Off the Chart December?

Off the Chart December?
Todd Rosson with personal best trout - CPR.

It has been an exciting year, watching the bay system I was raised on literally coming back to life. Not that it was dead by any means, but it was definitely struggling due to prolonged drought and insufficient circulation. An abundance of rain and the opening of Cedar Bayou deserve major credit for the rebound. I have not seen blue crab and shrimp as abundant in many years. Thirty-six years ago, when I started guiding, we could easily pick up a 5-gallon bucket of crabs on any shoreline wade. White shrimp would literally "mud-up" Copano and St. Charles bays when they left for the Gulf.

Years ago I remember throwing a cast net in the mouth of Mission Bay and it literally did not sink. Pulling it in was a chore for even a younger me. I emptied the net back into the bay to prove a point to a client–the water was being muddied by shrimp, not current!

It's like the good old days are back as far as how the bays look and feel to me. The trout are not yet as plentiful but, if Mother Nature continues to bless us, we could very well see them. There is bottom grass along shorelines and spoils that have been barren for years. Back-lakes are teaming with life and seagrass too thick to fish in places. Walking back to the boat I frequently kick out shrimp and crabs by the hundreds.

Cedar Bayou has created better productivity around major points and reefs from lower San Antonio to Long Reef in northern Aransas Bay. Spaulding has been the best I've seen in years. My confidence level is off the charts right now with all I am seeing in our fishery.

Add to this the momentum the new Flats Worthy group here in Rockport has gained and the support recently pledged by Haynie Boats and Chris's Marine, further promoting anglers of all user groups to share the resources in friendlier and more considerate fashion. Seems a shame we waited so long to learn to be kinder to one another and more tolerant of our fellow fishermen.

One last newsy tidbit–I am but a month away from kicking off my two month winter adventure to Port Mansfield. Jay Ray will join me this year for the full two months and we are very excited to see what 2016 will hold for us.

Getting down to fishing: Higher tides from prolonged low atmospheric pressure systems have forced me to concentrate daily on smaller areas of shell structure, points, and windward back-lake shorelines. Tides have been high enough to fish most any back-lake area I want but the key has been to focus on elements that naturally concentrate fish in smaller areas. With water levels so high it is easy to get into the old track meet mentality, trying to cover all of it, but I am more a believer in finding smaller areas that hold all the ingredients predatory fish desire and working this smaller zone to perfection.

First there are the small windward shoreline areas of scattered shell. In my area many of these are surrounded by relatively flat sand and grass. Individual clumps of scattered shell provide bottom contour that allow gamefish to blend into the background. I have had tremendous success standing a cast-length away and allowing fish to naturally enter and leave the feeding area. The small size of such areas increases your odds of getting your bait in front of the right fish. Compact structures concentrate bait and gamefish alike so both angler and predator are hunting less area. Less area to cover, to me, translates to higher yield.

Second are shoreline points. A point is a point no matter how small and all of them extend submerged to some degree away from the bank. Most all points will have some decrease in water depth on either side. Decreased depth increases speed of water movement and shrinks the hunting zone. It's easier for a big trout to hunt in a foot of water than five, simply because there is less area to cover. Positioning is critical here. You want to cast up-current of the points and I think lure placement and retrieve work best when angled slightly across the submerged structure. Any given point may produce two or three fish, a stretch of shoreline with three such points might produce nine. Add a fish here and there in between the points and you're having a pretty decent morning.

Third is water movement–tide or wind-generated–I am not picky. Fall and winter NE wind can produce some dynamite action around reef passes and drains. Recently I have experienced mornings where NE wind had water moving across shallow reefs like a Hill Country river. Most every reef has low areas where water washes through even on the lowest of tides. During strong NE, trout and reds will stack on the downwind side, waiting for baitfish, crabs and shrimp to be swept through. On the upwind side of the reef pass we find a slight upwelling of current in the zone immediately ahead of the opening (water deflecting upward, away from the deeper base of the reef) and this is where the biggest, strongest and baddest will sometimes stage in the current. Positioning where you can work both the up-current and down-current zone can yield exceptional results. I demonstrated this to a client recently; for three hours we never moved and caught beautiful trout and reds in water the color of lightweight drilling mud. Sessions like this are perfect for clients more interested in learning to become more complete anglers than simply getting a box of fish with a guide.

The fourth is probably my favorite because it affords the best chance of catching a truly large trout. On the higher tides of late fall our back lakes along San Jose and especially Matagorda Islands come alive. Cooler nights help reduce water temperatures, shorter days trigger fall and winter feed patterns, and baitfish are congregating in preparation for spawning migrations. All of these factors draw larger trout to deeper back-lakes. Now, add 20 to 25 mph NE wind and the bait is forced to the windward SE sides of the lakes. Larger trout and reds cruise the edges of the grass beds and potholes under the cover of reduced clarity, heavy overcast and surface chop. It's a recipe for success like no other. Key to your success depends on your ability to define the line the gamefish are holding on, make long casts and, follow this line precisely throughout the windward wade. DO NOT ALLOW WIND OR THE DREAM OF A LIFETIME FISH to lure you too near the shoreline! Too close to the feeding zone and the best of the best will sense your presence and you're busted. I had a day last week where my group's skill level matched the conditions and we were able to work a parallel line on a windward back-lake shore through the entirety of the solunar major. We released seven trout over 26-inches and one that was well, very good. Patience, confidence and skill–it's a winning combination.

I believe the winter of 2015/16 will provide proof of the importance of Mother Nature's help as well as the strides we have taken in opening Cedar Bayou and limiting the numbers of flounder and speckled trout taken from the bays each year. Adding more and taking less; hard to see how that would not work.

May your fishing always be catching! Guide Jay Watkins