It’s March and at the time of this writing the Atlantic Coast has been bridled by extreme cold and snow, and the Gulf Coast is enjoying unseasonably warm weather. Florida is caught somewhere in the middle. Even with the current conditions at some point the fish will begin transitioning toward their spring locations. The Spring Transition – while multi syllabic, IS a four letter word! It even challenges many pro-level anglers.
First of all, what’s happening that causes the fish to move during the spring? Several variables are at play and may even cause dynamic situations when working against each other, or working with each other synergistically. Let’s talk about the biggest variable for the fish…FOOD. Their food source is changing quickly and drastically at this time. The last of the winter forage is dwindling, and now the trout and reds are ready to move to look for other larger mass forage sources.
Compounding this, is the fact the the water column is beginning to warm even though surface air temperatures fluctuate. Similar to your truck cab on a warm spring day the water column can warm and hold heat with the shifting sun angle despite the chill in the air. With this, the fish can spread out. Spring water conditions are perfect for fish to spread out far and wide to find food. The water temperature is still cool enough to hold maximum oxygen levels in all water depths and yet warm enough for them to no longer need the deep water for refuge. They can roam and look for food all while heading toward the areas where the next LARGE forage mass will come from.
At the same time that these warming conditions are showing up, the weather is still fluctuating and so are tide and water temperature levels. Salinity levels could also vary with late winter and spring rainfall amounts. It’s no wonder the fish are hard to find.
Trout and redfish will first look for the the spring eel hatch near oyster reefs, and quickly move to follow brown shrimp from the wintering grounds (marsh creeks and rivers) as they move across the bay and out. Look for where the small new crop of bait is coming from and look for small bait. While small, these new mass forage crops are where you are going to find the fish. The incoming tide warms, look for structures that receive flows from the incoming tide. The incoming spring tide will also be bringing with it a new crop of white shrimp and juvenile menhaden.
‘Find the bait find the fish’. Is it just that easy? In order to catch them, and this goes without saying, you have to fish the structure that’s holding the fish with the bait on it and know what that looks like during differing weather conditions.
Tobin created TroutSupport.com – 100’s of Testimonials, Visual Examples, and Your Personal Resource for Fishing like the Pros.
Owning our safety on the water applies to all levels of angling whether you are a boater, kayaker, or wader. Angling is becoming more and more popular and many times the more popular locations can have a lot of traffic from all user groups, making accidents more likely. At the same time, accidents can happen in even the most remote location between the only 2 users in the far reaches of the bay on a weekday.
Just this year alone several boaters have already lost their lives. Whether it be from a mechanical failure or the disregard of personal safety, these accidents can mostly be avoided. Not only do we need to make sure we are wearing personal safety devices, we need to inspire, and be passionate about their use of safety equipment.
Safety awareness also requires all parties involved to stay alert on the water. It doesn’t matter what user group you personally fall under at this point, each user has to own his own safety. For the wade fisherman that may be wearing a bright orange fishing hat or fishing shirt. A kayaker may take it a step further adding an orange flag at the rear of the craft 2-3 feet off the water. While this doesn’t seem like it would be necessary because the color of most kayaks are orange or yellow, the boater driving a meandering marsh cut would certainly appreciate the more vertical display that stands above the marsh grass. And once the 2 are in such close proximity it’s going to come down to visual cues, not sounds. A boater cant hear his own fishing buddy over an outboard, no amount of whistling or hollering is going to get the drivers attention. It has to be bright and movement helps A LOT.
This also brings me to a point about responsibility. It’s easy to say that one user group shouldn’t do ‘xyz’, but none of this is going to improve the situation. If you thought that someone on a kayak was possibly your own son, would you treat them differently? Everyone is someone’s son or daughter. Would you be more assertive, looking out for their safety and experience on the water. The shoe can be on the other foot as well, if you are paddling a small craft would you put yourself in the center of a boating lane if you knew it was your 68 year old grandfather driving his boat from the back of the canal? Everyone on the water is likely someone’s dad or a future dad. Give each other a wide berth if you can while at the same time making sure you remain safe by your location, depth, and your speed. Own your safety on the water and when someone makes a mistake or isn’t where the ‘should’ be, remember how you would talk to them if they were your son or grandfather.
