Dealing with Boat Traffic and Dirty Water

Dealing with Boat Traffic and Dirty Water
Michael Laskowski personal best: 9.5-pounds and 31-inches.
I think two of the greatest mental blocks for new anglers is understanding how to effectively fish areas that commonly attract intense fishing pressure and confidence in working dirty water with artificial lures.

Early in my career, late-70s and early 80s, fishing pressure in the Rockport area was a great deal less than we see today. It seemed that we had more fish, and for sure they seemed less educated. Which begs the question: "Is it possible for fish in a bay system with high fishing pressure to become educated?" Perhaps Dr. Greg Stunz and his group of scientists can shed some light on this subject but, I personally believe it is definitely possible to alter normal fish behavior with increased pressure over a prolonged period of time. Port Mansfield guide, Mike Mc Bride, asked me a few years back how in the world I dealt with the enormous pressure the Rockport fishery receives and without hesitation I replied, "Fish dirty water, work smaller areas of structure, and allow the pressure to push fish to me."

More on dirty water; my home bays typically exhibit clarity similar to Florida and the lower Texas coast, which made getting a handle on dirty water patterns a lengthy process for me. As knowledge of how fish live and feed in a given bay was gained and structures located, the simple trial and error of daily fishing led to the conclusion that not only can we catch fish in dirty water, many times we catch them better and bigger. It took no act of brilliance on my part to quickly adopt this pattern into the play book.

I see boat after boat, day after day, run along a shoreline and pass up areas where wind or tide creates sandy to dirty water. I point this out daily to every group, explaining why they are running past water that many times gives us great action. No doubt the prevailing thought is that if I can't see the structure or the fish, they simply don't exist. This is bolstered by today's high tech boats that run incredibly shallow and those aboard often see a bunch of fish. And if that does not work, just dial up someone and have them tell us where the fish are.

In my opinion, this leads to a general "dumbing down" of fish-finding skills. Gaining confidence in fishing in the "junk" is something I have fine-tuned for many years and pounded into the minds of clients and regular readers. The most important aspect to gaining such confidence is being able to mark during seasonal low tides and clear water periods the structure for any given shoreline or spoil. Once located and marked, either on GPS or mentally using land marks, we can continue to return to the area. Knowing what is below the water and what the water depths are will allow you to fish the area with confidence.

Over the years fishing pressure has caused me to seek out smaller "off the beaten path" areas with suitable bottom structure. I most definitely continue to work popular areas during mid-week and off-season times but find myself more and more attracted to the smaller areas. I refer to them as goo holes and I am not sure why.

There are two benefits to working smaller areas. The first is simple, the smaller the area of structure the more concentrated the fish can be. Second is the fact that it seldom takes very long to find out whether or not the fish we are targeting are present and willing to eat. It is nice to have several of these smaller out of the way spots along a fairly small distance of shoreline. This allows me to hop out and work the area for 45 minutes to an hour and then quickly relocate to the next. Obviously, having only one or two per bay system is not an ideal situation.

My favorite part of fishing the smaller areas is the fact that once fish have shown themselves willing to eat we can stop and very effectively present precise casts to the sweet spots. One bite usually leads to another and then another. I believe the reason behind this observation is that not all the fish in that particular area are holding over the structure itself. Some wander in and out and will continue to do so as long as we have correctly positioned ourselves far enough away to avoid disturbing the structure that attracts them. This is an entirely different article that I will do soon, I promise.

Now I do not have the science to back up all the stuff I believe, and I know tons of anglers that are hung up on science to the point that is becomes a distraction. Fact is, all the tactics, strategies and patterns I have mentioned in most every article I have ever written truly work for me. It is true that I am more confident than most when I have a rod in my hand but there is definitely some logic to my madness.

Finally there is the boat traffic issue and how we can use it to actually help us catch fish. Boat traffic is something all of us know all too well. This magazine and all of its writers, your local Chamber of Commerce, CCA Texas, and other fishing-related organizations are all to blame in this. Not in a bad way, but we have all publicized fishing over the past twenty-five years to the point that every bay along our coast is more crowded today than ever in history. No system is immune to boat traffic, especially on weekends, so if you're going to plan on fishing you might want to read the next several lines carefully.

I look for dirty water close to clean water. I most often find this type of scenario along windward shorelines and spoils. In the dirty water I like to have one or more of my small areas of structure. It can be scattered shell or submerged grass beds, either one works for me. I position the boat about 150 to 200 yards upwind of the area I intend to fish. This creates a cushion for me as long as anglers are somewhat courteous. Next I spread my guys out, but not so far apart as to take any of them out of the game. Quite often we encounter boats running along shorelines, some farther offshore than others, but most are zig-zagging around patches of dirty water as they run down the bank. This will often yield patches of dirty water that have not been disturbed as much as the clear stretches. My positioning of the boat and my anglers helps enlarge that quiet zone and all the while the fish are holding on the small pieces of structure we are targeting. Now–throw in some major weekend boat traffic and ALL the water gets chopped up EXCEPT in the quiet zone we have created. So, is there any science that supports this theory? Nope–but I promise it works.

The past several weeks I have spent almost all my days in water less than many would ever consider perfect, and there have been a few boats in the area pushing me a fish or two from time to time. It's all good and my stress level is almost sitting on zero.

Here's a funny for you. I stand 5'7" and was once 5'8" although my wife does not believe me. She did tell me however that men and women alike tend to shrink somewhat in stature as we age. She also says that a man's ears and nose continue to grow throughout his life. Damn, I am sure gonna be a pitiful sight in my senior years.

May your fishing always be catching! -Guide Jay Watkins