There is little doubt that Texas speckled trout fishermen regard the month of August as possibly the toughest time of year to pattern and catch quality size speckled trout. This is especially true along the middle and lower regions of the Texas coast. The upper coast has more deepwater structure to hold fish in deeper, cooler water and fishing success often reflects this. Down here, elevated water temperatures often push the fish into nocturnal feeding patterns, so naturally our daytime fishing for the higher-end specimens can be slow. Add to this the fact that quality trout are becoming increasingly scarce and you can see that your odds are decreased even more. Now factor in the crowds of summer and the odds worsen even more.
I have many anglers that book me this time of year just to see what my approach to finding and catching quality trout will be. To set the stage, let's look at a typical August day. Water temperatures are usually in the mid 80's; I have seen it nearing the 90-degree mark on the surface by day's end. Salinity levels can be at all-time highs on average, although I do not think this is going to be the case this season due to all of the rain we have had in June and July. Boat traffic has been at its peak for more than two months and tides are usually at the lowest levels of the summer months. Only January and February tides are lower. With extremely hot water temperatures, high salinity levels, fishing pressure, and low tides, our quality trout become even more nocturnal than they normally are. I feel they move as little as possible. Predators are all about conserving energy, and the less energy expended on moving to and from feeding grounds the more energy they have to expend in the pursuit of food.
Here is what I look for this time of year. I like small areas of structure with good water movement. This can be around a small reef, a sandbar that runs out from a shoreline point or simply a gut between two reefs; the smaller guts are the best in my opinion. Trout like to hunt in small areas; I think this goes back to the energy conservation thing. When I can find such a place during the early morning or late afternoon hours it's great, but I will take it anytime during my fishing day.
Moving water is critical when fishing points and reefs in the mid-bay areas. Without water movement the fish have little opportunity for ambush and this is not the means by which they prefer to hunt. Trout, especially those of quality size, prefer to let the current bring the food to them. These fish will stage along drop-offs and areas along the bottom with good grass or shell mixed with the contour of the bottom itself. The structure, be it grass or shell, provides ambush points and camouflage for trout. You have heard me say that trout are all about stealth, and stealth is all about blending in.
I like to search out areas with good nighttime feeding grounds close by. I then focus my efforts on any deeper drop-off adjacent to these. It stands to reason that when fish get in the nocturnal mode they will not travel too far from their happy hunting grounds. I fish very little at night, though. I have a beautiful wife that I enjoy staying home with and I am also on the water almost 6 days a week, so nighttime is my time to kick back and get ready for the next day.
Coves with varied bottom structure and small creeks that feed the backwater marshes are my favorites. These coves commonly have scattered shell and sand up tight to the shoreline grass, then an area of heavier grass with fewer potholes, and finally scattered grass along the bottom as it tapers off into deeper water. I might start my morning casting right up along the shoreline and slowly work my way out to the drop-off as the sun drives bait and gamefish towards deeper, darker and cooler water. Larger trout feel more comfortable in darker water. When I say dark, I mean water with some depth and color. I have caught tons good fish using this pattern during this time of year.
One of the more common questions is, "What tells you the area you are in area is the right area?" Well, this is where experience and time on the water become so critically important. I think I wrote a piece that I called Seeing the Whole Picture about a year ago. In this article I talked about understanding things that you cannot see. From experience, I have a good mental picture of just about every area that I choose to fish in any given day. I know where the scattered shell bottom starts and the drop-off begins. I know how the scattered shell formation follows the shoreline and where the trout normally hold under the conditions of the day.
When I pull into an area and scan the surface, I look for bait activity or signs of fish over or around the structure I know to be there. A good example would be a point extending off a shoreline into an oyster reef. The gap from where the point stops and the reef begins might only be a few feet. As current is forced through the gap it digs a very distinct gut that curves around the point. On windy days, water is often funneled through these guts at greater velocity than the surrounding areas and well deserving of greater attention when searching for signs that fish are present.
Mullet that are stacked up on the reef itself probably know that predators are waiting in the swift water on the up-current side. If I see a mullet flip or short hop through the gut, my past knowledge tells me that gamefish created the reaction. A gull hovering just above the gut or a slick that popped long before I was in the area and is now drifting large down-current tells me something as well. I call this fish savvy and I think it is only mastered by paying close attention to every detail that you see each day that you are out there.
When entering a cove I am looking for small slicks and bait activity. Sometimes we are able to draw a line connecting several of these signs and this is the line upon which we focus our best efforts. I promise, if you will work that line patiently and persistently, other signs will become evident as the fish continue to feed and move.
I think the mid-day periods along the deep drop-off when bait activity diminishes and there is next to no water movement are the most difficult for summertime trout anglers to handle. I know where the trout live and they still beat me this time of year. We have to stay in the area where the fish are living though if we are going to have a chance at getting one to bite every now and then.
Shoreline drop-offs are often fished like this during August but the fish can be extremely hard to locate. It is a track meet and you have to cover lots of ground to find them. There is simply too much water with all the same components. It's all alike and this can be a problem for many anglers.
This is why I like the coves verses the long stretches of shoreline drop-offs in August. One thing to keep in mind is that there are always sections of a shoreline that seem to always hold fish. I bet that upon a closer inspection you might find a small cove between two points or a tiny creek or ditch that feeds a backwater marsh on the shoreline, just inshore of where you continually find fish. My recommendation would be to spend your time and efforts in these areas along the shoreline instead of making marathon wades down the shoreline. Once trout of quality size are located, you can entice them into taking a bait if there are any real numbers of fish present. Their basic competitive instincts take over and one will often eat just to keep the others from having it.
My lure selection for this time of year and the water conditions I usually fish are simple; soft plastic and heavy on Bass Assassins in both 5-inch shad models as well as the 4-inch paddletail Sea Shad models. The new Blurp series by Bass Assassin is really starting to turn some heads, and not just the fishermen, but the fish too. This bait is made in a variety of colors and comes in the 5-inch and 4-inch style as well as a very realistic looking shrimp pattern.
The shrimp with a 1/16th or 1/8th oz. chartreuse Number-2 screw-loc jig head is deadly. Scented baits are becoming more and more popular since the introduction of Berkley's GULP lure series. Scented baits work at time when nothing else will, so you have got to have some in your arsenal of plastic lures.
I have no doubt that August of 2007 will have it great days, but I assure you it will also have those days when nothing seems to work. Think about what we talked about in this article and put some of it into practice and see what happens. Oh, and if you need a private lesson, come on down!