Like chasing warm-water game fish through huge, shallow bays? By all means, cruise on down and mess with Texas.
The three of us stood in the 20-foot Blue Wave bay boat arrayed around the console like the backfield of some high-school football team’s wingback-crazy offense. The other angler, Craig Nyhus, and I flanked our guide, Capt. Darrell Walter, who was quarterbacking from the helm as we navigated the channel with five other boats, all working from the same playbook. But on this windy, overcast morning in South Texas, there was no question who was calling the plays on our boat.
Our little huddle of bay boats broke as we reached the end of the channel, and as outboards revved up I watched the rest of our fleet hit a flat-out sprint across the expanse of the bay. For our first play from scrimmage, Walter banked left on a post pattern. We were going long.
The game was redfish and Walter exuded a quiet confidence, sizing up Nyhus, executive editor at statewide sporting biweekly Lone Star Outdoor News, and me to figure out what we brought to the game. Walter set his jaw and his course—the conditions brought their own challenges.
“The first day and the second day after a cold front is tougher,” says Nyhus. “And then when it gets back to normal and the wind gets to the normal Southeast, third day after a cold front, it’s pretty good.” This was day two after the front, by our reckoning. It was cloudy, the water was less than clear, and that wind was setting up a stiff chop. We nosed our way to the pass, to see whether there was enough of a lee to put the fish outside the bay. Nothing doing there. Looked like the next play would be another run.
Fortunately for us, there’s plenty of territory to cover in the area known in Texas as the Coastal Bend. The bays and backwaters in this area, and specifically the waters we fished around Rockport, are a tremendous and expansive natural resource in a region that has witnessed oil booms, hurricanes, shrimping, and more. Those who know how important and fragile estuaries can be will understand just how valuable this area is.
The technique honed by these bay guides is straightforward. Find the fish and put the anglers within their casting range with the lightest tackle possible, whether it’s running live bait on a free spool, giving soft-plastics a realistic swimming motion, or plopping a fly right into the strike zone.
These bay boats are equipped to make it an easier proposition. Low-deadrise bottoms let them float most anywhere in these shallow bays, while big-horsepower Mercury and Yamaha outboards let their skippers bite off big chunks of water to find the fish as wind and current shifts throughout the day. A prerigged anchor bridle along the starboard rail gets the hook—and the fishhooks—in the water quickly and quietly (no chain rattling across the foredeck), holds the boat broadside to the target area, and makes pulling up stakes and moving just as simple.
The author and Walter savor the catch.
And move you will, depending on the conditions. It’s a good thing this is oil country because these guys burn enough gas to make an ol’ wildcat grin, all in the name of getting you into fish. High fuel costs affect the price of bait, too. Croaker can cost upwards of $10 a dozen. They can be lights-out for trophy seatrout, and therefore worth every penny, but it all depends on the conditions.
“On weekends, there can be a ton of boat traffic and it affects the shallow-water fishermen and the drifters and the waders,” says Nyhus. “A number of boats fishing on windy days will make their runs right along the shoreline where you’re drifting towards the shore. Not a good thing—it definitely spooks the redfish.” Still, if you pick your spots between the cold fronts, and stick around after the weekend, you may see steady action.
Under the Lights
Redfish Lodge on Copano Bay in Rockport, Texas, has a great setup for groups—I visited for a meeting with editors and the Coastal Conservation Association. Anglers fish with guides all day, then have dinner and return to the water’s edge. The lodge is situated on a spit of land with a long dock. Huge lights over the water draw in bait, sea-trout, and more to both sides of the spit. Per-person packages start at $885. www.redfishlodge.com
“Because we’re talking about people coming on big boats, they might be inclined to travel along the Intracoastal,” says Port O’Connor-based fishing guide Scott Sommerlatte. “The Intracoastal along the Coastal Bend has some excellent fishing from August through November if you can find clean water.” Key on water moving from marsh areas out into the Intracoastal and you’ll be in business. But if you don’t want to hit it that hard, there are other options: “Or look for grass beds anywhere along the Intracoastal—those are great places to find both trout and redfish in August through October and even into November,” Sommerlatte says.
Boaters equipped with light spinning or baitcasting outfits or an 8- or 9-weight fly rod may find all the action they can handle in these bays. The redfish and seatrout are aggressive predators if you catch them on the feed. These fish are good sport on light tackle, and a tender can take anglers to the promising fishing habitat. If you decide to find fish on your own, make sure to look up regulations and get a license (go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us for information and to order a license online). Also be sure to keep an eye on the weather—thunderstorms can sweep in quickly and change conditions in a snap.
Use local knowledge to your advantage: The staff at your marina will be able to point you in the direction of some live baitfish or shrimp. Armed with a live bait, a free-spooling spinning rod or baitcaster, good area charts, and a GPS, an angler in a dinghy can ply deep-bay reefs. Of course, the term deep is relative. “Anywhere you can find a reef in three to five foot of water and it’s got good current on it, that will be a good place to go live-baiting for trout,” Sommerlatte says.
Weather can clear as quickly as it kicks up
Another good place to look for fish are the sandy potholes interspersed among the grass beds. Walter had Nyhus and I fishing a backwater off a channel that saw occasional barge traffic. Nyhus and I were soaking cut mullet, feeling the “piggy perch”—the local name for pinfish—nibble away on our baits as a howling wind hectored us steadily. Walter had us work each pothole in succession, pulling the anchor and drifting us into the next position with silent precision.
On the fourth pothole, and with not too many more to try and the day drawing to a close, I put a cast up to be carried out in the wind, only to have it drop into the water where a redfish crushed that mullet chunk. My light spinning tackle bent over as I turned the fish back and, eventually, brought him close so Walter could net him.
It felt good to put points on the board, especially with a heavy-shouldered redfish. And as the day wound down, I found I couldn’t wait for the next day’s kickoff.
This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.