We all have many ideas what a good spotted sea trout or red drum fishing spot should look like. Perhaps it’s surrounded by pristine sand dunes and native grasses, and has that perfect seagrass bottom that you are looking for, or it’s a hidden marsh lagoon surrounded by mangroves and includes small oyster reefs. We spend so much time running to the prettiest spot, that has the prettiest water, miles and miles from our truck and we wonder why we don’t catch any fish or only catch ‘dinks’. Can an angler catch fish at ugly fishing spots?
I’ve been finding great fishing, wherever great fishing occurs, and many times those locales haven’t exactly looked like what I thought they should. Even today, I ran the boat to several isolated bays to find a school of nice speckled trout right behind the boat ramp. I knew the structure was right for it to produce and when I saw good sign of fish presence, I didn’t hesitate to fish so close to the boat ramp. It was less than 50 yards to the entrance to the harbor. In fact 3 other fishing boats left the harbor while I steadily caught fish keeping my rod low in the water as they idled by I fought 18 to 24 inch speckled trout and waved.
We always seem to feel the need to make the run to the other side of the bay to that ‘perfect’ spot. I did just that this past Friday and made a 22 mile run. Granted I knew fish were there, and I knew it was the right type of area for the fall. Then today I caught solid fish less than one-half a football field away from my parked truck. It’s almost laughable. Here’s the deal, the fish don’t know they aren’t suppose to be somewhere. As long as the location and habitat matches what they are looking for, then, the fish will be there regardless of what the ‘above surface’ features look like. And the fish certainly don’t care if we like it or not, in fact they’d prefer if we DON’T like it.
So what makes a good fishing spot for speckled trout, redfish, or flounder. First of all it must be in the right part of the bay system for season. Does the area normally contain spotted sea trout or redfish during that season, or are they somewhere else looking for some huge forage mass? No ‘spot’ will produce if it’s not in the right part of the bay for the season. And nothing will get you a ‘skunk’ or a ‘dink’ faster than fishing the wrong part of the bay for a certain season.
Next, it has to have the right structure that matches the habitat of the fish you are targeting. If you’re seeking trout, that spot better be speckled trout habitat. It should be within the right depth for trout and give them plenty of opportunities to ambush prey from below from a main bay drop off, the edge of an oyster reef, or the edge or pocket in the grass. The habitat and depth must match for the species you are going after…PERIOD.
And similarly to the seasonal requirement, the location has to have forage present. Many ‘spots’ seem almost perfect, but they are missing one element or more, and if one of those elements is ‘lacking prey within the close proximity’, even the prettiest locations will not produce. If, however, a ‘fishing spot’ contains all the above parameters, yet it’s a little less than pristine then that can be a great spot and it will produce when everything lines up for that location. Take for example, a big trout spot I found last fall. I had found this location using aerial photography and it seemed promising. Deep water nearby, great oyster reef, and mud. A perfect big trout play for sure. It was in the upper section of the estuary so I knew that It would fit the bill for a late fall / early winter location. I did wonder how the boat traffic would be… because it was in the back of the harbor. In fact I fished closer to my truck and trailer than the actual run distance to the spot was.
Today’s location was similar. Great oyster reef on a drop off, broken oyster on a mud bottom in 5’ of water, and the forage mass was passing through.. another great fall and winter location. Did it matter to me that it wasn’t 22 miles away? Not after that first hookset; No. Ugly spots can be anywhere from just right of the boat ramp and behind an oyster boat harbor or behind some rock embankment that lies forgotten by many with boats designed to run 22 miles. My whaler runs 56mph but I don’t even have to get on plane in to fish some of these locations. Good part is everyone just waves as they pass thinking maybe I’m still waiting on a buddy to show up at the ramp.. Don’t overlook ugly spots for speckled trout, redfish and flounder. Look for areas with the right structure and depth and in the right part of the estuary for the season and go for it. Be willing to stick that rod low under the water to let other boaters by as you fight your fish.
