Fellow guides tell me they don’t know how I stay sane when boats are running all over the fish.
Fishing spoils in springtime, I like SE wind that pushes water onto the spoil shorelines or over submerged spoil island reefs. These areas are not always wind-friendly so I have to pick my days. Rare occasions of a calm night followed by a calm morning are the absolute best on the spoils as the grass beds and reefs form havens for bait fish to hide and trout to lie in ambush.
An element that most spoil areas have in common is quick deepwater access and wind-driven water movement. These two characteristics are bait and game fish magnets. I like the fact that water clarity around the spoils is typically not as clear as shorelines in general. Having been shaped by erosion, spoils also typically have small areas of shallow water flats, places where predators can slide up and feed easily and then retreat quickly to deeper and safer water where they seem to prefer to spend their downtime. These fish in their deeper, darker comfort zones can still be caught when located. In fact, I believe the sheer numbers that can congregate in these areas will often result in instinctive feeding, even though they are probably not hungry. Grab it before your buddy does kind of deal – greed can be the deadliest of sins.
A fairly new springtime tactic for me is what I call the floating grass pattern. Along the middle and lower Texas coast, strong SE winds push and stack grass, which eventually sinks to form half-moon shaped underwater mats. I think these winds might also shape oyster reefs – seems every bay system has at least one Half Moon Reef. Anyway, the difference between these mats and the reefs is that the mats move with the wind-generated current, slowly rolling along bottom.
Small crustaceans and tiny bait fish seek shelter in the grass mats. Trout and redfish then mill around the edges. Add some potholes and things can get very interesting. I have had the chance to fish these types of structure in Rockport as well as Port Mansfield and found them to be very productive on most every occasion.
Finally, but certainly not least, we have the drain pattern, which can be fished productively most of the year. The opening of Cedar Bayou has literally supercharged the northern portion of the Aransas system and southernmost waters of San Antonio Bay – Long Reef all the way up to Panther Point. Water flowing through the Bayou is creating trout fishing in our drains and back lakes that we did not see prior to the opening.
In springtime, when tides bull up, the best trout congregate where the drains enter the back lakes – the opposite of fall and winter. Fishing where the drain enters the lake can be physically challenging; soft bottom and bank edges, deeper water, mosquitos, etc. Drains with multiple bends are the best for sure. The bends or turns cause the currents to speed up and scour deeper holes – think ambush points. Find a hairpin turn close to the lake mouth and you’re golden. Still need water movement and an ample food source but most of you know this by now, I would think.
It’s looking really good here in Rockport so far, and I am excited about the future of this fishery. Hope to see some of you on the water and around the docks.May your fishing always be catching. -Guide Jay Watkins