Trust Your Feet!

Trust Your Feet!
Sherry Otto with a windy day trout – CPR!

Hard to believe April has come and gone. Seems only last week I was preparing to head to Port Mansfield for my annual winter stint in the Lower Laguna. Time flies when you love your job!

I still do not need to set an alarm, and for the most part I feel great every morning. I enjoy my 5:30 ride through Rockport; nice hot cup of strong coffee and maybe a fresh donut from time to time. There is little traffic at this time and the lights of the town reflecting off the water along Business 35 always remind me how fortunate I am.Rockport still has a long way to go to get back to the real or new normal, but efforts are still strong, and work is being done every day.

Fishing is great; actually better than great, but this is not uncommon following a major storm event. Seasonal bounty is what many refer to as the peak times of year, but this is different. Too many good fish in too many areas that previously had zero.

I am continuing to relearn the bay day by day. Honestly, I believe Hurricane Harvey will prolong my career by many years as I have a new and resurgent attitude after weathering all that 2017 sent our way.

I spoke with Blaine Friermood the other day about the relearning process. He too is relearning due to Harvey’s flooding effect on his home waters in Trinity Bay. “It took me 50 years to somewhat figure this system out to a point where I could actually predict some things,” he told me.

It is true what he said about relearning and this is especially true with wade fishing. The only real way to accomplish this is by fishing areas with changes under all types of conditions and during all seasons of the year. Real knowledge never comes without investing serious effort.

I am seeing way more bottom changes now due to an expanded search on the water. One day I am in Corpus Bay, Aransas the next, then St. Charles, and today it was Copano.

Why all the movement? The need to know numerous areas holding fish at any given time has always been a huge mental thing for me; it helps tremendously on the tough days.

All the shorelines that I have waded for years show significant changes in bottom contour and not all of these changes can be seen. My feet are my eyes. They tell me things that can only be learned with endless effort. On the water is one thing, being in it is yet another.

The smallest of bottom changes can many times be the reason one section of a shoreline is predictably consistent versus another. I always tell young anglers to rely on both what your eyes can see and what your feet can feel. A shoreline bottom-structure condition will repeat somewhere down the shoreline. A savvy angler recognizes the differences and files them away for another day.

Right now our best trout are staying shallow along our barrier islands and spoils where bottom grass is found both shallow and deep. I attribute this to water clarity. This season’s incredible clarity is causing our larger trout to stay close to areas where both shallow and deeper grass are present.

On calm, clear days I notice that the trout go deeper quicker than on windy or overcast days. I guess the reason behind this is their natural tendency to avoid predation from above. These fish have no idea about how big or small they are and continue their entire lives to fear predators from above. I do however believe that the osprey and brown pelicans recognize them as too large to eat.

I base this theory on having watched osprey and brown pelicans diving toward the surface, only to pull out of the dive at the last second. More times that I can remember I have waded to the area of interest and have hooked up immediately with a very nice trout or redfish.

From their elevated vantage point the fish looked like a meal but as the avian predator drew closer the actual size of the intended prey was revealed and they aborted the dive. None-the-less, it told me where I might find success.

I try to NEVER walk through the areas where we are catching our best fish. Wade and work the fringes to allow the sweet spot to remain sweet. I know many professional anglers and guides alike that abide religiously by this belief. The only reason for us to arrive at this conclusion separately is because it’s true and it works.

Winds continue to run near 20-mph on average and, honestly, this has been a positive influence with the continued, uncommon clarity. So many days last week we caught beautiful trout less than knee-deep in water so clear you could see them take the lure if you were paying attention.

I remember as a boy fishing Pete’s Bend and Italian Bend in Port Bay with my dad and seeing a trout’s gills flare when it took my MirrOlure. We used to remove the eyelet from the top and filled the hole with clear nail polish and placed it in the nose. I also painted yellow dots, mimicking the Bingos I’d had luck with. We also eliminated the middle treble hook and filled those screw holes with nail polish.

I have recently also reverted to that old MirrOlure reel and twitch retrieve that worked so well for us back then. Installing lighter, stronger hooks and smaller, high-quality split rings make the baits swim a lot better. I am, of course, still catching a ton of trout on soft plastic. Bass Assassins, along with the MirrOlure Provoker and Lil’ John are all three dynamite baits.

I want to mention again, having witnessed how effective it has been in the predominantly clear water of late – making long casts is an absolute necessity and you would do well to run a leader of clear mono or fluorocarbon at least 36-inches length – attached with the slimmest joining knot you can tie to enable the knot to run through the guides.

I also believe that plain (not painted) jigheads draw more strikes in warm-clear water. Chartreuse is OK in dirty stuff or cold-clear water during winter. I use the Bass Assassin 2/0 heads in 1/16-ounce; screw-lock style. Whether or not it actually weighs 1/16-ounce is immaterial – I know it works and that’s what matters to me.

Trout take the shorter-shanked 2/0 jigheads into their mouth where they hold more securely. Bigger hooks are not better, in my opinion.

I frequently see clients struggling to achieve necessary casting distance when rigging leaders in other ways. Changing their rigging and adjusting reels, along with a bit of casting instruction, usually works wonders. I sometimes wait a wade or two before assisting. Seems to help the lesson sink in a little better.

No menhaden showing as of this writing but they’re coming and the inevitable slicking will follow. I set the wade line according to where slicks appear most regularly. Long casts enable reaching them without disturbing the feeding.

Remember this: Long, drawn-out slicks can be unreliable. What I rely upon are the small ovals that appear shallow and slightly down-current from submerged grass. I always believe that the shallower a slick appears, the greater the probability it was made by a large trout.

NEVER wade through areas where slicking is occurring. Wait your turn, a lure cast properly and deliberately into this area will sooner or later get a look – I promise.

Practice extra caution when navigating Harvey-affected bays. Trust your feet to reveal new changes in some old areas that you fish. New bottom contour can be very productive and you truly might be one of the first to discover it. How cool is that?

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