by John Childs
[b]A Fishing Guides Holiday- Part 2
Well the wedding and the reception went off without a hitch, and we all enjoyed another evening of reminiscing while maybe imbibing a few too many of those adult beverages. It's still amazing to me my little sister is finally married. (She's the surprise baby that happens in so many families and is 19 years younger than me!)
The following morning we all get up and get moving at a bright and early 9:00 am! I guess this happened because our immediate family, along with the wedding party, closed down the bar at the reception hotel. It was a great time, but I was a bit groggy after getting to bed at an early 3:00 am.
Mom had decided to have any of our relatives who had stayed in town overnight to join us at the house for breakfast so many of us reconvened at 10:30 for one more chance to visit. As you can guess, Pete and I are carefully watching the clock for our next chance to exit, and at 12:00, as everything seemed to be winding down, we raced out of the house for another shot at those fish.
On the way out to the flat, I suggested to Pete we look at the jetties. Sometimes when the wind comes from the Northwest, it absolutely lays the surf down, and allows the crystal clear water to lap against the smooth white sand beaches. Generally when these conditions occur there is almost no surf, and the jetties can be an amazing place to fish. I had heard someone mention catching a king mackerel off the end of the Packery Jetty just a couple days before, so I thought we'd give it a look.
We parked on the sand and walked down the jetty to see what was going on. There was an amazing amount of bait, and we probably saw 10 different sea turtles. The sea turtles have become extremely common over the last 5-10 years, but when I was young they were almost never present. As a kid, spotting one was truly an "event!" The bait is what caught my eye though, because normally the big schools of mullet have already departed by the last week in November, so with fairly warm water, mackerel could definitely still be present. A shot of all the bait along the jetty. It doesn't show it well, because there is an amazing amount of bait present.
We walked back to the truck, got our rods and a selection of tackle and walked back out towards the end of the jetty. We fished for a while, but unfortunately had only one bite. I got picked up by a Spanish mackerel (or a king mackerel??), but unfortunately got bit off almost immediately. He bit the gold spoon on the sink, and I felt him pick it up, but before I couldn't tighten up the line I was already off. It's always a Hail Mary tying mono directly to the spoon, but I've landed a ton of mackerel without the wire trace, but my bite off convinced me to add about 3" of wire, and of course I never got bit again. After trying for a bit over an hour to persuade another speedster to bite, we decided to head for the flats where we Knew we should at least be able to catch a few fish. The gear I carried onto the flat, using the small over the shoulder pack shown. A selection of top waters that worked as well.
The wind from the Northern had blow itself out the night before, and it was easily 6 degrees warmer today, so it made for very pleasant wading on our chosen flat. The downside was without the wind created current, we didn't do quite as well. I think after 3 hours of fishing we had 2-3 small reds, one small speckled trout and a couple flounder. Nothing to exciting unfortunately, but it was still great to get out with my brother Pete! I managed to hook one strange fish. Not really strange maybe, but uncommon back in the bay complex. I hooked and landed a small needlefish. Check out the wicked set of dentures!Texas jig caught needle fish.See why their called needle fish? A wicked set of needle like dentures!! Don't put your fingers to close!!!!
Unfortunately Pete had an early morning flight out, so this was our last chance to fish together. I was bumming we hadn't tried a different flat; to try and find some of the larger reds I knew should be around. We still had a great time together. It's always fun sharing something I love some much with great friends or family!
Several years ago, I had hired a local guide on one of my trips south. I only had one day I could fish and wanted to make the most of it, so I hired a guide that works at Roy's Bait and Tackle, Capt. Steve Utley. What a great guide. He was laid back and fun to fish with on top of the fact we wacked on the reds pretty darn hard.
He'd taken me to a spot I'd launched at before with other guides, called Wilson's Cut. The difference was we fished in the series of lakes just north of the put in, instead of running farther North as I had before to fish closer to Aransas Pass, Redfish and Copano Bays. I remembered this series of lakes being very shallow, and I wondered if I could wade to them?
That evening at the house, I pulled up a shot of Google earth, and saw there should be a way to get my vehicle close to the closest lake, so it was decided, I tread into a new flat the next morning and see what I could find.
I woke up early to have a cup of coffee with my folks, Pete and his wife Donna before they left for the airport. We had a nice albeit short visit and then they headed for the airport. I decided it was a likely time to head for the new flat, so I packed my gear and departed as well.
