I received an interesting question after a long wade in the Upper Laguna Madre a few days back. It was interesting because just a few weeks prior, on a trip with sons Ryan and Jay Ray, we had discussed the very same topic.
Picking the group up after our first wade of the morning one of the guys asked, "Where the heck are all the potholes?"
If you have not fished the Upper Laguna in the past two years you are in for a surprise. The area boasts some of Texas' finest fishing for both trout and redfish and October is prime time to be down that way. One of the things I have noticed is the LACK of potholes compared to past seasons. A few years ago we keyed on areas on the flats and along the shorelines where we could find pockets of bare sand (potholes) scattered across an otherwise fairly solid carpet of seagrass.
During the years of the brown tide, sunlight could not penetrate to depths that always supported seagrass growth. This left large areas along shorelines and on the flats void of grass. When the waters cleared, the grass started to spread. Unseasonably warm winter temperatures the past two years have also provided longer growing seasons, resulting in more grass. In 2009 the area from the Boat Hole all the way to the mouth of Baffin is proving to have more areas totally covered with bottom grasses than in years past. I am sure this is not the first time this has occurred; it's just my first observation.
Potholes have long been targeted as fish holding structure. So what happens when there seems to be no such distinct structure available?
First let's take a look at the types of grass on the flat. I am no expert here, but having said that, I believe the predominant types are shoal grass and widgeon grass with perhaps a bit of manatee grass here and there. Shoal grass is the shorter of the three, with straight blades of about four to six inches long that are greenish-black in color and commonly seen forming a thick carpet. I haven't taken time to actually measure it but I have stood in it for countless hours and it just about reaches the tops of my Simms wading boots. The other two are much taller and lighter, usually light green and even yellowish. Both of these have branched stems that can grow between one and three feet tall depending water depth and quite often all the way to the surface. All of these are coarse in texture. Quite often we find a crunchy bottom under the short grass that contains small shells and shell fragments. These pointy little objects can be a problem in your wading boots in you are not wearing neoprene socks.
In areas where both short and long seagrasses are present I have found that the redfish use the taller, lighter colored grass as camouflage. The "grass in the grass" has become the structure I target. It possesses all the contour and elevation changes that any other type of bottom structure might consist of that many of us are more familiar with. I have observed on many occasions several large redfish slowing patrolling the edges of the taller grass in search of small perch and shrimp. This seems to be the year of the perch, just about every redfish I catch spits up a perch or two if placed in the live well. While fishing tournaments years past we observed more crabs in these fish. I guess the drought has taken its toll on the blue crab populations down south as well. In my home waters the blue crab crop is pretty slim due to higher salinity levels and the closure of Cedar Bayou. Gosh, I am glad I am not a whooping crane.
During peak feeding times the redfish are suspended over the top of the grass, simply cruising the edges of the taller grass looking to push perch out of the cover and into the more open water over the shorter, darker grass. If you look closely as you wade or drift across the grass you can see the gold and silver flashes of the perch. When anything alerts the redfish or the perch, they quickly disappear into the grass. I have had very large redfish swimming towards me and something evidently feels wrong and they retreat into the cover of the grass. I've also drifted right over the top of them as they lay perfectly still in the grass with only the top of their backs visible. In the lulls between peak feeding times I have found that the redfish prefer the short, dark grass. I think they feel more comfortable lying in a darker surrounding.
The flats, even though nearly void of potholes in many areas are still very productive. The fish have not left; they have just tweaked the way they feed. Seems to be more fish schooling, in both large and small groups. The schooling allows them to push bait out of the grass to the surface or into the shorter grass where both vision and the sense of feel via vibration can be used to overtake their prey. Spinner baits, spoons and swimming shad type baits have been the most productive for me. Today I stood in one area of short dark grass and sight-casted to four very nice fish as they worked the edges of the taller grass. They ate the bait as soon as it was pulled in front of them. Wonderful sight, watching a charging red inhale your lure in air clear water.
The next time you see a grass flat that looks as if it has little fish-attracting structure, take a closer look.