Pro Tips: April 2008

Pro Tips: April 2008
Favorite bates for April, lots of flash and chartreuse.
April is a month of change and there will be plenty when it comes to fishing. I anticipate higher water temperatures than normal this April due to an unseasonably warm winter and we'll see an early upswing in fish activity. In the last week of February we had 70 degree water temperatures along some areas of the middle Texas coast. By April, 75 degree water and above should not be uncommon.

I wish we could hold the water temperature at 68 degrees for about 3 months. Fish and all the important forage species seem to be very active for longer periods at this temperature. At 68 degrees shrimp and small baitfish begin showing in the shallows and this brings our wintertime patterns to a halt and opens the door to shoreline patterns.

April is the start of what I call the slicking pattern. Slicks are easy once you learn a few things. So before we get into trying to fish these slicks, there are some things we need to discuss. First and foremost, the reason we're interested in slicks is because they are often a sign of feeding activity. When gamefish feed they often ingest too much and some of it has to come back up. Next, a slick is not a stationary thing; they move with wind and current. I see anglers, even experienced anglers, fishing the present location of the slick, not where it popped to the surface. I also see them failing to tie the slick back to the nearest piece of structure that lies directly upwind or up-current.

Large slicks that streak a great distance could be classified as less reliable than smaller, round ones. Who knows how long it has been on the surface and where it started? Big trout like to work the smallest feeding zones they can locate; a shoreline gut or swag is such a place. Bait is easier to catch when driven into a bar or bank, so I often say shallower is better when it comes to locating and fishing a slick. Also, the greater the number of individual slicks present is a clear indicator that more than one fish might be feeding there. All of these things are observations of yours truly and I have confidence in these interpretations.

Once you have located the area and the bottom structure where the slicks are forming, it is time to start fishing. In the March issue of this magazine I talked about casting at angles into and across the wind. In April, especially along shorelines, this can be the difference between getting big fish bites or getting no bites at all. There will be an abundance of bait along the shorelines of San Jose and Matagorda Islands in April and the trout can get picky about their food. With the migration of menhaden back into the bays our larger trout will often boycott other types of more easily available food sources.

Menhaden are high in oil content. With the major trout spawn just around the corner, trout seem to prefer oily forage. Eggs contain oil and it makes them buoyant. I believe Mother Nature takes over here, eggs that end up dispersed over a wider area will likely hatch more successfully. Eggs that sink quickly probably become food for other organisms in that lower portion of the water column.

Menhaden have a very distinctive smell. I can actually smell them even when I cannot necessarily see them and I believe trout slick best when they are feeding on menhaden. Try sniffing the open mouth of a springtime trout to get an idea of what they are eating. If it is menhaden you'll not mistake it for anything else once you have learned the difference.

Somehow I got wrapped up in the menhaden thing and strayed from the importance of casting at angles. By casting at angles you are able to get the bait in front of more fish and also create more surface disturbance with your lure. And you guessed it; menhaden create a lot of disturbance, so you end up with more than one good thing working for you.

April is MirrOlure month for me. Top Dogs, She Dogs, Top Pups and the Catch 5 are excellent choices. I'll throw the 51-MR SERIES if I get calm days to fish mid-bay reefs but the Catch 5 has become my favorite due to the ability to really cast it into and across the wind and also the general versatility of the bait. The Catch 5 can be worked just below the surface with fast rod tip twitches or it can be worked lower in the water column as a suspending bait. Heavier split rings and 3x Mustad hooks make the bait durable and long-lasting. This bait rattles loudly and creates noise that fish can hear and feel on days when the shorelines are chopped up due to high wind. April is a month when sustained winds to more than 22-mph are the norm. I believe the wind gives the knowledgeable angler a distinct advantage when working shallow grass beds. The Top Dog and She Dog baits are also very effective here.

I have included photos of my favorite lures and the knot I use; I like the loop knot. It is simple and reliable. With 20 pound mono as your leader, form an overhand hand knot about 5 inches from the end. Run the tag end of the line through the eye of the lure. Now run the tag end back through the overhand knot from the same side it exited. Here's the tricky part. While holding the lure, slide the overhand knot toward the eye of the lure to form a small loop. If the loop is too large it will foul the front hook on your plug. Now with the tag end above the overhand knot, wrap the standing line five times. Now we re-enter the overhand again. Moisten the knot and wrapped area and pull the wraps and the overhand knot tight. Trim the tag close so that floating grass does not catch on the line. This knot is quick and strong, I have had no problems with this knot and I tend to run my drag on the heavy side. This knot is also effective when used on your Assassins and live bait rigs for those wishing to throw croaker or piggies.

Finally we are down to color patterns- note the color of the lures in the photos. Silver-sided baits and chartreuse seem to excite the trout to strike. The sound the lure makes is also important; loud lures for windy days and subtle numbers when the water is calm. On slick-calm days I go with the weedless Assassin setup. My favorite colors all contain flash; bone diamond, Cajun croaker, and opening night. I had a tremendous amount of success with these color patterns and this rigging set up in 2007.

As I approach the half-century mark I have had occasion to dwell on the important things in life. Memorable moments, even the not-so-good, shape and mold us into what were are. I have loved my life as a father and fisherman. God has blessed me beyond my expectations with two fine sons and a few friends in this business that can never be replaced. If God were to call me home tomorrow I would regret not having told you boys and my buds what you have meant to me.

Jay Ray and Ryan, you're the absolute best sons any father could ever wish for. We've waded this coast from one end to the other; fishing with the Webbs, Eastmans, Freirmoods, Franklins, Plaggs, Ramzinskis, Adams, Rowseys and Odoms. We've won some big tournaments and stood humiliated at some of biggest. I would not change a thing. In 1989 when all of a sudden it was just us, we pulled ourselves up by the boot straps and went on. I have watched as you have grown into your own men and now proudly watch as you go forward with your life. As for my guide friends mentioned, I have great respect for each one of you and each of you has taught me something very valuable about fishing and life. I cherish every memory we have made together. I will never forget you guys.

May your fishing always be catching.

Jay Watkins