As most of us have witnessed over the last decade, many oyster reefs have been affected by increased salinities in bays due to the extended drought of the prior 7 – 10 years. With this years lowered salinity return, oyster populations and reefs should fairly quickly recolonize restoration reef areas.
Over the last several years I’ve heard many hypothesis from anglers as to why the oyster reefs are gone. Many believed they were targets of over-harvest by the oyster fleet, and some believed it was errant shrimp trawlers that turned the reefs to appears almost like coarse sand. While those activities will harm a reef, the truth is that the higher salinity of the drought stricken bays allowed one of the oyster’s predators to enter bays in numbers sufficient to totally obliterate the reefs. The ‘Oyster Drill’ secrets sulfuric acid to create a hole in the shell of an oyster and feed on the protein contained inside. Once the oyster is dead, it’s shell will continue to degrade into small fragments.
If what was formerly a reef does not contain sufficient substrate size of either reclaimed oyster shells, or something hard like rock or metal to hold the new oyster larva or ‘spat’ then that reef may never be re-colonized and may never return to a quality fishing location. That reef would be classified as dead and no longer a good waypoint. However, some of the dead reefs were only partially degraded and will return with this years low salinities.
Photo Courtesy of http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/
At some point you made the decision that you want to be a better angler; to improve or excel at it. No matter what level you start from, beginner, or an efficient angler, the steps are the same. Let’s take a look at how you can improve your game and take it to the next level.
Education is key. While you can ‘go it alone’ and just spend ‘time on the water’ you’ll likely repeat mistakes over and over and see only inconsistent results. I sometimes see on the social media boards where an interested angler asks a question to try to learn and invariably someone will reply “Just go fishing; you’re over thinking it”. While this may work for spending your day relaxing on the water drinking a cold one, you won’t be able to discern what the true key elements are unless you fish with, or learn from people better than you are, and are reading or watching solid, time tested, intel. Simply put, you want to get an education and get on the water training putting that information into use at every chance you get.
Most intermediate level or advanced anglers will be wary of those that want to ‘learn their spots’ but at the same time many of these anglers love helping others that are just getting started. The key is to be honest and tell them you’re not interested in their spots, but would really just like to learn something to improve yourself. But please don’t insult them by offering to ‘buy the bait’ or ‘pay for gas’ if they do something in the industry or at a higher level, their knowledge is way more valuable than that. Someone just barely more knowledgable than you, may or may not actually know or understand enough to really teach you what you need to know, but they’ll be much more open to a trip without exchanging resources and it will still be a trip to learn something.
Teaching guides offer an invaluable service to the fishing community. The great thing is, that most fishing guides can teach if asked the right questions. Hint, don’t ask for their spots. But do ask them to teach you what they are looking at with their eyes and what they’ve learned the bottom of the bay or lake is like that attracts the fish. It will take you time to train your eyes to see the subtle, almost imperceivable signs that they are accustomed to seeing but they’ll each nudge you in the right direction. Try to take at least one trip per year with a fishing guide, you owe it to yourself as part of your education. And if you share what you learned from them, respect them and give credit where it’s due and tell others to go with them. It’s really ok to use their name and recommend them, it’s called ‘Community’.
Tobin created TroutSupport.com – Tech Support for Speckled Trout and Redfish Anglers
Now it’s just sitting there; You drained the fuel from the outboard to store your boat over the winter, and it started like a champ and ran strong first trip out …for 30 minutes, but on the way back it started acting up, and it’s just getting to the start of the summer. What’s wrong with your motor and is there anything you can do about it?
