Frothy waves pounded two long rows of gray and slime-green rocks marking the edge of the channel as the captain ventured forth into the Gulf of Mexico.
"Its rough out here, but if you want to catch a big redfish, this is the place," said the captain as he maneuvered to the leeside of the rocks. "Ive caught some big redfish along these jetties."
Often the only visible cover around, jetties can hold an enormous amount and variety of fish. Crabs crawl among the crannies as shrimp attempt to hide in crevices. Baitfish try to hide in the waves as roving predators like redfish, drum and speckled trout wait to gulp whatever happens within striking range.
"Jetties provide fish with excellent structure in an otherwise sterile environment," advised Art Morris with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Corpus Christi Field Station. "Those rocks make great habitat for encrusting organisms and small fish. That attracts bigger predatory fish. Jetties are havens for bull redfish, big drum and sheepshead. Depending upon the time of year, location and season, jetties also attract speckled trout, flounder, Spanish mackerel, sharks, snook, tarpon, cobia, jack crevalle and other species."
Built to break up the forces of nature and mark channel entrances, jetties protruding from the Texas coast at Sabine, Galveston, Freeport, Matagorda, Port Aransas, Port Mansfield, Port OConnor, South Padre Island and other places create chokepoints that concentrate fish and bait. During a falling tide, water flows from the channel and spills around either side in a mushroom effect. During a rising tide, fish and bait gather at the channel entrance before moving into the bays and estuaries.
"I fish different spots on different tides," advised Capt Mike Kubecka of Reel Rush Charters in Matagorda (979-240-9490/www.reelrushcharters.com). "Most often, I fish right on the tips of jetties or just inside. Bait collects on the ends of the jetties in the backwash of the current. The outgoing tide is probably the best because it draws all the baits from the bays and rivers. During an incoming tide, I fish outside the jetties."
Like Kubecka, most anglers probably fish the jetty ends where tidal flows often scour deep holes that attract big redfish, black drum, sharks and other large predators. However, anglers may find good action throughout the entire length of a jetty. Often, the best flounder action occurs in the shallows near shore, but trout roam the length of the jetty. Snook and sheepshead typically lurk close to the rocks.
Jen Carroll, a professional bass angler from Celina, Texas, shows off a jetty speck.
Breaks sometimes allow boats to pass between the rocks without going all the way to the end. Water and bait flush through these openings in the jetties, whipping fish into a feeding frenzy. Sometimes, current flowing through boat breaks also scours holes.
"I look for something different in the structure, like a wash-through or a point," explained Capt. George Knighten of Galveston Bay Guide Service (832-310-9146/www.galvestonbayguideservice.net.) "I go down the jetty looking with my depth finder to see if I can find where the rocks come out a bit farther. Ive pulled big trout and redfish out of some deeper holes near jetties. Boat cuts can be really good on either side."
Most people look at jetties and only see the rocks protruding from the surface. Rocks may extend some distance from the jetty apex. Frequently, jetties sit on or create shelves. Beyond the shelf, water may drop rapidly. Many roaming predators cruise the drop-off edge away from visible rocks.
"Most people dont realize that jetties are pyramid shaped," Knighten explained. "They only see the rock tips. Frequently, fish are right up next to the rocks on top of the pyramid, but often, they are out on the base of the structure, perhaps 30 to 40 yards off the jetty."
For fishing jetties, many anglers use Carolina rigs sweetened with juicy baits. For redfish and drum, use half a crab. Other succulent baits include mullet chunks, live mullets four to six inches long or squid. Of course, the old reliable dead shrimp on the bottom almost always catches something.
"In March, I like to fish for big black drum with a blue crab chunk," said Capt. Charles Newton of Redfish Charters in Rockport (361-729-8220/www.redfishcharters.com) who often fishes the Port Aransas jetties. "I also use large live mullet to catch big redfish. Sometimes, I use mullet chunks. Its unreal what hangs around those rocks because of all the baitfish that stays there. Well catch just about any fish in the Gulf of Mexico."
To fashion a Carolina rig, slip a sliding sinker on the line. Use just enough weight to keep bait on the bottom depending upon tidal strength and wave action. At the end of the line, tie a barrel swivel and attach about 18 to 48 inches of leader tipped with a circle hook. With a sliding sinker, a baitfish or shrimp can swim freely, but cant escape big predators.
Anglers may also use drift lines baited with live mullets, menhaden or croakers. Hook baitfish through the eyes, nostrils or lips. Use no weight so that the fish can swim naturally. Place these temptations over scour holes at the jetty ends or along shelf edges.
Rick Hiott caught this Atlantic sharpnose shark in the jetty rocks. Photos: JOHN N. FELSHER
Rocks can devour tackle. Instead of using conventional sinkers, many jetty experts fish with banana-shaped sinkers. Designed for drift fishing in swift rivers, these smooth sinkers ride up and over obstructions. Use a three-way swivel with one eye attached to the main line, one to a drop line for the sinker and one to the leader with the hook. With this type of rig, anglers can fish any type of live or dead bait they wish. Anglers can also fish soft plastic temptations with such a rig.
Jetties can provide excellent fishing all year long for various species, but they can also destroy boats if people dont pay attention. Anchor or drift a safe distance from the rocks and watch the waves and boat wakes. Never shut off the outboard before the anchor grabs bottom in a safe area. In confrontations between rocks and boats, rocks NEVER lose!