Legends of the Fall
T wo things recommend October as a prime fishing month for coastal fishermen. First, milder weather and its cooling temperatures make offshore fishing a prime enhancement to the redfish and trout that put on the feedbag during the first sniffs of autumn.
Second, fewer boats are on the water because many people are recovering from the previous night’s football game. This is especially true if they stayed up late to celebrate—or forget, are on the deer lease getting ready for opening day, or bird hunting. An angler can get downright lonesome with the dearth of boats on the water during an October weekend. All that’s left is finding a few gamefish to stretch your line.
Anyone wanting to try their luck at offshore fishing doesn’t have to run far because the blue water is pushed close, sometimes all the way to the beach. Fish, both forage and predatory, drift in with the clean, clear water. Bonito, kingfish, tarpon, cero Mackerel, Spanish mackerel and a variety of sharks come rampaging in to dine on hapless baitfish. Among the blue-chippers is the big bruiser of the bunch: the ling.
It isn’t that hard to tempt these big, brown suckers, either. A chunk of the same bait that makes up the shrimper’s cull will suffice. Pin the bait on the hook, toss it in front of the ling’s nose, and watch him slurp it down. Set the hook, and hang on.
If there are no lings around the shrimp boats, it might take a little effort to track one down. The best bet is to hunt some fixed structure, such as buoys and oilrigs that sit just beyond the nine-mile state water boundary.
Anyone who has been to the state aquarium in Corpus and has viewed the oil rig habitat knows about the diverse environment under the body of one those industrial behemoths. They not only make an attractive spot for amberjacks, snappers, groupers, and pelagics such as wahoo and tuna, but for ling as well.
The maddening thing about ling is that they are sometimes surprisingly finicky. I’ve been in situations where they will turn up their broad brown noses at almost anything you throw at them—menhaden, cut bait, live hardtails, dynamite.
Over the years, I learned about a great technique that seemed to be strong medicine for the fish in the brown suit—the “Ling Thing.”
A Ling Thing was nothing special, really. It was a size 8/0 O’Shaugnessy hook (yes, the same hook used on catfish trotlines) with a white plastic skirt rigged onto it. The oversized eye on the O’Shaugnessy prevents the skirt from coming off and riding up the leader.
Onto the hook, he also threaded a large squid, much like you would a soft plastic. The rubber skirt provided both buoyancy and some added action, while the squid provided the prerequisite scent and flavor.
The setup would land in the water with very little sound—a plus when fish are spooky—and sank slowly. The skirt would flare out with a twitch of the rod, which made the squid seem alive and ready to flee. Any ling that came up to inspect the bait couldn’t pass it up. I’ve also experimented with both a Gulp! 8-inch Squid or Bait Strip. Both seem to work equally well, as should an Uncle Josh Pork-O.
The only problem was that sometimes, a smaller ling than the one you have been focused on would intercept the bait before Mr. Big could bite.
If the ling don’t seem to be cooperating, the kingfish usually are. Kingfish may be the largest biomass of pelagic gamefish on the Texas Coast, and these speedy marauders stay within easy reach of the “Mosquito Fleet” of small center consoles until the big cold fronts of November and December push them farther offshore.
On flat calm days, the passes and jetty points around Brazos Santiago and Mansfield are dotted with small boats drifting for the big mackerel.
Most of these boats are drifting or trolling with ribbonfish rigs and catch plenty of kings. If you are interested in a true smoker, however, you may want to try to get yourself a large live mullet or a hardtail and drift it on a rig with a balloon or stick float above it.
The bigger fish seem to prefer baitfish over ribbonfish (don’t think for one moment that there aren’t some monsters lurking within sight of the shoreline. Readers Anibal Gorena and State Judge Oscar Garcia report hooking into a monstrous kingfish within the Brazos Santiago jetties. They estimate it to have been more than five feet long and weighed in the high 40-pound range).
Autumn may mean the end of summer, but it also means that fishing heats up for anyone who wants to give it a try.
Email Calixto Gonzales at ContactUs@fishgame.com