I pulled up to Wilson's cut just before first light and because I couldn't really see very well, decided to not try driving any further back towards my selected flat. You see, I was crazy enough when I got my first four-wheel drive rig to try and drive it right to one of the spots I liked to fish by Aransas Pass. As often happens with inexperienced youth, I found a four-wheel drive truck isn't a foolproof method to not get stuck. The worst part was the fact I got further back than anybody else could, and had 3 other vehicles get stuck just trying to get to my location to pull me out. On that occasion I finally used a bumper jack and jacked my little SUV out of the holes I was buried in (all the way to the frame of the truck I might add!), and pushed it off the jack so it was sitting on dry mud. I then carefully backtracked and managed to pull the other 3 vehicles out. I had been stuck for almost 30 hours before we finally managed to extract my truck, and the people who'd been kind enough to try and help me. Needless to say, I wasn't in any mood to repeat such silly mistakes, so I parked at the cut itself and walked back towards the flat I wanted to try. A picture of my flat with the two small islands in the middle of the lake.
I arrived at a channel that ran between an island and the main part of the bank I was on. I knew from experience this channel was likely to deep to wade, but if I couldn't cross it my newfound plan might fail before it began! I waded in and found it wasn't terribly deep, but within 20 yards the mud became unbelievably soft and deep. Deep enough it caused a hasty retreat. Generally when you wade some of the mud flats it can be uncomfortable because you can sink all the way up to mid shins, but you almost always feel a solid bottom at some point under your foot. In this spot I never could feel a hard bottom, just gooey soft mud as I continued to sink, almost all the way to my kneecaps. Very spooky!
I got to the bank and began wondering if I was going to have to find another flat. Regardless of the deep mud, I decided I wasn't going to be dissuaded so easily. There was a lot of bait showing in the channel, so I started wading close to the bank and started fishing, hoping to find a few fish.
As the light increased and I could see better, I realized the water probably wasn't so deep, and as the small creek began to open up into the larger lake I noticed a set of foot prints in the mud bottom that looked like someone had crossed the channel towards the tip of the island. I figured if someone else could do it, I probably could too, and I made it across without encountering the deep mud again. Hooray, I was going to make it into the flat system I wanted to try.
As I rounded the point of the island, there was a bunch of submerged grass and instead of doing the right thing and making sure I fished each bit of structure before I got to it, I waded right around it and managed to push a nice red out of the grass he'd been rooting around in. He pushed a substantial wake as he bombed out of the grass and towards the deeper water in the middle of the lake. I made two quick casts in front of him, but to no avail. While I've hooked a few fish over time with this tactic, it's far from consistent, and I realized I should make sure and fish the structure from here on out.
I started fishing out along the bank, and casting into the grass and mangroves along the edge, and interspersing it with casts into the deeper water out towards the middle of the lake. I was using a moderately quick and bouncy retrieve, trying to keep my jigs from fouling too much on the grassy bottom. No luck, but I kept seeing mullet all over, and some larger boils that looked like they were probably reds feeding on the mullet. Most of the boils where in deeper water, so I was eventually tugged away from the bank line and began wading across the lake to a set of two smaller islands in the middle of the larger lake complex. I figured I would find a gut in the middle somewhere that was un-crossable, but I thought I would fish as far as possible, and to my mild surprise I was able to wade all the way to the middle of the big lake where the two smaller islands where. At this point I'm beginning to doubt my decision to fish this set of flats. I'm seeing bait, and at least one fish I'm 90% certain was a decent sized red, but nothing more than a few piggy nibbles have come my way. Uncertainty on the morning's direction is beginning to plague me.
I manage to fish my way along side the two small islands, and even peak through to the other side for a moment into the back half of this large lake. To give an idea of the overall size of the lake, I would estimate it at well over 50 acres, and possibly closer to 100. It's a good-sized area, and is actually a series of spoil islands set amongst predominantly shallow water between one and three feet deep. I'm finding a mixture of sand and mud bottom with a wide variety of grass interspersed with those wonderful "trout" holes, clean sections of bottom surrounded by grass.
As I make it to the west side of the lake, I see a kayaker working along the bank I started on. I don't see him doing much either and eventually he fades back to the west, disappearing into some of the other lakes I can see. When I fished this water with Capt. Utley, I remember these lakes and spoil islands extend to the west for quite some distance. I've also seen 3-4 boats coming ripping out of Wilson's Cut and have spread themselves out through this system as well. I'm beginning to think I can probably wade anywhere I like through this amazing system, and it's empowering…with the down side of not finding any fish to catch as of yet. On this note I'm becoming a bit dejected!
As I reach another Island at the west end of "my lake," I'm starting to think I have to go find another flat. I'm starting to get bit a lot more by piggy perch, but I haven't hooked a darn thing. Bummer. I've decided that I'll start working back towards the truck crossing back to the original spoil island and work east along it's bank until I get back to the channel, and if I haven't caught anything by then I'll relocate to someplace else. I'm starting to have a sneaking suspicion this lake doesn't fish this far back in December, although with all the bait I'm seeing, it should emphasize the fact that SOME game fish "SHOULD" be around.