First of all, you’re not the only one. This happens to a lot of boaters, and there could be several factors at cause for this but let’s start where you can. I spoke with my boat mechanic Chris at SunCoast Marine in LaMarque, Texas about the issue, what causes it, and if there is anything you can do on your own to get you back on the water.
“Tobin, there are a couple of culprits that are typically the source for this. No. 1 would be condensation in the fuel. If the motor was stored over the winter correctly, there probably won’t be any corrosion issues in the motor but that condensation in the fuel is going to make the outboard not perform well. It could cause corrosion if its not dealt with immediately and someone gets frustrated or mad and just lets the boat and motor sit the rest of the summer because they think something major is wrong. First, immediately empty the fuel tank, flush the fuel lines, and replace the water separator filter. Unhook the fuel line off the fuel filter on the outboard; Fill up with fresh fuel in the tank and pump the fresh fuel, unrestricted, until it reaches the the end of the hose and fresh fuel comes out. Make sure to properly capture and dispose of old fuel. This will get fresh fuel right to the motor.”
I asked Chris what else could someone do if that doesn’t solve the issue, here’s what he said. “…the next step is to change out the filters on the motor. Fuel filters are inexpensive and typically easy to replace. If ethanol sits in fuel lines that aren’t ethanol resistant for several months then it can extract impurities in the rubber and break down the line. All those contaminates and particles can foul the fuel filter and if it gets bad enough can foul ports, plugs, pumps, and injectors. The second step is replacing the filters that you can. Re-connect the line to the new fuel filter and push some fresh fuel until the bulb gets tight and tun the motor over to see if you can get back on the water”.
If that doesn’t solve the issues, you may be looking at cleaning ports, replacing the fuel pumps, and injectors. The main thing to do is to get the bad fuel and moisture out of the motor so it doesn’t cause a bigger issue, then go from there in short order.
There was a certain chill in air that morning as we rode across the bay. The dark clouds didn’t really help the warmth factor either. The Desperado 22 (desperadoboats.com) cut across the chop seemingly floating above it all as if it were some sort of magic carpet riding above the white caps. The wind was pumping hard out of the south ahead of an approaching early season cold front. We knew the fish were going to be there; in fact they’d been there all summer. We’ve found that only some of the big trout will wander off when it gets hot in the summer, and others will stay, growing accustom to the shelter and rich food supply of large mullet, pogies, needle fish, and ballyhoo that they seemingly begin to become fond of.
While we know we can catch big trout all year in certain areas, there is something magical about fishing for them between late October and mid April. Perhaps it is metaphorically similar to the ‘Old Man and the Sea’ tale with the cooler months darkness and howling winds churning waters that challenge captains and anglers alike. I know myself, as well as many of my Texas and Florida friends wait all year for the weather to worsen just so we can dawn our Simms waders and jackets and get in the water wading shallow grass and / or oyster areas with mud of varying thickness, hunting that one elusive strike from a big speckled trout. Note: You do not need to be in mud up to your knees, actually a thin veneer of mud only two to three inches thick will do the job. This does not rule out areas with mud up to your thighs though, those are still applicable (grin).
As we rounded the corner the Desperado came off plane and we pulled back to an idle. We were still at least seventy to eighty yards out from where we had planned to park the boat. We would use the troll motor from this point in. Sure the big Zuk 4 was quiet enough, certainly quieter than a lot of outboards, but since we wait all season for a shot at one of these fish we just figured we’d do it right. Take your time and ease into place. Plan your trip down to where you are going to shut off the outboard, and where you plan to anchor the boat. You can’t just go there and idle in anywhere, bang lids and anchor chains around, jump out of the boat, and expect to maximize you chances at catching a big trout whether you are out on your only Saturday or in a tournament.
