Mid-Coast Bays: May 2019

Mid-Coast Bays: May 2019
Gilliland family annual trip; two boats, guys vs. girls. We girls won!

Launching my boat at Charlie's Bait Camp well before sunrise, the first thing I notice is whether the water level may have risen or fallen overnight. You see, it's that time of year when we get our spring bull tides and the fluctuations are often greater than normal. Inexperienced anglers probably never pay attention to the water levels before they head out, and that's too bad. Water levels along with the wind direction and speed are some of most important factors that influence my game plan for the day.

In early May we should still see higher water levels and stronger southerly winds. So what does that tell me? Well, for sure, on windier days you won't find me in the middle of San Antonio Bay. I will be focusing on leeward shorelines with lots of active bait. Remember with higher water levels, baitfish seek refuge on grassy shorelines, usually as shallow as they can go. With the bait you will find redfish and larger trout. And while I target both reds and trout on most of my outings, one type of fishing is easy to fall in love with.

One of my personal favorites is stalking and sightcasting redfish, especially when the water levels are up. In this article I want to discuss stalking reds in small, shallow backwater ponds rather than outside shorelines, which of course is still fun, but not quite as challenging as those backwater fish.

I’ve yet to meet a redfish that doesn't love to go as shallow as possible when the opportunity is there. I am sure nearly everybody has witnessed or heard of tailing reds, but even more exciting is when you see them swimming with their backs exposed. Just the thought of it makes me giddy.

It's not often that we can actually see the fish we are targeting, and while seeing their backs exposed may seem like a sure hook up, that couldn't be further from the truth. You see, these reds aren't stupid, and when the water is this shallow you can bet they’re on full alert as they forage along. The slightest movement or noise will send them into panic mode. Your approach must be super slow and stealthy; not the easiest thing to do in calf-deep mud.  

Also, you have to cast with great accuracy. It’s a heartbreaker to spend twenty minutes stalking a fish only to make a poor cast that spooks it out of casting distance. If you make a cast beyond your target and your line touches their back, it’s over, and when they spook they’ll spook all nearby fish as they flee. Even if they do not bolt out of casting range, it will be all but impossible to get them to take a lure afterwards.

Hopefully by now I've sparked your interest, so let’s talk lures. Topwaters, spinnerbaits, and shallow diving plugs are poor choices for this type of fishing. As in stalking, the best baits land softly and make no noise during the presentation. My favorite is a Texas-rigged (weedless) 3.5-inch scented Bass Assassin Die Dapper in a natural color, or a GULP Jerkshad or Minnow rigged the same.

I try to anticipate the direction the red is traveling and offer the lure a few feet in front of his nose. If I land too close, I allow the plastic to lie on bottom, where the scent attracts his attention, and then twitch it ever so slightly to mimic an injured baitfish or sand eel.

If your cast lands further away than you anticipated, twitch the bait slowly into the path you believe he will be travelling, pausing as might be necessary to intercept your target. 

Working your plastic aggressively is not the way to draw a strike. I have had some redfish hit a lure that was barely moving with such ferocity that I've nearly fallen over trying to set the hook. And then there are some that investigate the offering before subtly sucking it up and swimming away with it. 

Either way it happens it is always exhilarating when the line comes tight on a good fish you stalked successfully and then placed the lure perfectly. When everything goes according to the plan, I promise you will walk away feeling like a more accomplished angler.

On a different note, on the many days when I haven’t been chasing redfish in the shallows, I have been catching good numbers of healthy trout mixed with an abundance of small trout. With all the smaller trout we have been catching lately, I look for the summer and fall trout populations to be some of the best yet!