This year has proved quite interesting in the Lower Laguna Madre. Well, let's be honest, frustrating is probably a better word. For a while now many of our time-honored and dependable patterns just haven't been. The Laguna still offers great angling rewards, but for us to reap them we have had to accept what we see and then be spunky enough to reboot when required.
More on rebooting, whenever you rely only on what you think you know, you'll probably never know much more. In fishing, if your consistent and proven patterns all of a sudden seem to change, we have only two basic choices: keep doing what you have always done hoping for the best, or get in there and get with the new program. The new program here, or lack of, has to do with our flats proper.
For whatever reason, miles and miles of crystalline knee-deep water have basically been sterile of gamefish. We expected more redfish using the shallows by now - if not the iconic schools of years past - at least good sprinklings of scattered singles and small wolf packs. I'm no biologist, but I like to think I am somewhat experienced in what I do and something has changed. There will be days of nothingness until you get your shirt pockets wet. Many seasoned visitor anglers have echoed the same, ditto more than a few veteran locals.
Is it a change in forage? Water conditions? Traffic? I wish I knew. So far this year it just hasn't happened consistently up shallow, and I'm not even sure I remember what a mud boil looks like anymore.
Speaking further, I have trouble remembering the last time I saw a large group of reds tailing as far as you could see. Understanding there are cycles in all things fishing related, there is one thing we know for sure, and that's that the parking lots have been routinely overflowing and the yellow bait flags often fly at half mast soon after sunup signaling the boats are out, check back later, even with three trawlers trying to supply the demand. So what do we do? We adapt to conditions. That is what a fisherman does. Here's what we have done, perhaps something to consider until conditions change yet again.
Traditional summer areas, deeper depressions such as the Saucer, Greens, Rattlesnake, and Gladys's Hole are basically done. Forget about any Hook-N-Line Fishing Map, as most named areas are consistently covered up with fiberglass and prop wash. Until the relief of fall, we need to watch our fish signs closely and manage our expectations. We went to the extremely clear water about lower-thigh deep. Even without seeing much, just perhaps a few flipping baitfish and a bird or two, faith and effort have paid off. In the absence of boats, fish are there and eating topwaters. Staying diligent has paid off with the occasional large scattered fish, then you walk into an area just full of them. Junior plugs have made for some violent explosions, especially in the early morning calm. Single hooks have helped much when the grass is pesky. After that, regular old soft plastic tails pulled through potholes have been fairly consistent. Good equipment and braided line helps.
September is still going to be hot, but with traffic hopefully down, maybe these fish won't feel as pressured and use the shallows more often. If overnight conditions have been conducive for a good cool-down, (clear skies, etc.), the sand is always worth an early look. Going skinny is a large part of the Mansfield experience, but unfortunately many aren't willing to risk it. However, if there are good amounts of bait up shallow, be confident, be quiet, throw tails and be excited. A Kelley Wiggler pumpkin/chartreuse on an 1/8 ounce jig is hard to beat, and neither are those large trout you might pull on while supposedly fishing for reds. The challenge is whether we decide to target the exciting shallow opportunities, or go straight out to pocket-deep water.
Let's hope that in September more fish will move into our beloved wading range, and please be conscious of others and lend a wide berth. Get out there and just do it, adapting to whatever Nature throws at you. But that's what lure fishing is about, right? What a challenge to try and fool Nature with something unnatural, but that's what we do as sportsmen, unless of course we can call 'rubber' natural.
Remember; there is still no gasoline or diesel fuel in the Port!