Capt. Brent Juarez out of Galveston has learned from fishing the Galveston and Trinity Bay area his whole life and has spent several years in different trout and redfish tournament series. He knows that when it comes to catching a big trout, its likely to come on a big bait. Brent will be throwing Super Spooks and Mirrolure Brown Original Fatboys most of the time even on the coldest days of the year. Another option would be the Heddon OneKnocker, basically Heddon took the old Zara Spook and infused it with DNA from the Super Spook so to speak. They added the big rattle, raised gill plates, and 3D Holographic eyes. It’s still a good-sized lure, certainly worthy of a big trout meal, and it’s a little easier to throw all day. Heddon is also producing it now in almost all the super spook saltwater and freshwater colors. I for one have always been a big fan of that size and have field-tested it with very positive results. Brent’s favorite color for Super Spooks will be the bone silver. Other good colors are the solid bone, the speckled trout, and the freshwater ‘Oakie shad’. If you use the freshwater versions in saltwater upgrade the hooks to a quality galvanized hook size 2/0 or 3/0 (the 4/0’s are a little too small for me for these plugs). Colors for the FatBoys can vary with water color, some of the favorites are pearl with black back, pickle (dayglo), and Texas Chicken. In stained or dirty water the amber and the black with chartreuse tails are good as well.
Cold fronts are now beginning to cross our area with a more frequency. Many of these early season fronts won’t have too big an impact on fishing. What is the best approach to picking the right winter days to catch fish now and as they get stronger?
Theoretically barometric pressure should not effect larger gamefish such as speckled trout, flounder, and redfish. Even a move of several feet below the surface is a larger pressure change than the change in barometric pressure during even some of the strongest cold fronts. However, we still see an affect on the fish and feed aggression. Post frontal days are almost always a tougher bite.
Early season frontal passages, if you are in the right place, can increase catching. The fish right now are poised to receive bait flowing out of marshes, bayous, and rivers in upper bay systems. If you find this scenario with plenty of bait and shrimp coming out of a mash drain flowing over structure where predators are lurking, you can have an amazing day on the water. Add to this an early, weak or moderate, cold front that pulls the tide lower, reducing the amount of water in the marsh system and further pulling out more and more bait out of the safe confines of the marsh, and it can be extraordinary. Think like a lazy predator; let the water movement bring the bait to you. Where is it coming from and where will they expend the least amount of energy feeding while still having a lair to ambush from, and to have safety. That’s where you’ll find your early fall season fish.
What about as it get’s colder and the fronts become stronger? By the end of November and into December, cold fronts will bring heavier, denser air masses and increased winds. No one knows specifically what these do to the fish. It may only affect baitfish which in turn affects the mood of the fish, but what we do know is that fishing in post frontal conditions (beyond 6-8 hours after a cold front has turned the winds to the north and gusty) is much tougher.
Telemetry tracking of speckled trout has shown that high winds above 25 mph in open water will move fish to deeper areas (greater than 12 feet deep generally). Fish in protected areas tend not to move as much, but still tend to look for deeper water for refuge from cold. Baitfish will push further down into the water column and not readily show themselves on the surface. And fish have no eyelids causing increased discomfort by the super clear bright sunny skies. This scenario tends to frustrate even the most seasoned anglers. Look for fish in deeper areas, that are not in the open bay, and fish the lowest light conditions you can safely.
Tobin created the TroutSupport.com Trout and Redfish instructional DVD series. Tech Support for Trout and Redfish Anglers.
For so many of us, the first silvery light of dawn has always meant the beginning of the fishing day. However, with the current advancements in LED lighting, many anglers are taking advantage of beating the summer heat by using the small, efficient lighting sources.
Many companies make small ‘cap’ lights that clip to the bill of a ball cap to allow anglers the needed lighting to change lures in the dark, or even peel out the occasional backlash. These small lights provide brilliant white light to a narrow field of view in sufficient quantities to get the job done without spooking the fish.
