T he scrabbly oyster reef that a month before had roosted low-tide flocks of seagulls was nowhere to be seen. We motored slowly across the Galveston Bay cove.
The point of saltgrass was over there, and the old duck blind was back there, so that means the long crescent of reef should be—CRUNCH—right about here.
“Well, at least we found it,” said Forrest West. He cut the engine and peered with casual disregard at the shell-chewed wake. He had seen the tides of time and controversy ebb and flow, and it took more than minor contact with an unforgiving bottom to raise a salty eyebrow.
“This just shows you how much water is in these bays now,” he said, grabbing a wading belt and a long casting rod rigged with a 51M MirrOlure. “There’s at least a foot more tide. We’re over the worst of summer and heading into fall!”
We slipped into the thigh-deep water. The September current felt good—maybe not cool, just not as hot. The beckoning promise was unmistakable. We could see, even smell, the life.
The water was the rich “trout green” that carried perhaps two feet of visibility, excellent for working lures. The ripe smell of watermelon drifted on the southeast breeze, and several tight, oily slicks showed farther down the reef. Scattered pods of finger mullet milled and flipped and splashed and, once, a frantic brown shrimp skipped across the surface.
West eased left, and I shuffled right then we moved parallel, working across the sloping edges of shell.
I made a long cast with a green/silver 51M and began a quick retrieve, hoping to excite a chain reaction of nervous mullet. The trick often works if speckled trout or redfish are following the massed bait. A heavy swirl and boil bounced the rod but the tip sprang back—a swing and a miss.
I cranked fast for another cast, muttering, and saw West’s rod slash down. “Got him!” he hooted. The surface bucked against the crash of a fine speck. I retrieved the plug then sailed another shot over the reef.
A trout must have seen the gaudy bauble arching across the blue afternoon sky. The lure never seemed to hit the water. It just disappeared in a lusty splash.
“Even you ought to be able to hook that one,” West laughed. “Whoa! Whoa!”
His fish bolted against the light drag, scattered a spray of mullet. My fish hung “out there” on a long line, and I savored the delicate give and take of playing a good trout on a light rod. We worked our fish in tandem until they plodded in tired circles near cautious legs. I extended the high tip at arm’s length to steer my fish through open water.
The silver and spotted trout slid close, and I made a clean stab with thumb and forefingers across the shoulder. The plug was pinned to the jaw and gill plate, and I made certain the grip was well away from the trailing hooks. Of all the popular lures for inshore duty, the elongated mullet plugs with three sets of trebles demand the most respect in a splashy close-quarters drill.
My speck weighed perhaps four pounds. West’s was clearly larger, probably pushing five. “Well, I’ll just string this six pounder,” he said, matter of fact. “You’d better keep chunking if you don’t want to fall too far behind.”
But there was no falling behind on that rich September tide. An aggressive school of specks was following the bait, hanging along the edges of shell, and we strung our 10-trout limits within an hour. All were solid fish. Of course, I managed to lose a grand “yellow mouth” that shook free during a furious wallow while West cawed and cackled in the background.
That trip occurred perhaps 30 years ago. I’ve enjoyed many since, but fondly recall the long-ago session. In the salty vernacular of the day, it was “ice cream.” And it is a reminder of the September bounty awaiting coastal anglers.
Gone are the dregs of summer, the stagnant days of steaming swelter, struggling tides and nagging southwest wind. The autumnal equinox (September 22) virtually assures strong tidal movements through the major passes and into the primary bays, back lakes and estuaries. The seasonal influxes of Gulf currents, often aided and abetted by late-season tropical storms, are a supercharger, carrying shrimp and crabs and baitfish and putting the inshore predators on the prowl.
As another plus, the higher water levels open new areas of fishing potential. Some of the best September fishing is for redfish rooting and cruising and “tailing” along the saltgrass shorelines of the bays and lakes. Stalking and sight casting with plug or fly takes the shallow-water game to its highest level.
September also marks the beginning of cooler water as the first puffs of weak “northers” push across the coast. Inshore readings during the ninth month typically drop from the mid 80s to the low 80s, even dipping into upper 70s—ideal for wet wading.
The cooling currents prolong shallow-water feeding and, increasingly, the midday and afternoon hours can be productive. The “dawn patrol” is not as critical as it was during the heated blasts of July and August.
This combination of strong tides and cooling currents makes September a prime month for bay fishing all along the Texas coast. Crowds remain a major issue, but it is safe to say that overall fishing pressure in the wake of Labor Day weekend is reduced.
An end-of-summer consciousness combined with the openings of dove and teal seasons tend to open up more expanses of green water for the serious plugger. If you get a late start on September, have hope—October can be even better.
Email Joe Doggett at [email protected]