Back Lake Patterns and Strategies

Back Lake Patterns and Strategies
Massengale during moonset minor with cold front approaching.

It's been a very long time since I have been as excited about our winter fishing prospects in Rockport. I explained in earlier articles the combined effect that two years of abundant rainfall, the opening of Cedar Bayou, and the implementation of the five-trout limit has had on our fishery. Rainfall and water circulation are the two factors I credit the most but, there is no way that taking fewer fish could ever equate to actually having fewer.

I want to focus on back lakes this month. The abundance of rain and prolonged low atmospheric pressure that accompanies it produced generally higher than normal tides through 2015 and thus far in 2016. Could flow through Cedar Bayou also be a factor? I cannot answer that but, for sure, there is more water movement in our back lakes than before flow through Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough was restored.

Lower salinity in the lakes has spurred the growth of bottom grass and been a boon to shrimp and blue crab populations. All our gamefish eat crabs and shrimp, so I believe it safe to say that increases in these forage species attracts more gamefish to the backwaters.

I see back lakes as small bays, fed by sloughs (also called creeks and drains) that provide water exchange with every tide. Baitfish and gamefish alike can enter and exit the lakes with almost no energy expended, riding the tide. Some lakes have numerous sloughs; some have but one. The way I see it, the more sloughs the better the flow, and the better the flow the better the fishing.

I am amazed how many blue crabs are in our back lakes right now, reminds me of twenty years ago. I remember dip-netting enough crabs for a family boil during a couple of drifts across Estes Flats. Today's abundance is becoming similar.

Entering a back lake is a topic deserving discussion. First - if somebody is already set up in the slough or at its mouth, pick another lake or pick another slough to enter. If there are poling skiffs, airboats or waders already in position in the lake, pick another lake. Second - if this is the only lake you know to be holding fish, you have some work to do. If the lake is large enough for multi-boat utilization, shut down far enough away to avoid disturbing the area too badly. Fish spook easily especially in calm, clear, shallow water. They do however return to their normal activities if we are patient.

I have been run over, poled over and blown over and I know for a fact that fish can still be caught if you're patient, knowledgeable and handy with the stick. I simply don't let it affect my day or my focus.

Pick areas to travel where seagrass is not prevalent or water is deep enough to jump back up without churning bottom. Aerial photos reveal that people are trying to abide by the sea grass protection laws. You can also troll or drift in or out. I have on many occasions exited my boat and pushed it past anchored boats fishing or waders to avoid disturbing them. Bottom line is this - Enter and exit a back lake as quietly as you can and be respectful of others.

Over the years I have waded every back lake and slough in the local bay system, although growing older I tend to shy from the softest bottoms. While the drought years were generally tough fishing in the lakes, the past two years with higher tides and lower salinity have restored them to my game plans. Through wading I have gained a truly good feel for slight depth changes and wind-developed shoreline guts. Slight depth changes deserve your greatest attention.

All marine creatures face threats of avian predation, including gamefish. Thus, deeper sections provide greater safety, plus deeper sections make better travel-ways. Fish do not always follow shorelines, nor do the things they eat. I look for deeper areas within the lake as well as guts on windward shores. I love windward stuff but you can't get too set on it. In lakes with deeper swags we often find more bait rafted in deeper water than in windward zones. When lake waters are clear; which is most often, trout and redfish will stage quietly under mullet waiting for one to make a mistake. This pattern absolutely works and some of my largest trout are found lying under pods or rafts of baitfish.

You must pay careful attention to discover depth changes when wading a few inches can make a big difference. Noticing the depth of waders accompanying you is also helpful. Especially important is defining the depths where your bites are being received, as well as theirs. I honestly prefer 4 to 5 anglers when working larger areas of backwater. The more numerous the anglers the more sources of information I can access.

The work truly begins when a pattern is established. Back lake fish seem to be moving constantly but it's not like they use the entire field of play. They relate to different depths of water at different times of day. This week with full moon, the fish where scattered on shallow, broken bottom along the shorelines of the lakes, no shoreline in particular more productive. As the sun climbed higher, bait and gamefish seemed to migrate to the deeper swags in the lake but they did not stay long. As midday wind increased, the fish along with the bait pushed to the windward shores. This is a more characteristic and recognizable pattern, one I have tons of confidence in. Key here is to avoid pushing too close. The line the bait seems to favor may not be the same line the gamefish are holding along proceed with caution. Bites are reasons to stop and explore. You will likely be rewarded with more.

So, what happens when fish are present, busting baits and slicking, but offerings are seldom accepted? The good news is that the most important ingredient is present. Seeing fish and signs of feeding is always good stuff.

Yesterday the topwater bite was great on the moonset minor but went suddenly dead thereafter. Multiple redfish and trout were seen running up behind my She Pup, only to turn suddenly away. My trusted 5" Shad Bass Assassins and even my harder-tailed MirrOlure 5" Provokers were getting the tails nipped off as fast as I cast them. The 3" Sea Shad Assassins fared no better. Gold and silver spoons seemed to be spooking the fish and I did not have my trusted black spoon.

I remembered having redfish and trout years ago doing this same thing in a back lake north of Panther Point. The fish would rush the lure and suddenly turn away. I started jerking it away from them before they turned off and then quickly casting back, following up with a fast retrieve to draw the strike.

So, yesterday, I instructed my guys to put the 5" Assassins and Provokers back on and crank fast with the rodtip pointed at the lure. Pause briefly, then quickly resume the fast crank. Bites from both trout and redfish came quickly and often. Sometimes I think we let them see too much. Make them react naturally and the eating becomes second nature. I have used this pattern the last few days in three different lakes with similar results.

So, you ask, what happens when this pattern fails me? Well, I'll look at the conditions and with the help of my clients we'll figure the next pattern out. This is the fun part of fishing.

May your fishing always be catching! -Guide Jay Watkins