What is a GAME PLAN, and why is having one a critical part of everyday fishing success?
Now there's a familiar question, one that I probably hear more than most guides. If you know me, or maybe if you frequent my website, you know that one of the off-the-water services I provide is a subscription to my Game Plan for fisherman wanting to learn more about what's been going on in the Rockport area. The price of one of my Game Plans is not important when measured alongside what it can do for you.
The whole game plan idea started many years back when a client that did not know exactly when he would be able to get away for a day or so to come down and fish asked if I would be interested in giving him some advice on where he might find some fish on his upcoming trip to Rockport. He had fished with me many times and already knew of the daily logs that I keep.
For years I have been logging where I had located fish each day, what the weather conditions were, the moon phase, tidal movements, water conditions, bottom structures and lure choices. He wanted a general ideal of where to go, where not to go, and what to catch them on. In return, he would send me a small portion of my daily fee as payment. Sounded easy enough to me and from time to time he would call and I would receive a check along with a note of thanks.
Over the years, through seminars, newspaper articles and local speaking engagements, I often told my audience how important is was for an angler to have a GAME PLAN before they hit the water. The combination of everything that transpired over those years led to what I have today on the website. A game plan is just what it says, a plan for the game. To me the sport of fishing is a game; it is me against the fish. I termed it as a war at one time, but that was when I was younger and did not realize that in war everyone loses something. With much more attention being paid to catch and release these days, both the anglers and the fish win in lots of cases.
To start your own game planning strategies you will need a log of each trip that you take. Simply pay attention to the conditions of the day. If it is cloudy or sunny, cold or hot, summer or spring, etc., write it all down. Write down the type of structure you found the fish over. Logging water temperature and tidal movements along with Peak and Minor feeding periods is critical, so be sure and record them carefully.
Here in the Texas Saltwater Fishing magazine, we have a terrific source of this information contained in the TIDES and SOLUNAR Tables. You can obtain local tidal movements from my website as well, www.jaywatkins.com. List the types of bait you caught your fish on as well as the time in the day when you felt the fishing was best.
OK Let's say you have done this and are now planning another trip to your favorite bay system. Look at the weather conditions and a forecast for the week you are planning to fish. Now go to your log and find similar conditions for that same time of year. Obviously, the more you fish and the longer you keep a log, the better the odds of being able to formulate a successful game plan.
With over 30 years of logs, in fact I now have entire books put together on each month of the year, I can predict with rather consistent accuracy WHERE the best chances for finding fish might be on any given weather condition.
One thing you need to keep in mind though, even with all of our carefully recorded detail, we still cannot make them eat whenever we want them too. A detailed game plan though, will tell you the conditions in which they feed most often, and this can be the difference in catching or not. I have found that from season to season, given the same sets of circumstances and patterns, I can predict where the fish should be and what they will be feeding on.
As a guide and tournament angler I am constantly game planning. Every good game plan has at least one backup plan in it, and many times two or three. In the winter months for instance, I have game plans for both north and south winds and high tides and low tides each time I leave the dock. Lucky for me, I get to fish often enough that I do not have to go back each day and look at the log of previous weeks and years gone by, but you can bet I still build that game plan in my head.
I think one of the biggest things game planning does is build confidence. Every plan that brought success increased my confidence and encouraged me to build better plans for the next day's fishing. The other thing that planning does - it helps you get your mind right for the day ahead. There is no worse feeling than leaving the dock and not knowing where you're going or what you're looking for.
The patterns that govern each bay system that you fish will be seasonal so it is important to break your log up into those specific seasons. Springtime patterns will not work for summer and winter patterns are not for summer. You notice I left the fall out. Fall is one of the best times of the year to be on the water. Everything seems to work well no matter what your preference or where you are along the Texas coast. Becoming familiar with the seasonal patterns and the changes that accompany them can only be done by consistently logging each trip.
I'm guessing you are beginning to get bored already so let's just go ahead and build a July game plan that you can use if you're coming to Rockport.
In July, water temperatures will be reaching the mid-80's. Tides after the 4th of July will probably be low and daytime high temperatures will be in the mid-to-upper 90's. Winds will have become light to variable and tropical weather patterns will have set in over the Gulf of Mexico. Morning and late evening thunderstorms will be common and the cool-downs will be very welcome.
I will still be wading but long wading pants will be necessary in most area bays due to a rapid growth in the jellyfish population. Early morning departures will be necessary due to rapid water temperature rises during the day. Expect to see 84-degree surface water temperatures rise as much as 5 degrees by 4:00 pm. Water movement is critical when fishing for all species but this is especially true for speckled trout.
Look for small tight areas of tidal movement. Cuts in reefs and guts around points are my favorites. Plan your day around the tidal movements when possible. Obviously, days with stronger tidal movements, two highs, and two lows in a 24-hour period, will be the best. Not everyone will be able to select the ice cream days. If your trip falls on a day with minimal tidal movement, rely on wind-driven current in and around the reef passes, windward shorelines and points along the shoreline. Even the slightest amount of movement on these types of days can be a big advantage.
I will start my trout wades up shallow and move out to deeper secondary structure as the sun rises. It can be a fish a minute for that first 30 minutes of gray light in the morning if you are in the right area. On days with hard-falling tides in the afternoon hours, I will fish deeper potholes just offshore of the grass lines along the spoils of the I.C.W. Falling water and rising water temperatures will pull the redfish off the skinny shoreline and concentrate them in the potholes. Do not discount the occasional big trout present among the redfish when this happens. One of the biggest trout I ever caught in San Antonio Bay came a few years ago in 86-degree water out of a school of oversized redfish.
If drifting is your choice, the deep water reefs in San Antonio Bay, and also Copano and Aransas Bays can be excellent. You still need water movement and a food source over the reefs so look for bait activity over the structure.
Lure choices in my play book are simple. For numbers, it's the Bass Assassin 5-inch shad, 4-inch sea shad, and the new BLURP shrimp patterns. Rig these with a 1/16-oz screw lock chartreuse jig heads and you're in business. I like the 2/0 size hook, the smaller, shorter shank is the best in my book. Mirrolure's Catch 5 and Top Dog series will be productive as well. Never forget spoons, I like the Johnson weedless and the new H&H weedless spoons on the market now.
In July, there is always the threat of tropical storms and hurricanes. Tropical systems in the gulf will cause tides to rise and with this comes stronger tidal movements. Both of these factors will do nothing but help you this time of year. Now you do not want to be on the water during the storms or winds that accompany such storms but prior to and after such events the fishing can be fantastic.
With all game plans, there are exceptions but the above-described game plan should hold true for most of the days in July. Maybe now you have a better understanding of what a game plan is and why having one is so important.
In closing, I want to say something that has been on my mind. I hope that those of you that so generously support this magazine NEVER get the impression from me that you are not important to me or that I think I am some sort of fishing GURU. I am a regular guy, just like you. I have been blessed to have a job I love for almost 28 years now. I simply get to go more than you do!
My articles are meant to be simple, just meat and potatoes, an account of what I have seen over the years. I hope it helps you in your quest for whatever it is you're looking for in your everyday fishing ventures. Sometimes I forget that what is important is you learning, me continuing to learn, and me continuing to share those experiences with you. Have a great July and be sure and pick up a log book so you can record each trip you take. The more knowledge, the better the game plan.