October 04, 2010
Those fishing off Texas' Gulf Coast have come to expect exactly that when they tackle any of these five great fighters. (June 2007)
By Chester Moore Jr.
Texas anglers are fortunate to have a number of prominent, highly sought fish species available to them along the Gulf Coast.
Whether they seek speckled trout or redfish in the bays, or red snapper and dolphin in the Gulf, there's always something biting. More often than not, whatever it is puts up a good fight and is tasty in the frying pan.
Here we'll show you how and where to find the super sporting fish in Texas saltwater
Redfish are back in vogue as popular sportfish along the Texas Coast, with tournament trails like the Redfish Cup putting them back in the spotlight in a big way.
During the summer, reds along the Middle Coast will be feeding in sea grassbeds in Aransas and Redfish Bays. Some of these areas are off-limits to boats with propellers, but those in which anglers can fish without restrictions are best fished with live bait. A live croaker or mullet pitched in the sand holes between the grass pockets is a surefire way to score on reds.
"I don't fish with live bait much but throwing a croaker or mullet in those pockets is a great way to catch reds," said. Capt. Bobby Caskey of Shoal Grass Lodge.
Capt. Caskey's preferred fishing method is drifting with artificials like the new Berkley Gulp Shrimp.
"These lures work just as well as the real thing when you're drifting, and they stay on the hook great. The reds love the shrimp and the crab as well," Caskey said.
In the Laguna Madre area, anglers will be targeting reds up through fall along the edges of the Intracoastal Waterway and in the many little inlets between Corpus Christi and Port Mansfield. Topwaters like the Top Dog Jr. and Skitter Walk are great for sight-casting to reds in the region's super clear waters.
Anglers should keep in mind that reds have what can best be described as a "cone of vision." They can see about 180 degrees and the most strikes will be found by casting in front of the red and perhaps just off to the side. Precision casting is important because the fish rarely turn around to strike at something they only hear.
During the fall, land-bound anglers can catch big bull redfish all along the coast, with the best action occurring from Matagorda to High Island in the surf. Large surf rods rigged with spider weights and circle hooks baited with cut or whole mullet and crab are popular for catching these big bulls. Look for the best action on high tides and much of it to come at night when the abundant predators move in the shallows to feed.
For anglers with boats, the Sabine, North Galveston and Surfside jetties are loaded with these fish from late August through early November. And despite popular perception, there are quite a few of these fish year 'round at all jetty systems in Texas. Look for deep holes alongside the rocks to hold the most fish, with the boating cuts being a secondary and sometimes highly productive option.
Live croaker is the best bait for the jetties, but artificials will work well too. Trolling a 1/2-ounce gold Rat-L-Trap or chunking a big gold spoon tipped with squid or shrimp down into the deep holes works good for the jetty reds as well. Be warned however that when fishing the lighter tackle required for using lures, the reds can easily run straight into the rocks and you will not only lose the fish but your expensive lures. Stick with big tackle and live bait if you want to bring home fish, artificials if you want more sporting opportunity and just want to play.
Summer months bring speckled trout out to the open waters of the bay systems, where drifting becomes important.
In the Aransas, Corpus Christi Bay area, drifting over sea grass and mixed shell is the key to finding specks. Live croaker is popular in that area but so are plastics like Little Fishies and DOA Terror-Eyz.
From Matagorda into Galveston Bay, anglers typically drift over shell and target emerging slicks, where the specks have been feeding on baitfish. Live shrimp under popping corks and topwaters are the best bets here.
On the extreme Upper Coast in Sabine Lake, anglers target big schools of menhaden (called shad locally) and drift with live or fresh dead shad under popping corks in the open area from about a mile north of Garrison Ridge up toward the Barrel Channel on the north end.
As summer segues into fall, finding trout schooling under the birds in all of these areas will become more commonplace, and the strategies will change to using shad- and shrimp-imitating soft plastics fished with a fast retrieve.