Another huge advancement has been the creation of LED flounder, or ‘gigging’ lights. Oznium.com has created a series of super bright LED’s that are sealed to marine specs for flounder gigging. The lights come with sealed electrical leads in waterproof housings and are threaded to easily screw onto standard PVC fittings available at any hardware store. Angler Mac Jank, of Victoria, Texas worked with Oznium’s team to create a system (the Oznium Eclipse Spot/Flood) that anglers can quickly build (DIY) a light, portable, bright (up to 50W), and long lasting ‘gigging’ light that can be used all year, not just the fall.
Gigging brings out a primal sense in the cool still darkness of the night that is unsurpassed, and almost forgotten as we’ve ventured away from our organic hunter-gatherer roots. If you have kids this is a great way to kick-start an entirely new realm of experience in the outdoors. Girls, as well as boys, easily take to the sport; a pre-dawn gigging trip in shallow, clear bay waters will be filled with giggles and squeals as a whole host of baitfish, fish, shrimp, and even squid can be viewed close up (within arms length) and watched with almost no sense to flee from the lights. Mac finds the green spectrum of color to be more calming to both the fish and forage in the 50w, and the warm white, as well as the green, is more popular in the 20w.
The lights are built to be placed underwater, which is a benefit compared to old light systems held above the water. The underwater placement has no glare and one can see the fish better because of it. Minute shadows, and bottom textures, and even fish features, or empty flounder beds are more distinctive from this lighting direction. Empty beds are like finding a fossil, many reveal features as small as fine bones and gills plates when they are fresh. Take a kid on a new adventure or find a gigging captain in your area, or even build your own with Oznium lights. Include this as part of the experience of educating your kids in making something with their hands and going on a predawn adventure into the still of the dark night. End it with a really good breakfast and a nap and you’ve got a memory that will last forever.
November and early December have a lot of options for speckled trout and redfish. Baitfish and shrimp should be getting pushed out of your bay system right now as passing cold fronts push tide levels lower. The fall’s bulging bull tides are now being pulled out of the marsh and with it all the shrimp and juvenile baitfish get drawn out of mangroves, marsh, and shallow grass flats.
This condition will pull a lot of the redfish out of the back marsh ponds and onto the main bay shorelines. It pulls so much bait into the bay that the schools of trout begin pushing the pods of shrimp to the surface and the gulls and terns will feed on the shrimp and shad being pushed to the surface. They are not hard to find; Sometimes the hard part is finding game fish, or even legal size trout, under the birds. For this reason I tend to ignore ‘working birds’ out in the main bay. It is very fun though and if you haven’t had done it, or know some kids that don’t get to fish much I highly recommend taking them and fishing the birds.
For larger size fish, it’s a much better option to work the shoreline grass and oysters for trout and redfish and that’s what Capt. Ernest Cisneros will be doing in the Lower Laguna near Port Isabel, South Texas. Capt Cisneros will be hunting redfish tailing throwing spook juniors, Mirrolure she-pups, and Kelly Wiggler ball tail shad in knee to thigh deep grass flats with mud bottoms. The mud bottoms hold the shrimp longer; the shrimp burrow into the soft mud and the reds will find more in those areas. Along with the shrimp, crabs burrow into the mud, as well as marine worms, and other benthic organisms. It’s a very healthy, and important part of the coastal ecosystem (grass / oyster and mud bottom complexes). In the winter the nutrient rich mud also tends to grow more algae as well as remain slightly warmer. This in turn will bring in baitfish such as mullet, and the trout and reds will follow.
The lures that Ernest will be using will be mullet imitation plugs and with the prevalence of juvenile baitfish early in the fall, he’ll be throwing the smaller versions mentioned above. Later into December when many of the juvenile baitfish have left the bay, he’ll begin throwing larger lures such as OneKnockers, SuperSpooks, and She Dawgs. Colors of lures will vary depending on the water conditions and how bright the day is. There is a general color theory rule that we all throw around which is Bright Day – Bright Bait; Dark Day – Dark Bait; Clear Water – Natural Color; Dirty Water – Un-Natural Color. Bones tends to work in a lot of water colors and conditions and it’s a good place to start.