Vigilant Mobility

Vigilant Mobility
Tim Zbylot with a fat trout caught in April on a trip made with Captain Kev.

When formulating and executing plans, successful inshore anglers consistently combine their knowledge of productive spots with their interpretation of diagnostic signs. Some claim they rely solely on signs, but this isn't likely true, since finding useful clues can become nearly impossible in many situations. When leaving the dock in the darkness before dawn, looking for signs of life proves tedious at best, given the lack of light. When dense fog sets in, the same truth applies. 

Also, on some days, when fish feed close to the bottom, or with low levels of intensity, evidence of their meager activities might become extremely difficult to discern. In all these situations, anglers must decide where to fish by relying on their knowledge of specific spots, ideally ones which have proven productive track records in conditions similar to those in play at the moment.

As a rule, the best plans in a month lying in the middle of spring begin with a thorough and accurate grasp of which parts of the area likely hold fish and which allow for effective angling efforts, given the current conditions. The plans also involve an acceptance of the need to look for signs indicating the presence of feeding fish, and a willingness to repeatedly make searches within the chosen area to locate those signs.

Many of us who normally start off fishing at the crack of dawn rely on spots first, then adjust as necessary to bring our observation skills into play, using signs of feeding activity to choose other places to try if and when we abandon our original chosen location. In the midst of spring, when many organisms ride warming, rising tides out of the Gulf and into inshore waterways, anglers must work to relocate schools of fish from day to day, even within the same day. Consequently, in months with moderate water temperatures and roaming schools of fish, the most productive anglers rely heavily on vigilant mobility.

In April, several parts of the Baffin Bay/ULM system historically hold good concentrations of trout. A list of these areas includes the King Ranch and Kenedy shorelines, the spoils along the ICW north of Baffin, the Tide Gauge Bar and its associated shoreline, eastern parts of Alazan Bay, also the entire length of the Land Cut. Anglers best equipped to find and catch fish in these areas start with a thorough list of known productive spots and micro-spots and finish by showing an adept ability to adjust to the daily movements of the fish within the areas.

Captains commonly catch plenty of fish in one spot for several days, then find it void of life the next. When this happens, smart anglers adjust quickly and begin a pointed search in similar places nearby, rather than stubbornly digging in their heels or abandoning the area entirely.  This reality contrasts with the mentality prevalent in the cold season, when planting the feet and grinding in known productive holes makes more sense, given even scant signs of movement and life.

Looking back over my career fishing through the warming days of spring in the hypersaline lagoons near and south of Corpus Christi, I recall several key moments which illustrate well the point about the need for diligent focus on signs of feeding activity in this month when the azaleas bloom. One occurred in 2008, on the east shoreline of Alazan Bay. My customers and I had been catching big trout regularly in the shallow, silty body of water during the weeks prior to the day on which I caught a 10.5 pounder on a floating Fat Boy. The big bite came on the third or fourth stop of the day; I'd moved because the spots where I'd made good catches previously didn't produce.

Seeing a line of mullet jumping on the edge of a sandy shelf fronting a shoreline bluff, I parked and we waded down the edge, working the shallows atop the shelf, the drop zone, and the deeper water lying just offshore of the ledge. We got no bites in a stretch measuring at least 100 yards. While we started piling back into the boat to make another move, I noticed a needlefish dancing on its tail in circles, in a desperate attempt to evade some predator.  Looking a bit farther down the shoreline, I saw another, then a third frantic, twirling gar. Given the length of these slender dancers, I figured it made good sense to try and catch whatever had motivated their spastic movements.

So, rather than move to a new location a greater distance away, I told my guys to get back out, saying, “I picked the wrong side of this point. We need to walk that way and figure out what's after those needlefish.” Over the next two hours or so, we managed to land a handful of trout weighing at least seven pounds, including the double-digit monster, which stretched the tape to over 31 inches. Similar events had unfolded about a year earlier, in a different part of the area, around the east end of Cathead, in Baffin Bay.

