I n West Matagorda Bay I drifted back to my boat in my kayak and made “one last cast.” While I was working the Egret Baits three-inch-wedge-tail purple minnow I saw a big commotion about 25 yards away and the dorsal fin of a jack crevalle.
The fish must have picked up on the sound and motion of my soft plastic minnow because it turned and made a giant wake as it headed for my lure. I was amazed at how sensitive the jack crevalle was to the movement of the lure. It slammed the minnow, and I reactively set the hook. Then the fish turned and dashed away from me. The reel performed like it did not have a drag, I tightened it, but the jack crevalle kept taking line. Finally I stared to gain a little line back when the fish got hung up on the boat’s anchor line, and the leader broke.
In July jack crevalle and sharks move into West Matagorda Bay from the Gulf of Mexico because of the abundance of bait fish and shrimp. These predators often swim with their dorsal fins out of the water. Like bottle nose dolphins, jack crevalle and sharks both create violent splashing when they attack. Sharks will hit live or dead bait, but rarely go for artificial lures. In contrast, jack crevalle like fast moving baits, and aggressively chase artificial lures.
Jeff Wiley was fishing with me in West Matagorda Bay from his kayak when he hooked a jack crevalle. Watching from my boat, I saw the powerful fish pull the kayak in a circle while Jeff desperately tried to gain some line and control the fish. When he realized that the big, strong fish (jack crevalle weigh up to 20 pounds) was bound to win this battle Jeff pointed his rod at the fish, held the line, and pulled hard, breaking the line.
It is a sport fishing thrill to fight and land a jack crevalle, but they are not good eating. Landing one on light bay fishing tackle can take 30 minutes or more.
Most bay fishermen would just as soon avoid a shark encounter, but it happens. I was paddling my kayak back to the boat with a flounder on a stringer at dusk one evening when I felt a jerk. I pulled up the stringer to find only the head of the flounder.
Sharks are adept at stealing fish from stringers. That’s why Matagorda guide Captain Coach Floyd Ciruti equips his fishing customers with a floating plastic container. It has a lid and is attached to a line to carry their fish in the summer. In the bay and in the surf, make sure the fish on your stringer are far enough away, so when a shark goes for them, it does not get a piece of your leg in the process.
Last summer I was scuba diving on rig 544, 30 miles southeast of Matagorda. I saw several large red snappers, hundreds of mangrove snappers, Atlantic spade fish, blue fish, a few trigger fish, some large jack crevalle, plenty of barracudas, and one ling. Red snappers were out of season, jack crevalle were unwanted because they are poor table fare, barracudas taste good, but the fish that I really wanted to catch was the ling.
Ling (also known as cobia) are great eating, and the one I saw was more than the legal size of 37 inches. So back on the boat, I dropped my circle hook with a chunk of fresh, cut mullet to 20 feet and waited a bit, then went to 40 feet, then 60 feet, and I started to feel a fish nudging or mouthing the bait.
A ling will suck bait into its mouth, then spit it out again before you have time to set the hook. I was using a circle hook, and you don’t jerk it up like a J hook, instead you pull the rod tip up and simultaneously reel. The hook will catch in the side of the fish’s mouth. So I waited until I felt the fish swim with the bait and then raised my rod and turned the handle on my reel. The ling made a nose dive for the bottom, and I started to go toward the water, recovered, kept the rod tip up and held on while the fish tore line off of my reel. Then, when the fish tired a bit, I reeled and brought it a little closer to the boat. This up and down motion of fish and fisherman went on for some time until I finally worked the fish close enough to be gaffed.
The other legal and desirable species of fish on that rig was mangrove snapper, which taste just as good as red snapper. The problem is that they are tough to catch. The best way to rig your tackle to target mangrove snapper is to use a very light 15- or 20-pound leader, remove all the weight, and tie on a small hook. Cover the hook completely with your bait and then float it into the rig. Mangrove snappers swim in schools from the surface to the bottom. When the school comes by, chances are you’ll get a hit.
In July there is an abundance of bait in both inshore and offshore waters attracting hungry predators. So whether you are fishing offshore, in the surf, or in the bays, July is a great month to wet your line.
Location: Research Station Shoreline: This spot is great for kayak and wade fishing. To get to the water you have to walk (or carry your kayak) over some rocks, but once you reach the water, the terrain is hard sand so it is easy to launch your kayak or to wade-fish. It is located on the north side of West Matagorda Bay. It is subject to off-colored water on south winds, so it’s best to fish this spot on a light north wind. To get there turn south off Highway 35 onto FM 3280 west of Palacios and follow it until you come to the bay.
Email Mike Price at [email protected]