Often while fishing I see the same boats pass by me numerous times on the weekends. The drivers seemingly oblivious to other boaters, being that they are new to the area or boat navigation. Half on plane and/or plowing bottom, these shiny new bay boats are adorned with the sunburned faces of families. It is easy to get upset with these folks, but even easier to be understanding because everyone has the same learning curve–sort of.
In the '80s when I learned to navigate the mid-coast bays I relied upon printed maps, polarized sunglasses, landmarks and gut instinct. Long before GPS and digital mapping, we learned the inshore waters through trial and error.
I really don't know whether I was a good or average navigator, but I was excellent at finding oyster beds and sand bars, for sure. When the water was turbid or unfamiliar I would trim the engine, grit my teeth and hammer down while hoping for the best. In those early years I gained plenty of practice pushing a boat to deeper water, excelled at it actually.
BE RESPONSIBLE AND ACCOUNTABLE
Being that Texas does not require a boating operator's license almost anyone can hit the water running. Please note that TPWD has age-related restrictions and mandatory education law requirements for certain boaters. Visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/boat/ for more information or contact the state boating education office at (800) 792-1112.
The Department of Homeland Security/United States Coast Guard has supreme reign over boating safety and regulations on all waters. The USCG has a publication available Navigation Rules and Regulations Handbook that lays out the law for all vessels. Very good information, more geared toward maritime commerce, though.
The pleasure boater has a much simpler list of rules and guidelines to follow when it comes to safely operating their vessel. A quick internet search will show a PDF file Abbreviated Guide to Navigation Rules of the Road. The USCG also has some very beneficial information on their mobile app that can be found at www.uscg.mil/mobile/ .
DON'T BE THAT GUY
As a whole, new boaters mean well, but due to limited experience sometimes common sense and etiquette are often overlooked or not yet learned. Here are a few tips I would like to pass on for everyone's continued enjoyment on the water.
STEREO- Sound is amplified greatly across water. Most people get out on the water to relax while enjoying nature. The sound of someone's music blaring loudly can be extremely irritable and downright disrespectful to others in the area. In the fishing area or at the dock is not the place to "share" your tunes. Keep it to yourself or jam it somewhere more appropriate like at the beach with other people partying, or at your residence. THANK YOU!
OFFER AID- If you are on the water enough, you will eventually have a mechanical issue or an operator error. When a vessel is in distress please stop and confirm that the occupants are not in need of medical attention. Vessel groundings can sometimes be helped with as little as a push, pull, or wake from your boat to break the suction. If nothing else, offer them contact information to a local tow company.
TOW MEMBERSHIP- Simple enough, inexpensive insurance in case of a mishap. Get an annual membership if you have not already.
NAVIGATION LIGHTS- Make sure they are operable and not blocked from the vision of other vessels. Mounted on the engine cowling and side of the console are not terrible, but possibly illegal locations, especially if passengers seated at the front of the console are blocking them. Your green and red nav lights must clearly visible from ahead and the white must be 360 visible.
HOMEWORK- Out of respect for others that are enjoying the same water, know your location. In this day of information there is no reason for anyone to get lost on the bay. Study satellite maps, printed maps and charts, install a compass and learn to use it before you get on the boat.
GPS- If you have one learn how to use it before getting on the water and do not rely upon it for 100% for navigation, especially in the dark. Use it as a reference only! Constantly staring at the screen may put you and in harm's way- floating logs and other debris, wade fisherman, crab pots, reefs, channel markers, etc.
FOG- Slow down and do not run fast just because you have a GPS! There is no way you can see very far in front of you with limited visibility. Turn off your stereo, sound your horn/whistle when nearing another boat or as they are approaching. Just because the ICW is deep and wide does not mean you will see a slow moving barge or an overtaking vessel coming your direction.
MAINTENANCE- Make sure your boat is safe and in good mechanical and operating condition. Your life and your occupant's depend upon this.
WAKE- You are responsible for the damage incurred by others due to your errant wake and wash. I see this all the time, boats approaching the dock coming off plane less than a hundred feet from other boats. Boats tied at the dock bang around, get beat up, or even people getting hurt trying to protect their property.
The upwelling of water due to the displacement of the hull builds a wave and forces it forward and to the side of the offending vessel. How about coming off plane at least 100-yards (or more) before reaching the dock? The additional 2-3 minutes at idle speed will allow you to assess the approach, ready dock lines, and clear tripping hazards on deck.
Many times boaters do not slow down enough once coming off plane and running in even greater displacement mode make an even larger wake. It is a good practice to look astern to make sure there are no swells or signs of a wake being produced.
FISHING THE BAYS
With the warming of our bays this month we will have a surge of migratory species coming inshore. As usual the seasonal change is quickly approaching and variety is once again upon us.
This month I'll be taking advantage of the higher water level and fishing shallower points at the ends of coves. Redfish will be the main target, but we normally box some quality trout in the same areas. Live pinfish get the bigger fish, but frozen sardines, fresh cut mullet and menhaden get the most bites.
When selecting a point I look for bait, of course, but I like to have the bait swimming into the wind and toward the boat. If the boat is positioned correctly we will catch fish that are working up the windblown shore in the cove, headed toward our baits. The bait, be it finger mullet or glass minnows, will pull reds and trout from the deeper water toward the open bay.
We should have some stout springtime winds this month. I use them to my advantage every time when fishing on a flat or nearby primary drop-off. A stiff wind will build a stronger current across some areas of a flat, I look for the wind-slicks and follow them until they all have curvature in them. This is where the bait will be and hopefully a mud streak telling where to concentrate efforts. When fishing the primary drop-off from the flat I position the wind behind us, an east wind carries current very well down our mid-coast shorelines.
These big awkward birds really put me on the fish this month. When diving in open water they are most likely over schools of menhaden or mullet, both very sought-after by me for bait. Depending on the location, there could be some bull reds, jacks or possibly sharks if the water is warm. All of these are a big bonus on a day when targeting table fare species, some good fresh bait never hurt either.
It's a different game when pelicans are found bombing the spoil island drops, deep bay shorelines and bay passes. These areas hold an abundance of glass minnows on strong tidal flows. Trout and redfish will be right in there with them as well as a few slimers to trick you into thinking you've hooked a big one.
Summer is near, right around the corner in fact, and I can't wait! The summer after our last El Nino winter was the best-ever for catching and also for variety. I could go on and on about that, but I just wanted to mention it, more to come soon. Good (and safe) fishing to you.