I didn't mention Cathead in the list of known productive areas in these bay systems in April.  But, in the wake of strong, late cold fronts, the flats and rock formations lying along this north shoreline can indeed produce great catches. Such a scenario found me fishing with clients in the middle of spring, 2007. While we waded water about waist-deep, catching a few medium-sized trout and reds, I noticed lots of mullet darting around, obviously fearing for their lives, in the shallows close to the spine of the rock-studded sand bar.

I told my guys to keep working the deeper gut between the bar and shoreline, but to remain ready to move toward me if I summoned them. While I worked my way closer to the top of the bar, two or three slicks popped, and I could see swirls and wakes indicating a frenzy of activity. Soon after I came within reach of the melee, I succeeded in hooking a 30-inch trout on my floating pink Paul Brown Lure. My guys headed directly toward me while I fought it, and we managed to urge two more big trout to bite, along with a few upper-slot reds. Sadly, we wound up pulling the school right to our feet and spooking most of the fish. Regardless, the events emphasize the point related to the need to remain alert and ready to make small-scale moves during spring.

That same year, my old friend Jesse Arsola and I had the best run of our lives on the spoils lying between Baffin and Bird Island. He first discovered how many fish populated the shallows around the grassy humps when he located a giant raft of mullet on the north end of the Pipeline Spoil one late-winter afternoon, while pre-fishing for a series of imminent trips. In the general area, he and I proceeded to catch scores of trout measuring between 27 and 31 inches over the next three months. During the run, we both realized the need to keep our eyes and minds open, as the fish would stay on one spoil for a few days, then suddenly move to the next one, a few hundred yards, maybe as much as a mile away.

By the height of spring, the reality became delightfully predictable; when we'd stop catching in one spot, we'd get in the boat and start idling one way or the other, adjacent to the ICW, looking for rafted mullet, wakes and/or slicks. Once we saw the right signs, we'd jump back out and start catching again. Standing and grinding on a set of potholes which had produced a bunch of trout the last three days but had little bait present at the moment became plainly insane. This same strategy often comes into play when we're targeting fish on the Tide Gauge Bar, or on the shoreline behind it, tight to the bank.

Fish use this stretch of water to move from one part of the bay system to another, sometimes passing through slowly and staying for a while, other times moving faster and quickly disappearing. In either case, using the eyes, nose and even the ears to keep track of the fish makes more sense than simply picking a specific spot with a long track history of production and committing lots of time to it, regardless of the abundance of positive signs.  This same truth certainly applies along the entire west shoreline of the ULM, on the fringes of the King and Kenedy ranches, also in the narrow confines of the “ditch” known as the Land Cut.  In all these places, anglers best equipped to avoid the tendency to show stubborn fidelity to spots, instead to open their eyes and minds to any and all signs, stand the best chance of staying in contact with the relentlessly wandering schools of fish.

In all Texas bays, looking for slicks and mud stirs makes perfect sense as part of this process of placing more value on signs than spots. In Upper Coast bays, where large rivers add plenty of sweetwater to the salt, smart anglers search for schools of shad and glass minnows, in addition to mullet. Down south, where the water generally stays at least as salty as the open ocean, ballyhoo, needlefish and even ribbonfish can indicate a high likelihood of predators lurking in their midst. Certainly, no matter where the effort takes place, anglers who glimpse wakes and jumping shrimp, or hear lips smacking holes in the surface of the water will take notice and adjust their specific locations, if only by attempting to cast directly at what they see and hear.

The need for adjustment might boil down to aiming at signs within reach, not ignoring obvious clues to feeding activity and casting randomly. Wading a short distance toward clear indications of activity lying just out of casting range sometimes achieves the desired result. At other times, a quality adjustment involves using the boat to make a search for signs a relatively short distance away from a recently productive spot, focusing especially on places with similar physical attributes. In all cases, vigilant mobility enhances the promise of productivity throughout the hopeful span of spring.

Captain Kev's description of Paul Brown Lures