During the winter, lots of anglers wade-fish for big trout on mud flats adjacent to the Intracoastal Canal. On warm afternoons big trout move up to feed over the mud, which retains heat and is a few degrees warmer than surrounding areas. The typical strategy involves using slow-sinking lures like the MirrOlure Catch 2000 or B&L Corky. Trout have very slow metabolism this time of year and the super slow sinking of these lures appeals to that.
Anglers trying this method for the first time should be warned that even huge trout sometimes hit only lightly during winter. If you feel something taking the slack out of your line or a soft "tick," then start reeling in slack and set the hook as soon as you feel pressure. Sometimes it's nothing . . . but quite often it's a big speckled trout that you otherwise might have missed!
As this issue hits the newsstands flounder action will be slowing a bit, but contrary to popular belief, there still are fish to be caught.
To consistently bag good numbers of quality-sized flounder during summer, concentrate on the wide and deep parts of cuts in a bay system. The largest concentrations of flounder are usually in the first eighth of a mile of these cuts during the dog days of summer. That's because the cuts have more tidal water exchange on each tidal movement, which keeps these areas somewhat cooler than the shallow backwater.
I'm not saying these areas hold any more flounder than other cuts, but I've caught more in them than in other locations on bay systems in summer, so that's where I go to catch them. Cooler water temperatures usually mean a higher content of dissolved oxygen, which benefits flounder two-fold. First, it gives them more oxygen, which they need to be effective predators, and second, it attracts more baitfish.
ientists are learning that one of the reasons certain fish species in bay systems do not feed as aggressively during summer as they do in spring and fall is decreased levels of dissolved oxygen. It's important to remember that tides dictate how flounder will be feeding. On a fast-falling tide, they move in close to the drainage in tight schools. When the tide is falling slowly, they might scatter out around the mouth of a drainage or up into the marsh.
They'll do the same thing during the first hour or so of an incoming tide. Then they usually move into the cuts. I've always had far more success on incoming tides during summer months. In fact, I usually check the tide charts and mark off the days with the highest tides to concentrate my fishing on them.
And when those tides are running high, seek flounder along the main shorelines of bay systems. Attacking vast shorelines would be a waste of time and end up in dogged frustration, so you've got to have a strategy. Instead of looking over eight miles of shoreline, narrow your search down to an eighth of a mile. You must eliminate water to successfully bag flounder. The first step I take while eliminating water on a strange ecosystem is to look for a shoreline that has stands of roseau cane.
Roseau cane has an intricate system that is somewhat like a smaller version of mangrove and it gives baitfish a place to linger, hide and dodge larger predators. It is best to fish these areas during the first couple of hours of a falling tide. As the water recedes, the baitfish are swept from their cover and the predator/prey dynamic begins. This strategy works great until fall when the big cold fronts arrive, pushing flounder out through fish passes into the Gulf of Mexico.
As noted in my book, Flounder Fever, the key here is to understand points of migration. A "pass" does not necessarily have to mean a bottleneck area like Sabine or Rollover Pass. A pass can also be an historic area of flounder migration. Sea Wolf Park in Galveston Bay is a fine example. Every fall, hundreds of flounder end up in ice chests there as they pass through the bay toward Gulf waters. There is no physical reason the flounder have to move through that spot, but they are there every year. It's part of their historic migration route.
When fishing the passes, there are not as many factors in play as in other spots. A pass is a transitory position for flounder to hold. In other words, they are either there or they are not, and if anglers have the patience, they usually can score by being patient and waiting for the next school to move. Be mindful of outgoing tides because they are what push flounder through.
This process repeats itself in reverse in the spring when flounder come from the Gulf through the passes back into the bays.
By the time this magazine hits newsstands, the regulations for red snapper will likely be changed to a four-month season and two per person daily big limit in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Be sure to check before fishing.
With that said, anglers bent on catching snapper will be targeting areas they know they can catch trophy-sized fish to make their trips worthwhile. And they'll also be looking for areas legal for snapper fishing year 'round. Let's start with catching big fish.
