An Important Reading Lesson

An Important Reading Lesson
Here’s Jon, 78 years young and still quite an angler. I love the old hat. Some things should never change.
How did I learn to read water? That's a question that has been posed literally hundreds of times throughout my career. Answers have varied due to me continuing to learn.

This is the type of question that leads to more questions and knowing the answer to as many as possible will give you a jumpstart on reading the waters of the bay systems you fish most often. When I'm teaching I always ask first; "How familiar are you with the water you are fishing?" It definitely pays to be familiar with the lay of the land.
For example - The best deer hunters have great knowledge of the land they are hunting. They are keenly aware of every topographic feature, seasonal feeding and bedding areas, and also the travel zones the deer use to and from. Fishing it is the same. You have to really know the predominant structure types and locations, and also how the fish use them.

Are there points that create coves to provide protection in adverse conditions? Which structures in your area produce almost year round and are there any that fish use under specific conditions or seasonally? What are the primary food sources and how do seasonal patterns affect their availability? Are tidal currents controlling factors in feeding behavior or does wind-generated current have greater influence in your bay? What impact does fishing pressure have on your chosen system?

That's a bunch a questions and to answer most them I will of course refer to my home waters as my knowledge base. Note that one can use the same overlay when fishing other bay systems you might not be as familiar with.
On my home water I have become totally familiar with just about every piece of structure she has to offer. Submerged seagrass beds predominate in the southern reaches of Aransas Bay while in the northern part and continuing into neighboring Mesquite and San Antonio it is more oyster reefs. No doubt the diversity of habitat is one of the greatest attractions the Rockport area has to offer. Along with the multitude of bottom structure types, we also have backwater estuaries with their connecting sloughs and drains, deep water reefs, and tons of shoreline laden with seagrass and sandy potholes.

Rockport also has San Jose and Matagorda barrier islands providing miles of natural protection from sustained SE wind. Water clarity is very good most of the time along both and structure is usually highly visible, which enables us to develop clear images of how the fish utilize it to travel and also to feed, and this is where we can really learn to read the water.

We can plainly see where deep water meets shallow sand along the dropoff and real time spent in the area can hone these visuals to greater understanding of fish behavior a good pair of Costa glasses helps. During periods of low tide or with calm-clear conditions you can familiarize yourself with the structure and how water depths affect the way fish use it. After you see it a few times it gets etched into your memory bank and making a few memorable catches makes the recall easier, almost instinctive. I totally believe and depend on this instinctive thing in my day to day fishing. I often make the comment, "This looks right guys, let's give it a try," even though I am not sure exactly what we will find. I get it right quite often though.

If you're just beginning to learn to read water you need to be more concerned with the simple and more obvious things first. Grass appears as darker spots beneath the water. Shell looks black both underneath and above water, sand is white, where grass meets sand the bottom goes from darker to lighter. If the surface is nearly slick with wind running 20-plus or with birds standing in your path; it's shallow. The rougher the surface, the deeper the water tends to be. Go slow and observe, and you'll learn. Your mind is taking pictures the entire time so make notes to yourself that help recall the photos.

Another part of reading water is learning to use an overlay. What I mean here is to take the visual you see of the proper structure for the season and your bay system, and let Mother Nature provide the overlay. Is a food source present? What direction are the winds coming from and what if any tidal movement is present based on the direction of the water movement. What about telltale items like a slick or a few brown pelicans working a distinct line? Where, if present, does dirtier water move in to cover up your structure? Now lay this knowledge over the previously read water and you have the real time picture you need to record in that mental photo album.

Finally, let's add some fishing pressure. No better example out there than Rockport's Traylor and Mud Islands. I don't think I have ever had anyone on the boat that does not know about these two areas. Both have all the necessary ingredients for fabulous fishing. There is consistent grass and sand structure with a scattering of oyster shell along the shorelines, and good water movement from both tide and wind. Seasonal migrations of mullet, menhaden and glass minnows, not to mention shrimp and blue crabs, are natural draws to game fish. These islands have everything and with everything comes pressure, from around mid-April through December you'll find lots of anglers working this area.

This is where, when fishing pressure is at its peak, I employ a strategy I call, "Stake out an area and create a quiet zone, then you run them to me."

Does it work? You bet! Throw in our increasing dolphin population always on the hunt for a trout dinner and their incessant pushing of trout out of water deep enough for them to work in all of a sudden the shallow water around these islands can become highly populated with better than average fish.

I use this strategy on a daily basis and have seen it work from Bill Day Reef at Port O'Connor all the way to Gladys Hole on the south end of the Land Cut. In tournament play, Jay Ray and I would often position ourselves in areas where we believed boat traffic would continually move the bigger, unseen predators to our self-created safe zone. Didn't work every time but definitely worked more times than not.

So learning to read water is a big thing and a must if your wanting to expand your fishing knowledge. Take those mental pictures and then work on recalling them. Once recalled, build an overlay for the area you've chosen and see how it plays out. On weekends, create a safe zone, and let the unknowing run them to you. Oh the sights you'll see as you patiently wait for your shots. And just so you know, you can't fix stupid; so keep your comments and hand gestures to a minimum.

May your fishing always be catching. -Guide Jay Watkins