Be Sharp, Catch Fish

T he bite was finicky. It was the bottom of the summer and the local area had been hammered with vacationers and fishing guides using any and every bait available.

This includes, but is not limited to Vienna sausages, hair ribbons, red wigglers, cut feral hog, mango slices, fish bites soaked in WD40, frayed nylon rope, and small pieces of a truck antenna.

I didn’t really care to see it, but I did see bull and goat testicles soaked in anise oil. These are not baits I heard about, but actually saw as the proud angler shared his latest fishing secret.

How can you not love fishing when there are so many diverse approaches to our beloved sport? I’ve gotten to where I actually seek out those who look like they are a bit different, either in mannerism or devices used in fishing.

I do it because it’s just plain fun to see real ingenuity and creativeness at work. Also, some actually do work, and some work really well. 

One particular instance was the by now well-known jalapeno bait. If you haven’t seen the video of a coastal guide catching reds on jalapenos then you missed a good one. Look it up, just don’t get caught in the hype.

On this day however it wasn’t a guide but a local angler who had theorized fishing with fresh-picked jalapenos had to be the best kept secret. According to him, it would, once word got out, revolutionize the fishing industry.

“Capt. Mac” he said, “did you catch some fish today?”

“A few” I said, “but how many keepers I really can’t say as the trip was a ‘catch and release’ trip. My clients seemed happy so all is good here!”

“Well’ he said, “I didn’t do so well with my new bait” at which point I got the low down on the jalapeno miracle he was trying.

“No bites?” I more said than asked.

“Oh no, I got plenty of bites but no catches.” He now had my attention.

“So you got bites on these mouth burners (jalapenos)?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes indeed, went through a bag and a half.”

“You wouldn’t pull a fishing liar’s leg?” I asked looking down grabbing my leg and shaking it.

“No” he said seriously, “I had quite a few hits but I have deduced that it’s not the taste of the pepper they were after but rather the color and the shape.”

He had again gotten my now tired attention so I added, “Well, I think you’re on to something there.”

In the wide array of colors available these days most color wave lengths are absorbed at relatively shallow depths rendering them all but invisible, but as research suggests there are two colors whose wavelengths are not absorbed at any depth light is allowed to penetrate, and those colors are yellow and you got it GREEN.

“Was the water muddy (as was probably the case given the 20 plus mph wind)? If so your peppers were probably sticking out like a neon sign. SO, you got a lot of half bites – meaning the bait/pepper was short bitten in two about halfway up?”

“No, quite the contrary” he quipped (I was obviously talking to an educated man) “the peppers were completely absent from the hook.”

Absent from the hook! Sometimes it is indeed a pleasure to speak with higher education, as it’s a rare treat in the circles I travel. Anyway, he now had me energized and seeking the culprit to missing peppers and no fish hooked.

“Sir, may I look at your rigging?”

“Well of course,” he agreed, “but I can assure you I am most circumspect in my fishing approach and rarely deviate from successful modus operandi.”

Dang, I thought—not sure what circumcision in one’s lower extremities had to do with peppers, but if it caught fish I would stay engaged. He pulled the rod from his rod holder and I found a 30 lb braid main line, and 25 lb. mono for a leader, a slip sinker above the swivel on the main line, all tied with a modified cinch knot.

Continuing on, a 3/0 kahle hook was tied to the mono leader with a cinch knot. I was about to quiz him on his abilities in handling the $300 rod when out of habit I ran my hand down to the hook.

“Hmmm” I grunted.

“Wrong size hook” he quickly asserted.

“Uh, no, but I’ve seen butter knives that are sharper than the point of your hook.”

“Most disturbing,” he announced, “but I doubt this is the reason as the hook, I can attest, was taken from the package just this morning and so it was out of the box sharp.”

“Let’s check it out; got the package of hooks?” Upon inspection nine out of nine hooks were indeed out of the box sharp—duller than a bag of hammers.

“REALLY?” He seemed indignant, but agreed to let me at least sharpen the hooks for him.

“Try these, and while I’m not convinced enough on your miracle bait to start a jalapeno garden, I know sure as God’s got sandals this will help to get more hook ups. Keep me posted on the pepper bite please!”

We all have fetishes—mine is my anchor and sharp hooks. If you see me fiddling with someone’s rod it is usually checking the hook.

It’s a habit much like patting your pocket when seconds before you just put your keys in it. It gets me in trouble honestly, especially at boat ramps where other anglers/guides leave unattended boats and rods to park their trailers. I, in turn, wander over and inevitably run my thumb across the hooks now tied to the rod’s fishing line. 

If I come across a dull one it’s all I can do to not immediately grab my ceramic stone and put a needle fine point on the less than acceptable hook. At the very least I shake my head and look down at the ground in a disapproving manner (or at least I’ve been told).

