T here is no disputing that jetty systems hold fish. The combination of solid, multi-leveled structure, tidal flow, access to deeper water, and variety of forage make them natural magnets for speckled trout, redfish, flounder, snook, mangrove snapper, sheepshead, assorted panfish, tarpon, and even goliath grouper and blue-water species.
It isn’t uncommon for the lucky angler to pound the pink Central Texas granite that protects Gulf passes up and down the Texas Coast and head home at the end of the day with five or more different species of fish in the cooler. A good day on the rocks is fun. A great day is memorable.
Still, jetty fishing is not without its issues. There are algae-slicked, knee-shredding rocks waiting to reach up and trip the unsuspecting rock-hopper. Sharp edges can scrape and cut knees and calves with surprising ease.
Even the thickest-soled shoes can’t prevent the spine of a long-dead and shriveled hardhead from finding the soft and tender flesh of your foot. Even if you don’t bleed, you can still get hurt. I have a crowsfoot fracture of my right kneecap as proof.
These concerns are but minor inconveniences, however. After all, what’s a little bit of spilled blood and lost skin in the face of a wide-open bite?
The gravest issue for anglers, especially when the current is running strong, is not losing a tackle box full of lures, hooks, sinkers, and leaders to the rock gods. Slipping on a wet rock might leave you with a dislocated knee cap or a bird-foot fracture of same, but losing your last red/white Catch 2000 to a snag when that’s all the trout are hitting can be downright crippling!
Over the years, some sharpies have developed a variety of techniques that can minimize how much tackle you lose to breakoffs you suffer on a typical jetty excursion. A little out-of-the-box thinking and some “Why didn’t I think of that?” ideas can go a long way towards keeping your tackle box filled while filling the ice box.
Most anglers will not dispute the effectiveness of natural baits in general, and around the jetties in particular. Live shrimp fished around the rocks is a foolproof way of getting bites, albeit some of those bites will be from ubiquitous bait stealers such as pinfish and grunts.
Redfish, big mangrove snappers, and the occasional tarpon are present. The problem is that the most popular ways to rig a live bait setup—the fish finder rig and the split-shot rig—are rock magnets. Sinkers get stuck in crevices and under rock lips (hooks actually don’t snag up as much as you may think because they drift above the sinker). More often than not, you break off, cuss, and re-tie.
Some anglers work their way around snags by suspending their baits underneath popping corks or other floats. These rigs can become ungainly, however, if you need to rig your baits deep. If you choose to eschew a float, you can mitigate breakoffs, however, with a simple modification of both the Carolina and split shot rig.
The sliding leger is a slip-weight rig that was I first encountered while fishing for smallmouth bass on the Big Manistee River in Michigan. It allows you to fish with some weight along a rocky bottom without snagging, or minimizing the loss of tackle when snagged. Fold a two-inch length of line over your main line above the hook (or if you are using a leader of any kind, above the swivel). Clamp a selection of #3 or #4 split shot onto the doubled line. The number depends on the amount of weight you want or need. Allow enough of a loop for the weights to slide up and down the main line. If you don’t have a swivel splicing leader to line, a split shot will serve the same purpose.
If any of the split shot should snag while you’re using this rig, a steady pull will allow the trapped sinkers to slip off the doubled line and release the remainder of the rig. Reel in and replace the lost split shot.
Cutting down on snags with artificial lures is a different story. With the exception of topwaters, almost every lure fished around the jetties is prone to snagging, especially soft plastics on leadhead jigs. That is not to say that you can’t reduce the frustration of losing money, time, and fish by losing one lure after another to the jetties.
With jigs, most snags occur on the jighead. The bullet-shape of most swim heads lends itself to wedging just so in a crevice. The more you pull, the more it wedges into its new home. The end result is a breakoff.
Next time you are using a soft plastic on the jetties, try rigging it onto a straight-shanked flutter hook, such as the ones designed by H&H lures or an Owner swimbait hook. These hooks have the weight fixed to the shank of the hooks, and are usually used with jerkbaits and eel-type plastics.
The straight-shanked flutter hook can also be rigged on a swimbait with the hook inside the body. You have the same weight and action as with a standard jighead, but no forward weight to get wedged on the rocks.
Another good option is a lima bean-shaped jighead, also known as an Upperman head. The flat shape of these heads helps the bait glide over rocks. The only drawback is that the flat shape can allow the jig to wedge into rocks if they are fished too slowly.
If you prefer using hard baits, try a large-billed diving crankbait. Bass fishermen will tell you that a diving crankbaits best snag guard is the diving bill. The bill of the crankbait bounces off rocks and other obstructions and prevents the bait from snagging. Not only that, the sudden, jolting change in action can initiate a reaction strike from any nearby predators.
Moreover, most crankbaits float. If the lure actually snags onto a rock, give it some slack line to allow it to float upward and away from the obstruction. Once it clears the snag, resume your retrieve (that is, if a fish hasn’t busted the durn thing).
You will snag up while fishing the jetties. That is a given. Using some of these techniques, however, will determine whether most of those snags are rocks or fish.
Email Cal Gonzales at
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]