Nature's Mysteries... and Other Questions

Nature's Mysteries... and Other Questions
Jay Ray with an 8-pound twin.
I get asked to explain tons of things related to fishing. When I feel I have a logical answer or explanation I am quick to give it. And when I feel that I don't, I am quick to say that as well. Over the years I have become greatly appreciative of the aspects of fishing that continue to stump me. This is the greatest challenge in being a guide, and this is what drives me to continually strive to acquire fishing knowledge. Knowledge, to me, achieves its greatest value when we willingly pass it along to others.
Lately we have experienced some pretty tough days with conditions that were just about perfect. My clients have gotten a kick, I think, out of watching me sweat a little more than normal. We had plenty of days this winter down in Port Mansfield that challenged what I thought I knew. No matter what you might think, I am still all about productionit's still the best marketing tool in my book.

Trying to figure the fish's next move has always been the challenge I enjoy most. Sometimes my clients ask whether it bothers me when boats appear to be following us and maybe trying to duplicate what we are doing, a few hundred yards away. Imitation, I tell them, is the highest form of flattery; but I also add that if the guys imitating us don't know why the fish are holding at the spot we are fishing, they certainly won't know why they left or where they should look for them tomorrow.

Honestly, I don't always know either. But as I have become a more "aware" angler and guide, I do not believe that saying "I don't know" is an altogether bad thing. Some things we just don't know and sometimes we have no science to support what we think we know. I do know this though; the harder and smarter we try to fish the better we do.

So far this month at Rockport, the patterns of both trout and redfish seem to be ever-changing. On day we catch some on mud and scattered shell with wind-driven current, and the next day (with identical conditions) the area seems void of life. Wind has played a major role in our success and I very well might have been the one that coined the phrase, "Wind is your friend."

Major and minor feeding periods have been showing somewhat of an increase in activity but not as noticeable as normal. At the dock, many local anglers are expressing similar results, so questions are being asked on a more frequent basis in casual passing. These continued questions have prompted me to research in my mind the mystery behind the prolonged unpredictable behavior of our trout and redfish.

To do this we have to first go back and understand what it is that attracts and holds fish in any given area. This is actually fairly simplesuitable water conditions, ample forage, and structure or cover.

If any of those three factors are missing, achieving consistent results becomes more difficult. Take two away and the odds of an unsuccessful day are even more likely. If you're missing all three then it's ridiculous to even be looking at the arearight?

But what if the area is missing all these things and the fish are continuing to be seen there?

Due to extremely cold winter water temperatures, our water clarity here in Rockport as well as the Upper Laguna is remarkable, and this (in my opinion) is usually not a good thing. But as long as good bottom structure exists and there is a stable and predictable food source, we can and do catch some of these clear-water fish.

We talked about the methods for this in the February 2014 issue if you remember. So I am continuing to see these good fish along shorelines and around scattered mud-shell even when bait is not present and bottom structure (mostly grass along the shorelines), is not in place. And with two key elements missing; it leads me to wonder whether the fish have somehow developed a sense of where they should be, even when the conditions there might not be just right.

Now to the catching partthe only time I am catching these fish reliably is when the winds are in excess of 20-plus mph. The way I see it, the water is dirty and anything that moves nearby gets eaten. On days without wind, the fish are not eating but they remain, continually moving up and down the shorelines, and in and out around the scattered shell patches. I can see the fish moving in the clear water but I have to rely on instinct to concentrate on the shell. I don't know what it is that happens in my gut but something says "fish are present so be patient and allow things to develop."

That gut feeling thing is difficult for others to understand. In fact, it has taken my entire career for me to gain confidence in this sense of whatever it is, adaptive intuition maybewhatever it is it works for me.

The biggest problem I have with these meandering shoreline fish is that attempting to catch them can be a track meet of sorts, and not always real productive. I try to avoid putting my clients in these situations, unless all other avenues have been exhausted. Many years ago I learned not to enter races I was likely to lose.

I also believe there are times when we can over-think fishing, to the extent that it is no longer enjoyable. We must accept that there will be questions we cannot answer and scenarios without solutions in the fishing game. And because we cannot always pick the best weather and solunar days, we just have to accept these things. Truth is though (all this not-knowing stuff), this is what makes the capture so rewarding.

Some of the best lessons I have learned have been by pure accident. My parents used to buy a large jigsaw puzzle and spread it out on a card table. We would study it for hours, sometimes days, trying to find certain missing pieces. Quiet often after leaving the table for a few hours one of us would return and immediately find one of those key pieces.

Fishing is like that puzzle. Sometimes you have to sit back and quit thinking and let it come to you naturally. When it does, you can typically grab a few of your already existing mental pieces and complete the puzzle.

I am a huge believer in being able to create and see the whole picture mentally. Once this photo is etched into your memory you'll recognize it when it appears again. Recalling the experience accurately and then understanding how you came to experience that situation is the real challenge. I think if we eliminated all the mystery in fishing it would quickly become boring. The best anglers I know possess the ability to store the pieces of the puzzle as they are shown to them. As they slowly add the pieces the true picture starts to become clearer.

It's the mysteries in life that make things interesting. I remember the first real mystery for me. It was a caterpillar my dad brought home; a bright green, yellow and black worm. A mason jar full of leaves and a couple of sticks made its home. I had no idea what the caterpillar was about to become, but my dad being a biologist and coach certainly did.

I watched one day as the worm ceased to eat and hung upside down, wrapping itself in some kind of web-like cover. A few days passed and each morning I would awake and run to see what had happened overnight. One morning I awoke to find the caterpillar gone and a bright green cocoon hanging in the jar. My dad explained that in time something beautiful would emerge.

I watched patiently and one morning in the jar was the most beautiful butterfly I had ever seen. It was a Monarch, and I distinctly remember Mom and I watching it slowly learn to open its wings; they literally unfolded and dried as we watched. Moments later we released the butterfly and I watched with amazement and a little sadness as it flew away.

My dad brought things like this home all the time and let me experience some of nature's best mysteries. What a special dad he was to me and he had the insight to know that as I grew up these things would never leave my memory. Thanks dad you were the best.

I hope you have been lucky enough to have experienced something similar in your life. I also hope that over the many years as a guide I have shown a few people the beauty of some of fishing's mysteries. The beauty is twofold; one in the actual fishing experience and the other is what remains in our memory bank.

Your homework assignment for your next fishing trip is to solve a mystery and make some lasting memories on the water.

May Your Fishing Always Be Catching. -Guide Jay Watkins