Snapper are not drawn only to big structure like huge oilrigs. The smaller wellheads, rocks and tiny reefs hold good numbers of fish, too. And since these areas are not pressured as much as the rigs, you tend to find more big fish on them.
Anchor upcurrent of a given piece of this structure and all back across it. The preferred method of fishing these areas is to use a typical bottom rig with either squid or Spanish sardines rigged on two circle hooks. A lot of times you'll have a strong current and you need to get the bait down to the structure. When you're fishing rigs, you've got a little more leeway, but presenting bait 5 feet too far in one direction or another can make all the difference in the world.
Top areas to find this kind of structure include the western half of the Sabine Bank, a plateau that rises off of the Gulf's floor and forms a shallow flat that parallels both sides of the ship channel that leads out of the Sabine jetties. The rigs in this area are called the "High Island Block" on maps. This 25- to 40-foot-deep flat attracts an awesome amount of baitfish and is dotted by hundreds of platforms and wrecks that attract monster red snapper. Most angling pressure is to the east and so are most of the rigs. This area features lots of wrecks, rocks and other hard structure.
Another important area for snapper fishermen now is the Coast off of Freeport, where anglers can find snapper in state waters year 'round. The waters get deep there in short order and there are numerous wrecks and rigs to target. Although federal officials close down snapper fishing, the state keeps it open year 'round in state controlled waters, which extend out to nine nautical miles.
A good way to catch the highly pressure snapper here is to fish with a large jig like a Snapper Slapper Pulsator tipped with a cigar minnow. Let this heavy jig sink to the bottom and move it in a straight up-and-down fashion. When a big snapper hits it, you'll know it because your rod will double over. Snapper don't play around when they hit jigs.
Other key areas for snapper in state waters include the coastline along Matagorda and Aransas Pass, where wrecks and artificial reefs draw snapper in close.
The world "dolphin" means two things along the Texas Coast. The first is the obvious marine mammal that thrills visitors at marine parks and even once had its own television show, "Flipper." The other is a beautifully marked, highly sought-after game fish that is present within reach of small boat anglers in Texas waters during the summer months. (It also goes under the name "dorado" and "mahi-mahi" but we'll stick with plain old "dolphin.")
Dolphin like to feed in open water; most of them are caught around current rips and weed lines.
Rips are areas where large currents meet in the Gulf and they usually are spotted by noticing a waterline, where darker water meets lighter water. These rips bring together lots of baitfish, which the dolphin prey on with great sport and enthusiasm. Anglers who want to catch these rip-running dolphin should target them by trolling along the rip with large, bright-colored trolling plugs such as you might use in fishing for wahoo or sailfish. Dolphin can grow to impressive sizes, and so catching fish weighing upwards of 50 pounds is not uncommon. Don't be afraid to fish large lures for them.
Dolphin often feed along weedlines and can be seen near the surface striking at baitfish and darting in and out of the weeds. Most of those are what anglers call "chicken dolphin" -- small fish from 3 to 10 pounds. "We get a lot of action on chicken dolphin out there in the summer," said Capt. Ryan Warhola, an offshore fishing guide.
"The great thing about it is you can fish for them with trout tackle," he said. "I like to fish with soft-plastic shrimp tails or m
innow imitations, and you can sight-cast to them. A lot of times they will be hiding right under the edge of the weeds and by pitching a soft plastic under them, you can pull them out and get their attention."
Currently there are no size or bag limits on dolphin, which will likely make them a more popular target for offshore anglers as snapper regulations tighten. These fish have what is arguably the finest-tasting flesh of any fish and they're commonly sold in fine restaurants. They're also highly beautiful, but that beauty does not last long once they're out of the water. These fish go through multiple color changes and within a span of minutes change from green/yellow to blue back to green/yellow to almost black. If you want a photo with your dolphin, take it quickly, or it'll look as if you are holding something that has been dead for weeks.