As I begin the crossing from my side of the lake back to the original spoil island, fishing the whole way (you know the routine, cast retrieve step, cast retrieve step, over and over and over again…) I have a powerboat come gliding into my lake. They go behind the two twin islands I've already waded past and come to a stop at the east end of my lake, very close to the middle. They anchor up, and 4 guys hop out and begin fishing their way west paralleling the two small islands I just fished past. At first I pay little attention to them, since I'm not crowded in any way, and I just fished the water they are targeting. My doubts have increased substantially at this point, as I've put close to 2 hours of time into this session and have nothing substantial to show for it. At this point I notice a couple of the guys from the boat across from me land some smaller fish. They land what appears to be under sized speckled trout, although we are far enough away from each other, species identification is truly impossible. Regardless of WHAT they have caught, they have tempted a couple fish where I have not. Huh!
At this point, I start paying a lot more attention to what they are doing, and I notice right off they are using much slower retrieves than me. It makes me think back to the day before fishing with Pete. He out fished me yesterday, and when I asked him what he was doing he said when he felt a tug he was stopping his retrieve for a moment to let them eat it. I also noticed he was using a slower overall retrieve than me. Can you see the light bulb starting to illuminate over my dense skull?
I begin fishing with a much slower retrieve, literally just hopping my jig off the bottom a couple times then letting it rest for a minute, retrieving a foot or so of line and then gently hopping it a couple more times, then resting again. An amazingly simple and slow retrieve, almost counterintuitive to what I've used in the past, but I should also remember that although the water is warm to my northern bred body, these fish are use to 75-80 degree water, not the chilly mid 60's I'm fishing. Fish on!! A rod loaded up!
After a few casts I feel one of the familiar tap, tap, taps indicative of another piggy perch. I stop my retrieve for a second, and then begin the slow lift for another couple of hops with my jig, and my line comes tight. I'm almost shocked! I've actually hooked one, but best of all this is a very good fish. He takes quite a bit of line at the onset and comes to the top and rolls and I can see it's a very nice red. Awesome, they ARE here! I play the fish to my feet and get to have the fun of trying to subdue a very nice fish without the aid of a net while standing waste deep in the water. The fish attempts to go through my legs at one point, making me dance for a minute trying to clear the line around myself and get turned and straightened back out. I play the beautiful fish for a couple more minutes and finally bring him to hand. Do you have any idea how hard it is to snap a self portrait holding a fish while wading waist deep? Tough!!!A close up of the fish with the jig lodged in the corner of his mouth!
After Pete and I had caught the nice flounder a couple days ago, I actually stuck a stringer in my small tackle pack. I also looked up the regulations for what we could keep, and measured the lengths on my rod so we could keep a fish for dinner if we wanted to. I had put a wrap of electrical tape on my rod at 14, 15, 20, and 28 inches, so all I had to do was hold any fish along side my rod blank to see how long each fish was. Once I had this fish subdued and in my hand (unlike Salmon and steelhead, redfish are surprisingly tame once in the hand. Not a lot of wiggling around, which allows ease of handling to measure, unhook and take a couple quick pictures.) I lay him along side my blank and he's well beyond my 20" mark, and way closer to 28" than 20"! Right on! I figured him for 25-26", and I was incredibly pleased with my luck. Okay, maybe luck interspersed with finally pulling my head out of my butt and fishing slower!
Well the amazing part of the story is this literally unlocked the secret of fishing this series of flats. The reds where there, and in decently thick numbers; I managed to land over 10 nice fish that morning between the keeper slot length (you can keep 3 redfish a day between 20 and 28"), I broke a couple nice fish off (I'm sure these were over 28"! ?), and landed several undersized reds, a couple small speckled trout and a small flounder. I could have kept a couple reds for dinner, but honestly I'd rather eat trout or flounder if I'm going to keep a fish, so my stringer never made it out of my pack. Now if I'd landed a couple 16" speckled trout, they'd have been in REAL danger of meeting my frying pan!
[u]Another close up. Notice the large scales.
My luck continued through the next couple of days, landing nice reds on every outing. The key really came to working my jig slowly, and once they pounced on it to give them a second to suck it in. Almost every single fish was hooked in the corner of the jaw, which told me they were truly eating the jig, and by me slowly reeling to tighten up the line, I was drawing the hook into the corner of their mouth. It ended up being one of the most spectacularly fun trips I've had. I've caught quite a few reds before, but the combination of doing it myself, and finding a new area I could work by foot, made it all the more sweet. The only down side to the three days of fishing I enjoyed once my brother Pete had left, was his absence. I know how much he would have truly enjoyed fishing for these larger fish, so I was disappointed I hadn't found this before his departure! Another very nice fish! Redfish rock!!And another....A Great sunset!A smaller fish, probably around 22"A close up of a redfishes tail. The interesting aspect here is the mutltiple spots. This generally indicates a fish from hatchery origin. Also, notice the beautiful blue fringe along his tail. This is amazingly beautiful as you see them swimming around you with their copper backs and brightly lit blue fringes on their fins.