I am often asked how one picks the right area along the shoreline when you have so much that looks so much the same. It's a great question and one that, to be honest, I have answered in different ways as my knowledge of the shoreline continued to increase.
Barrier island shorelines, mine being San Jose and Matagorda Islands, change from year to year. During normal years we see subtle changes such as less growth of bottom grass during drought to an abundance of submerged grass in years of substantial rainfall. More drastic changes can occur to the actual land masses after tropical storms or hurricanes. So it's a given that the shorelines change and that we must change with them but, what is it that we look for that distinguishes the right area from all the other areas along any given shoreline. Since I am limited in space I will try to explain what it is that I look for on any shoreline no matter what bay system I am fishing.
The obvious areas will have some type of bottom structure. The common ones are submerged grass and small areas of scattered shell. These two particular structure types offer good ambush points for predator species due to the generally flat and bare nature of the majority of the shoreline. Add to the areas of submerged grass and shell some contour such as parallel guts and sandbars and the area starts to take on a look I like. Of course you're going to need some food so give me some strings or pods of bait fish residing in the area and I am starting to feel more confident by the minute.
Now comes the tricky part. After I have located the area I like I begin to look for funnels. Funnels are areas within the structure where the structure itself narrows, forming what I call a funnel. A funnel can be an area where two sandbars narrow or it can be an area of heavy grass with little to no broken bottom. Areas of what I call big sand with several scattered grass beds within it, all surrounded by heavier grass that narrows on one end is most definitely a funnel. This type of funnel might even become a form of cul-de-sac where fish travel from one end to the other and then back again.
I once had an area out on Traylor Island that fit this description. I called it the Seven Minute Pothole. Why the name? One day I had a group of guys and the day had been slow and we were winding it down. After wading up to the big sandy area one in the group stuck a nice red fish. After a few minutes without another fish I suggested we give it five more minutes. At around seven minutes we caught another fish. This time it was the angler on the opposite end of my string of waders. Another five to seven minutes passed and we caught another fish, the angler that scored first did it again. It took me almost ten more fish to realize that it was taking the scattered fish in the big sandy area about seven minutes to make the full circle. What a terrific lesson it was and I still use that knowledge gained from that day to this day.
Now comes the part that many just don't understand and that's finding the line each and every day that the fish are holding on within the area you've chosen to fish. If we're lucky, the line is along a dropoff or underwater structure change. These lines we can actually see given the right amount of sunlight and proper eye wear. Costa has developed lens colors for every type of water and light conditions but that is an article within itself. You can go online and search the Costa Del Mar website for the type of lens that meet you're fishing needs. I have three different lenses that I use to match the conditions that I can face throughout a season. So let's say that some or all of the things we look for in a good fishing area are right there in front of us.
Now you need to find the line within that area that holds the largest numbers of fish. As a guide this is the most difficult concept to teach. The reason being is that many times a line is felt versus seen. That's right - I said felt.
We call the feeling, fish savvy, it is something that comes with time and honestly some just don't have it, not do they believe in its existence. I locate the line by easing in and out along underwater structure. I call it bird-dogging because it resembles the methods a bird dog uses to locate the scent of birds. Beautiful to watch a seasoned pointer weave across a South Texas pasture searching for that line in which the birds are feeding along. When they get birdy, the weave becomes shorter and the pace quickens before locking in. So when I get "birdy" my weaving becomes narrower.
However, the hard part is not over once the line is established. Now you must position yourself inside the line, concentrating on casting at an angle so coverage and lure placement is correct all the while staying on the established line. This line moves due to factors still not totally understood but our ability to stay with the line is crucial to the success of the wade.
Some helpful signs to establishing and staying on a line can be the location on which the pelicans, osprey and gulls continue to search and feed. Not always do the birds have to be actively hitting the water for them show us the line we need to be on. I have watched birds on a line a long distance away only to confirm that their line was the proper line for me to follow. For me, finding the line is the most critical aspect to each day of wade fishing. It changes hourly and we must be able to interpret the changes if we can expect to be consistent.
I hope you can gain some insight from this months attempt at helping you gain a confident sense of line establishment. This is extremely important, very difficult of teach or put into words. Mike McBride and I talked for almost an hour a few days back about the pattern and both agreed that it's difficult to acquire this knowledge and even more difficult to teach.
As for our fishing in Rockport, it's been consistent with tons of smaller but very healthy trout and still good numbers of redfish along our shorelines. Still need rain to help maintain stable salinity in the bays over the next few months but other than that I am feeling much better about what I am seeing and catching this summer.
May your fishing always be catching. -Guide Jay Watkins