Bait It and They Will Come
W ater temperatures in our bay systems will continue to climb through July, peaking in August or early September. The forecast for the next 60 days is HOT and there won’t be any downward movement in water temperatures until after Labor Day.
There’s no denying that trout and redfish will strike lures during the heat of the summer but top coastal guides will verify that the catch rates on hardware go down as water temperatures go up. If you want to improve your catch rate during the heat of the summer, switch to bait.
That point was driven home on a recent trip to Rockport. A disheartening glance revealed whitecaps on Little Bay as I drove to the ramp. Water clarity had taken a severe hit over the last several days. Warm, turbid water had stacked the odds against fishing partner, Jim Darnell, and me. Or so it seemed.
Captains Ron Coulston and Cody Coulston greeted us at the ramp. Both were wearing infectious smiles instead of furrowed brows. If the conditions had them worried, there was little evidence.
After leaving Cove Harbor, we traveled south, hiding as best we could from the wind in the lee of spoil islands. We weren’t the only ones hiding from the wind. Squadrons of seagulls squatted together behind the spoils, enjoying a temporary rest from the breezes.
Captain Ron eased back on the throttle and killed the engine, just upwind of K Reef. Captain Cody, Ron’s grandson who has been his deckhand since he was 14, is now a licensed captain and he handled the anchoring duties on this trip. Darnell and I opted for artificials and both of us were fast to reds within several casts. We caught a few more reds but then things shut down. Repeated cast were ignored as the wind speed increased from High to Really High.
While Darnell and I were flailing away in futility, Captain Ron baited up two rods with chunks of freshly caught, cut mullet and deployed the baits off the stern. In less than a minute, the first rod bowed as a hefty redfish charged across the flat. A second red quickly followed suit and Darnell and I were both hooked up.
Captain Ron has guided the Rockport area for fifteen years and has been forced to fish in bad conditions more times than he cares to remember. The mark of a good guide is someone who can consistently put fish in the boat, even when wind, clarity, and tides aren’t optimum. Darnell and I caught and released thirty redfish that day, most of which came on bait.
Big chucks of fresh mullet were simply irresistible that morning. The senior Captain Coulston explained that his favorite redfish bait is fresh menhaden, but noted it can be difficult to catch at times. To my surprise, Coulston’s second favorite bait is cut skipjack. This stands to reason, as the flesh is extremely oily.
“When the wind starts blowing and water visibility goes down, it is important to get a lot of smell in the water,” the elder Coulston explained. “I have a rule: the higher the wind, the larger the chunk of bait on your hook.”
Captains Ron and Cody are both big fans of Gamakatsu circle hooks. I watched with interest as both captains baited hooks throughout the day. Rather than bury the hook in the middle of the bait, they would run the point of the hook through the outer wrapper of the cut mullet; the chunk of bait secured only through the thin skin.
Captain Ron continued saying, “Hooking the bait through the skin minimizes the chance of missing a hook up. If the hook is buried in the bait, the barb may not find purchase when the fish takes it in their mouth.”
We fished the cut mullet on several different bottom rigs that day. Over sandy bottoms, Captains Ron and Cody deployed fish finder rigs, equipped with egg sinkers. When fishing over heavy grass, Captain Ron favors a dropper rig equipped with a no-nonsense bottle weight dangling on the bottom. He carries an assortment of one- and two-ounce weights, depending on the situation.
Coulston likes dropper rigs in heavy grass because the weight falls through the grass, leaving the chunk of bait resting on top of the grass. Other rigs tend to pull the bait down into the grass. A one-ounce sinker is enough weight to pin a piece of cut bait to the bottom, but Captain Ron noted that two-ounce sinkers come in handy when he needs to make a long cast to reach the fish.
To learn more about Captain Ron or Cody Coulston, check out their web site at www.ronsrockportfishing.
The heat is only going to get worse this summer and water temperatures are going to heat up. When this happens, saltwater predators become lethargic and are less likely to hit artificial lures. If you want to increase your catch rate, bait it and they will come.
Email Greg Berlocher at ContactUs@fishgame.com