“What the !@#$%^** is wrong with you?” my buddies ask. “Leave my rods alone. I guess you think your stuff is better? If you wanna think something, think a good point on those hooks! Good Lord man, it is sacrilegious for any angler, but especially a guide, to go out on the water with hooks you could sit on point-up, ride on all day in rough water, and never draw blood.”

“Why don’t you go make someone else’s life miserable for a while?” comes the typical response.

Hook sharpening is not that difficult. It is much easier than sharpening a knife and a good hook sharpener can cost as little as $5. If you want to get extravagant, $60 versions are available.

I use a ceramic stone with a V cut into it. It was a broken piece from a knife sharpening stone, and I use it for all sorts of small sharpening tasks and keep a small piece in my boat just for hooks. Just a few passes in the V of the stone and my hooks are pretty much needle-sharp.

Packaged hooks are notorious for NOT being sharp, especially now that every manufacturer has off-loaded production overseas. I won’t get into the metallurgy or lack thereof of these overseas-produced hooks.

Suffice it to say I’ve had more hooks break in the last five or so years than in the previous 20 plus years. So what constitutes sharp? Well, contrary to popular opinion, a hook does not need to be so sharp just looking at it will hurt/stick you.

How do you check sharpness without a microscope? One way is by placing your thumb with the thumb nail up flat on a surface then place the point of the hook at a 45 degree angle to your thumb nail and run it down your thumb nail. If the hook does not hang up or dig in immediately it needs to be sharpened.

I just run it down the inside of my thumb, and it if slides easily across my skin I sharpen it until it digs in with very light pressure.

Word of caution: Most hooks you’re going to sharpen have probably had bait on them so billions of bacteria are just waiting to take hold in an unsuspecting wound. The thumb NAIL technique works well unless you happen to miss the nail and hang the hook in the cuticle, in which case infection in this area can be very hard to get rid of, especially if they get under the thumb nail.

If you are a little squeamish, draw it across the fiberglass of your console. The same rule applies—if it does not dig in, sharpen it.

Also clean the hook point before you sharpen it, as any bait or oil etc. left on the hook can cause your sharpener to load up, rendering the stone/sharpener less effective.

Hooks in and of themselves are a science, but to catch fish you don’t need a PhD in Materials Science and Metallurgy. The art of the hook is pretty simple. Size your hook to your bait; size the bait to the species of fish you’re after. The smallest adequately-sized hook is always best for live bait. Keep your hooks sharp and do not trust the manufacturer to do this. Dull out on the water usually equals feeding and not catching.



Copano Bay — The deep-water edges just off Swan Lake are good place for reds using finger mullet or cut mullet. Free-lined is best on a medium heavy Carolina rig. The north shoreline close to Mission Bay is a good place to wade for reds and some sheepshead. Use finger mullet for the reds on a free line and a piece of shrimp or squid on small hooks under a silent cork for the sheepies. Lap Reef Bank is still holding some trout with free-lined croaker being the best presentation.

St. Charles Bay — Some black drum may be found at the mouth of Salt Creek. Peeled shrimp on a very light Carolina rig works best here. Drifts across Meile Dietrich Point are good for reds and some keeper trout using soft plastics in new penny and nuclear chicken and pearl white. Some keeper trout may be found at the mouth of Cavasso Creek with free-lined croaker the best choice.

Aransas Bay — Thompson’s Towheads is a good place for trout using free-lined croaker. Some keeper reds are at Halfmoon Reef early morning. Live finger mullet is best here on a light Carolina rig. Paul’s Mott Reef is good for trout and reds on a falling tide. Free-lined croaker or mud minnows work well here.

Carlos Bay — Cedar Reef is a good place for reds using cut menhaden free-lined. This area also holds some keeper trout with croaker or live shrimp the best bait of choice.

Mesquite Bay — The mouth of Little Brundrett Lake is a good place for reds late evening. Cut mullet or soft plastics work well here. Use a free line for the cut mullet and Berkley Gulp Jerk shad in camo and glow colors for the soft plastics. The shoreline of Ballou Island is good for reds and black drum using finger mullet and croaker free-lined for the reds. Use fresh dead shrimp on a light Carolina rig for the drum. The spoil area just off Roddy Island is good for sheepshead using a silent cork and peeled shrimp.

Ayers Bay — The reefs off of Rattlesnake Island have some black drum and sheepshead best fished with a popping cork and shrimp. Second Chain is still holding some keeper reds and a few trout with free-lined croaker being the bait of choice.

Here’s wishing you tight lines, bent poles, and plenty of bait.


Location: Wades off Live Oak Point at the south end of the LBJ causeway is a way to catch nice trout. Spoons in gold and red and soft plastics in sardine and new pepper neon colors are good producers.


Email Capt. Mac Gable at captmac@macattackguideservice.com 

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