Taking Advantage of “Other” Structure

Taking Advantage of “Other” Structure
Floating grass formed into a row…where tiny crabs hide.
A recent day of 50 water and mid-calf mud got me to wondering. What is it at age 57 that makes me so eager to continue chasing winter trout and redfish? As much as I have pondered that question, the best I can come up with is true love of the chase and incredible passion for fishing.

My recent bout with skin cancer on my nose was a reminder that the sun has taken its toll. It will likely not be the last time I go under the knife. I will just have to continue to be diligent with my daily sunscreen and checkups every six months. It's not like Dr. Cox could make me any uglier.

When water temps drop to 50 and below the old bones begin to ache. Forty-plus years of flat bottom boats have definitely taken the cushion out of my lower back and neck vertebrae. Did you know that when I was in high school I was almost 6 foot tall? Not really, but I was slightly taller than the 5'7" frame I walk around in these days. Advil and Ibuprofen save most days and even some nights. My feet cramp at night but my knees and hips have shown little signs of breaking down. So has all of this been worth it? You bet, I would not change a single thing even if I could.

I appreciate the little things we have today that make my days on the water so much easier. The Haynie Cat that allows me to get shallow and then get up and get out if need be. The Power-Pole (that used to work from greater distance but now barely 25 yards, safety concerns of the manufacturer, but definitely not dogging my current units) still helps eliminate long wades to retrieve the boat. My Simms products; I have them all, have positively made it possible for me to continue to fish at the high level in which I do, and in relative comfort. Light-weight rod and reel combos save the shoulder on long days, so technology is definitely working towards keeping me out there for hopefully many years to come.

Enough about your aging guide, let's talk about something really cool that I have been able to observe the past several weeks. Winter has come in small doses along the Lower Coast this season. One day it's 75 and then a fresh front drops it to lower-40s, or lower. Prolonged north wind makes conditions difficult for a few days, but it eventually settles and fishing returns to catching. Fronts have been wet and the Middle to Lower Coast regions have received much needed rain, 22-plus inches to be exact here in Mansfield. The lake in my back yard in Rockport once again holds enough water for ducks and cranes to make daily visits.

With fresh water comes better trout fishing for sure, but the rains also bring new life of many forms to the estuaries. Small crabs and tiny shrimp have already shown themselves in big numbers in some of the areas we are fishing. On several occasions, during periods of strong SSE wind, there have been days I would see dozens of small crabs floating close to the surface along floating grass lines. Fishing between these rows of grass can be extremely productive if you possess the ability to cast accurately enough to do so.

Fine tuning fishing skill is something we should never stop doing. Good golfers never stop working on their swing and the best hitters in baseball spend the most time in batting cages. I pick a target for every cast, even imaginary.

Redfish thrive on tiny crabs and will stage along rows of floating grass, cruising up and down, ambushing every one they can find in the clutter. We sometimes hear and see the fish suck the crabs off the surface. Now if you think big trout don't eat crabs, you need to think again. The photos in this piece should prove my point. It is true that many days we caught more redfish, but when we did catch a trout, she was special. And after all, special is what my winter months in Port Mansfield are all about.

Prior to the full moon in the first week of February, small crabs and shrimp seemed to be everywhere and where I found the most definitely made for better fishing. Winds were also very strong and tides low, so yet another advantage was created. Wind-generated current tears grass from the bottom and floating grass becomes prevalent from the Upper Laguna all the way to South Padre. It causes problems with certain types of lures and we trade trebles for single hooks, though even this is not enough at times. As the wind blows, floating grass stacks along windward shorelines making them almost unfishable at times, but the grass also creates walls that aid gamefish in search of food. To me, the best floating grass mats are the ones that actually form out in the flats, away from shorelines. These mats will become crescent-shaped, due to currents, the same as reefs and sandbars. Just like fixed bottom structure, these floating/rolling grass mats create ambush points. On a recent late afternoon wade here in Port Mansfield I pointed out one of these large areas of grass and had my group approach just as we would have done a reef in Aransas Bay.

One angler eased towards the east end, and the other to the west. I positioned myself in the middle and coached. "Try to hit the very edge of the grass. Let the bait fall and then work it off the edge."

Within a few casts several slot and an oversized red were caught. It slowed for a bit, so we camped and waited until the fish returned. They actually seem to mill from one end to the other, moving up to the edge out of the shadows and then back into the shadows. It is a good idea to set back and let this floating structure show its full potential. Suddenly the fish were back and this time several nice trout were in the mix. The next fish hooked was one we wanted; a solid 29-inch trout that bumped the Boga to 8 pounds. This tactic has long been something I have taken advantage of when Mother Nature deals the card. I think it is overlooked by lots of very good anglers that have bottom structure in their game plan but simply discount the potential of floating structure to similarly attract and hold bait and predators.

So keying in on a food source that is not often associated with trophy trout has opened another pattern we can use to sneak up on a few more while enjoying some fabulous redfish action.

It is fitting to close this month's column bidding farewell to my dear friend, Tim Redden. Tim went to be with the Lord on February 3rd 2015. With Jay Ray and other dear friends at my side, we carried him to his final resting place. What an honor it was. Tim left me with so many fond memories of days in the field and on the water. His best gift to me was that throughout his illness and in his final days, he made me want to be a better man and a better Christian. I will pray more and I will ask that you help me become the man I should have been a long time ago. Sleep well dear friend.

May your fishing always be catching. -Guide Jay Watkins