The Day I Became a Teaching Guide

The Day I Became a Teaching Guide
Rigging properly is crucial to success.

A few weeks ago a client asked why my blog page held photos of the same groups in different seasons"Are these people just extremely lucky, or what?"

"Or what," triggered my response. I think it is well-known that I specialize in wade fishing with lures and put great effort into teaching this style of angling, but it wasn't always this way. My early years were highly ego-driven, the focus was on limits and the numbers racked up during a charter. About 15 years ago I decided it was time to make a change and it began one morning as a man and his young son were boarding my boat.

"You're his hero," the dad said.

With no hesitation I replied, "I think I can fix that. I want you to be his hero and I believe I can teach you what you need to know so that you're the one he admires."

We did not catch many fish that day but I could tell they had both become more proficient in basic skills. That father and son are still great clients, though in reality they don't really need me anymore. So in that moment, a true teaching guide was born and my personal ego was put on the back burner. And just so you know, I still keep count of every fish we catch even though we keep way fewer today than we did years ago.

Today, the teaching continues and has reached a higher level due to me having become a better fishing guide and a much better teacher. Students range from pure beginners to advanced anglers–those searching for greater skill to consistently catch better than average fish. My lessons are based on what is happening generally in the bay for that time of the season and the specific conditions of the day. Conditions change daily, even hourly, and these are explained in detail as they develop.

Probably the biggest mistake I made early on was assuming that everyone booking a wading guide already had the basic skills covered. My typical line of questioning when booking new clients usually gives me a pretty good insight into what the clients know and don't know and this group assured me that they had fished Rockport for years with various guides. Their primary interest was in learning to fish on their own. I get tons of this and have zero problem sharing what I know.

Upon arriving at the dock I noticed their rods and reels were not ready. Normally this upsets me but I understand that many do not know how I want them to rig, so it is probably easier to just rig them correctly at the beginning. Re-rigging their rods and explaining bait selection, we eased away from the dock, heading to the area I planned on starting our day.

Exiting the boat I quickly became aware that the guys had very little casting skill. Now smart-ass remarks came easy in my younger days but I've learned to control this, somewhat. Even when it became apparent they'd been "fishing" many times; they'd never been taught "how to fish." Casting, they explained, had always been the guide's job. Luckily I caught myself before making too many wisecracks.

I taught them how to adjust casting brakes and increased the weight of their jigheads and–Bingo! Longer casts, fewer backlashes, better communication between angler and lure and a lot less tension in the air. They had suddenly taught me more than I had taught them. I trust over the years they have had as much success with my day's teachings as I received from my day spent with them. It seems it is the little things I instruct people to do or change that makes the biggest difference.

Nowadays the majority of my clients are well-skilled in basic fishing techniques. Most cast very well, have extremely good gear and have developed their own specific fishing rhythm. What I call rhythm or cadence of lure presentation, to me, is the most important aspect of lure fishing. If I have noticed any one thing that many do incorrectly it would be fishing a lure too slowly. This is especially true in the soft plastic department, and even true with a Corky.

Fishing too fast or too slow implies speed of retrieve but should be taken as moving the bait forward at a fast rate. I think varying the speed and a broken rhythm in the way you retrieve the lure, along with deliberate rod tip motions to make it rise, dart, and sink creates the deadliest of actions. My boys and I use what we call the "Watkins twitch" and each of us does it slightly differently. Fishing one-on-one with Jay Ray and Ryan, each with his own rhythm so to speak, the boys quite often catch more than me. What we have in common though is our rod brands and actions, reel gear ratios, the type and strength of braid, rigging methods, and a learned sixth sense of what it takes to make the predator pounce. And we always compete; I think it keeps us on our game.

What most clients want from me today is more oriented toward the where, when, and especially the why of fishing. This cannot be taught in a classroom, neither can it be conveyed adequately in one or two trips. The lessons are seasonal and ever-changing, as in weather patterns. My fishing seminars, which have been highly successful for more than 20 years, can give you tons of information and teach you basic things about fishing. My DVD series adds the science of reading water, locating underwater structure and discovering areas that are holding a constant and predictable food source. Mastering these requires time on the water and there is no substitute.

Nowlet's talk casting accuracy. When structure is located and bait is present, landing the lure precisely at the edge or between pieces of structure (without spooking the fish) is what gets the job done. I try to call my shot with every cast, if not at a specific piece of structure, then any piece of floating grass, a leaf, bubbles of foam, etc. Practice might not make perfect but it certainly improves one's odds. Casting to a Hula Hoop on the lawn helps you stay sharp when you cannot be on the water.

There are basic patterns that seem to work well in just about every bay system. This said, there are also bay systems that have very specific patterns, patterns that fit the fish that live there, and without this knowledge success can be hit and miss. I have a private fishing club that I have been feeding information to for 13 years. Many of its long time members seldom fish Aransas Bay, yet they tell me that the patterns I experience in my home waters is very similar to theirs much farther north. Bottom structures are similar but water slightly deeper. Tides are stronger in their area so they don't need wind as much as I do here in an area where shallow water dominates. Where the wind is my friend, it is certainly not theirs and many times keeps them completely off the water. I can honestly fish in 25 mph winds on most days if tides are high enough. Higher water allows for more shoreline clarity and wind actually sands up some of my areas that are often too clear.

Clear shallow water requires clear lures that make less noise, whereas deeper and stained water requires baits of darker colors and more noise making capabilities. Game fish are the same no matter where you find them but the approach to catching them can be different from area to area.

I was a perfect fit to Port Mansfield where I spend two months each winter as I have waded shallow water my entire career. Having such large expanses of shallow flats merely gives me more area to apply the knowledge I have gained over the years. I found that the select groups of anglers that follow me in my quest to put them on that trout of a lifetime have few problems adjusting to a totally new areatrout water is trout water no matter where you find it. The knowledge we have shared has fared well for us in our southern winter destination. Receiving occasional intel from Tricia, Mike and Robert Sanders has also been helpful.

Guiding has turned to teaching and instructing more these days and I honestly get more enjoyment watching anglers develop into better fisherman with each trip. Focus on my charters is becoming the best angler one can be and the goal is to catch, photograph, and release career-best trout. This has happened to 16 deserving anglers thus far in 2015, so the teaching is evidently working. I have much to be thankful for these days. Fishing is better than it has been in many years, business better than ever, and life outside of the fishing world is grand.

May your fishing always be catching. ~Guide Jay Watkins