Refining Creek Strategies

Refining Creek Strategies
Eric Gonsoulin with beast of a redfish – CPR!

We are enjoying cooler weather and hopefully everyone is seeing some of the seasonal bounty that fall provides along the middle and lower Texas coast. We had a 12° drop in air temperature today and the forecast is calling for some significantly cooler weather next week, which brings me to this month’s topic. One of the most frequently asked questions on my boat is, “What’s your favorite time of the year to fish?”

The answer has changed somewhat over the years but the facts are that I have gotten to where November through the full moon in May have become my favorite months. I primarily target speckled trout in my guiding ventures during these months due to being able to find better quality trout in larger numbers. I am super lucky to have a dedicated clientele of serious anglers interested in learning how, why, when and where. In the months of January and February we get to focus not only on our learning but we do so in waters where some of the largest trout are caught each and every year. Jay Ray and I travel to Port Mansfield for the winter months with clients that are the most dedicated and serious of trout fishermen. It’s a great time and great place, with the great people of this small fishing village.

In November I am still looking for the basic signs each day to get us pointed in the right direction with greater focus on the major arteries that deliver water to and from our back lakes. With the passage of each cold front comes major reduction in tide levels. Add to this significant water temperature changes at times and we have some great conditions to start fishing the mouths of the creeks that feed our marsh system. I call them creeks instead of drains or sloughs but they all mean the same thing.

It’s not just the bayside creek mouths that become productive. The area where the creek enters the back lake itself can be just as productive. With the popularity of the creek fishing pattern these days, navigation to the area where the creek meets the lake can be difficult due to boats and anglers already fishing there. I personally try to not run into a creek where I see people set up and fishing that portion of the creek if I can help it. It’s a show of respect, even though those fishing in the creek should expect to see some traffic from others wanting to access the backwaters within the creek system. ALL user groups have equal access and a right to fish ALL the water. This attitude works for me, it keeps me grounded and allows me to continue to learn and expand my knowledge by forcing me to fish other areas.

When I look at a creek I see a lot of possibilities besides the obvious bayside mouths. I like to wade up into the creeks when I have anglers that can deal with some not-so-good bottom conditions. The shorelines of the creeks are quite often a good deal softer than one might think. We typically find slick and sticky clay banks that make walking difficult, and nearly impossible to walk quietly. Some might have a sand strip running parallel to the grass edge that definitely make walking easier.

Slow, easy and quiet are key ingredients when working within the creeks themselves. Fish can feel you moving through the water if we are making a lot of noise as we wade. This is a practice that we should apply wherever we choose to apply our wade fishing tactics. My dad was huge on making me aware of the noise I was making when I waded. I can hear him in my own voice, barking orders to slow down and be quiet when instructing those in my party that are moving forward too fast and noisily. I can sometimes be blunt when I know it is denying  others in the group good fishing opportunity. There are tons of guides out there so they can go and fish with them.

I like creeks that have multiple sharp bends as they make their way to back lake areas. The bends deepen due to greater water movement but during peak tidal movements these areas will also have current seams that actually have slower water movement. This slowing or eddying effect within the generally swift flow creates terrific ambush points for gamefish as they usually harbor or trap various bait species.

I won the TroutMasters Top 100 in a drain just like I am describing during a two-day event out of East Matagorda in miserable weather conditions. I never saw a boat the entire two days. Of course it was raining and blowing so hard I probably couldn’t have seen one if any were nearby. The thought process with the fish feeding in the seams and eddy’s where water is less turbulent is simple, less energy exerted equates to more energy gained. You cannot believe the size of the trout we can catch in creeks with this type of configuration.

I remember an airboat guide watching me one day and then hearing his remarks back at the dock regarding the size of the redfish we were catching. I agreed politely but offered no further comment, not wanting him to know they were all 24-plus trout. It was one of my top ten best trout days ever in the Rockport area.

During hard-falling tides we will see redfish cruising up into the mouth of the lake along the edges of the creeks. This is sight-casting at its finest. Couple this with a timeline that’s sending a message to the fish to feed up as much as possible and you’ve got  incredible odds. The reds seem to roam a little more in the creeks than trout do. Trout setup and wait in the most opportune places. Our challenge is locating these areas in the creeks.

All creeks are a little different due to the angle at which they cut through the barrier island shoreline. Small angles will create variations on water movement and water depths from one creek to another. Only by walking these creeks have I been able to discover these differences. Hurricane Harvey in 2017 not only changed the makeup of most of our creeks very dramatically but the storm also created many more for us to investigate. I have found a bunch of really small creeks that have produced some exceptional days for me and my clients.

It is true that my feet have been my eyes for my entire career. This has been a topic in my seminars since the mid-80s when I was doing in-store promotions for area tackle shops. The mental picture I have of what is right and what is not is not something I can verbalize. This is the type of learning that must be experienced in order to totally understand. Writing about it, I hope, gives you some insight but, honestly, there is nothing that compares to boots on the ground when it comes to fully understanding the creeks as well as all the other bottom structures we fish.

The strongest of fronts will drastically reduce tide levels as well as drop the water temperatures. It’s these types of fronts that kick off the best of things in our creek fishing season. This bounty is short-lived due to the baitfish leaving and heading to deeper waters and the simple fact that the increased numbers of gamefish can literally eat all that is in the smaller creeks. We should see good action in the creeks, mouths of the lakes, and the bay shorelines just outside the drain mouths all the way through December during frontal passages. It’s all about bait and moving water. Subtract one or the other and our odds go way down.

I will throw Custom Corkys and Custom Soft-Dines a lot in the drains, along with the Texas Customs Double D. No doubt that I will never be without a MirrOlure Lil John or Lil John XL if fish won’t eat my slow-sinking/suspending choices. There is something special about the way a large trout takes a Corky in hard-moving water that one never tires of. The key to getting these baits in front of the right fish is your ability to define the drift in each and every drain you fish throughout the day as conditions change.

We want the lure to end up drifting naturally into the seams and eddies. You want to follow your fishing lines drift and make note of where you’re getting strikes. This requires some trial and error but it’ll pay big dividends. By making numerous casts up-current and then taking visual notes of where you receive your strikes, you can become able to repeat it reliably and get more bites.

I like to pick landmarks on the opposite side of the creek and cast to those specific points, knowing that when I hit my marks, the drift will be true and a bite will be forthcoming. When we are prepared for the strikes we miss fewer, which certainly makes the cold and often damp conditions much more enjoyable. I hope this gives you a little more insight in how to fish the creeks that feed our backwaters along the Middle Coast.

May your fishing always be catching.  -Guide Jay Watkins

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