Pro Tips: March 2010

Pro Tips: March 2010
Slick-Calm-Clear, tough but do-able with the right approach.

As all of you are aware it has been a colder than normal winter along the Middle and Lower Coast. El Nino is to blame and weather experts expect this to last through March. The El Nino rain is a good thing; ill effects are felt only short term while the benefit is long lasting.

Luckily we dodged a huge bullet during the recent arctic blast. I personally saw no trout or redfish killed when local water temperatures dropped below 40 January 8-10. There was some kill in remote shallow water areas but overall I think this was limited. The last thing we needed after the intense drought of 2009 was to start 2010 with a killing freeze. Even dodging the bullet, I think we still need to cut limits back on trout to insure a healthier fishery but that has proven to be out of our hands.

Winter anglers face widely varying conditions. Cold temperatures produce exceptional water clarity in protected areas while just around the corner strong wind turns that same water murky. These conditions require constant tweaking of my bait and rigging strategies. As a rule, I favor dark colors such as plum and red shad under overcast skies and especially when clarity turns murky. I believe the darker silhouette of these lure colors offers greater contrast and visibility and this improves your chances of getting bit. Topwaters and suspending baits with rattles are also excellent baits in low visibility conditions. Trying to force feed clear-water fish can be frustrating if you stay with the standard seasonal pattern. Conditions change and we need to be able to adjust and do it quickly.

Over the past month or so I have been employing four things that I believe have aided me and my clients catch more trout. First I have insisted that all of them use a clear fluorocarbon leader. Secondlyin clear water-I am throwing baits that are mainly clear in color with 1/16-oz jigheads or simply a Mustad 3/0 worm hook. With a 5-inch Assassin this rig chunks like a small topwater and can be slowly worked over both long grass and short grassy potholes. Likewise my topwaters are clear, small and quiet. Corkys are the same. A floating, clear Corky can be extremely effective under our present clear-water conditions. Third on the list is long casts. This is easily accomplished with strong wind at your back but little to no wind you'll need to adjust your reel's casting brake and/or consider a slightly longer but still fast action tapered rod in the 6'9" to 7'0" range. Fourth and by no means last in importance, I drift or troll into the area that we are going to fish looking for the EXACT location of greatest bait activity. In the clear water the larger trout truly seem to use the pods of larger mullet as camouflage. By pinpointing bait location we can ease in quietly and fish around and in the bait as the bait slowly moves along the shoreline or across the flat.
By employing these four things all together we have been able to catch some of the fish we might not have in seasons past. March will bring higher winds and warming temperatures that will allow us to go back to some of our old standby patterns but until then we need to learn to play a slightly different game.

I had the occasion to spend a few days with three of Texas' best Upper Coast fishing guides in early January; Mickey Eastman, Blaine Friermood and James Plagg. These names are known to all that have ever fished and chunked a lure in the waters around the Galveston area. For over thirty years I have in this business I have respected and learned from these guys. (Funny how one's life passes by so quickly when we are doing what we truly love.)

Sitting around the fire I could not help but notice that the years of abuse from the sun and pounding waves had taken its toll. Mickey, the big guy in our group, has the worn knees of a pro football player. Wading deep mud in the head of Trinity Bay can certainly take a toll and it looks like a knee replacement might be in the mix. I hope the surgeons use saltwater-grade hardware because I don't think they'll keep him out of the water too long.

Plagg has a bum eye due to a boat trailer winch mishap a few years back and his slower movements show all the signs of being literally beaten up by the rough chop of thousands of days on Galveston Bay.

Friermood and Watkins; we're a pair no doubt. Our face, hands and neck show signs of aging thanks to countless summer days, sun and salt. "They're trout hands" says Friermood, "not computer hands." I had to laugh. Not a thing wrong with computer hands; I'd be better off with a pair right now, just don't stick one down a trout's mouth.

All of us still rise before the sun most days and to the smell of the morning coffee. Tylenol Extra-Strength pain relievers are never in short supply, especially when the mercury drops to 40 and below.

Our energy reserves aren't what they once were but focus remains just as sharp as ever. We agreed we're not ready to pass the torch to the next generation just yet-although they may try to take it-we still have a few things we want to finish up in our fishing lives.

Guys, I loved spending a few days with you not worrying about the next wade or drift. It was great talking of nice bucks we let walk and laughing about times gone by. It is nice to be able to reflect once in awhile and remember times and events that made us happy even if only for a moment. I'll hold the middle section of the coast down and let you guys handle the upper end until we meet again in the South Texas brush.

Life is a beautiful thing when you have such family and friends as I do. I am certainly blessed.

May Your Fishing Always Be Catching - Guide Jay Watkins