T he cold front was still I rate when it arrived in Rockport and the raw north wind shattered the tranquility. The trunks of palm trees outside our condo stood like sentinels, but the green fronds on top agonized, twisting and turning in the pumping wind. Sleep was hard to come by as the bedroom wall was buffeted by one strong gust after another. Spring break with the family was off to a cold start.
By midweek, the worst was over. Tides returned to their pre-front levels and moderating wind and bright sunshine cheered everyone’s spirits. The family decided it was time to go fishing. Rods were rigged with popping corks and a quart of live shrimp was secured. We were met at the launch ramp by 300 of our closest friends. It seemed we weren’t the only ones who thought it was a good day to go fishing.
We spent the next thirty minutes looking for a place to fish. Plan A was dashed as the spot I had intended to fish was already taken. Plan B, C & D also turned out to be unprofitable. Our 11- and 3-year old were eager to fish; their red cheeks suggested they were getting wind-burned from the boat ride.
As I navigated into a nearby channel, I noticed a dozen boats anchored along the edges. As I approached the first boat, I eased back on the throttle and slid off plane. Idling slowly, we eased past the anchored boat. Once I was reasonable distance beyond the anchored anglers, I put the boat back up on a plane.
I repeated this maneuver three more times on my way to the other end of the channel. As I was idling past the fourth boat, one of the fishermen motioned me to stop and come closer. It was a fishing guide who had three clients on board. “Thanks,” he shouted. “You are the first person all morning long to slow down as they came down this channel. Everyone else blew through here at full speed”.
The guide continued saying, “We have been on a school of redfish all morning and everyone has their limit. We’re about to leave. Slide on in here and let your sons catch some of these reds”.
Thanks were exchanged, and we anchored in the guide’s spot. The action came in spurts. The reds would cycle back and forth along the edge of the channel, and it wasn’t uncommon to have multiple hookups. We caught roughly 20 redfish from the Spring Break Hole that day, keeping a three-person limit, plus two bonus trout.
The small stretch of shoreline where we caught all of our fish sported an oyster ledge, situated just under the surface. That small patch of shell held the red’s attention for several hours and they rarely ventured more than 50 yards away. Other boats, up and down the channel, would catch the occasional fish but didn’t catch near the numbers we did.
Oyster reefs are fish magnets and should always be explored during the spring. Clumps of oysters create a myriad of nooks and crannies for tiny baitfish, shrimp, and crabs to hide in.
Blennies are small baitfish that inhabit oyster reefs year round. Unlike pin perch, piggies, and mullet, blennies don’t migrate to the Gulf of Mexico to over-winter and spawn. They reside around live and dead oysters year-round. Snapper shrimp are another oyster reef-loving species. Although blennies and snapper shrimp aren’t well known to coastal anglers, redfish and trout spend a lot of time rummaging around oyster reefs looking for a meal. When groceries are scarce in the bay, predators know that an oyster reef is a reliable food source.
Oyster reefs can be found in all manner of shapes and sizes. In an open bay, the side of the reef that is exposed to the prevailing wind will have a well-defined edge, or drop-off. The pounding waves tend to push the shells up into a defined ledge. In Texas bays, that will be the southeast side. The backside, or lee side, of a reef will feature a slow taper and won’t hold as many fish.
Predators will often loiter for a prolonged period next to a shell ledge. The solid wall of shell helps break up the silhouette of a speckled trout, or redfish, allowing them to ambush unsuspecting baitfish and shrimp.
If you are fishing a reef from a boat, concentrate the majority of your attention on the margins, where the sand or mud meets the shell. This intersection zone will hold a lot of fish. If casting parallel to the shell ledge, work every depth thoroughly before moving on. If casting perpendicular to the reef, cast beyond the drop-off and make a shallow-to-deep retrieve.
Oyster shells have sharp edges and will slice fishing line like a knife. Tagging your main line with a short section of leader will help prevent cut-offs.
I learned several valuable lessons during our spring break that year. First, a patch of shell, no matter how small, is worth checking out during the spring. I also learned that common courtesy isn’t always that common on the water. Slowing our boat down didn’t seem like that big of a deal but we were repaid in full measure for a simple act of kindness.
Email Greg Berlocher at [email protected]