T article is in response to the many questions I am asked about fishing on the Texas coast.
“Captain Mac, what do you see as some of the biggest mistakes people make in fishing on the coast?” I was asked this by a client who decided to take a break while fishing with me not too long ago.
I had a canned speech I rattled off in rapid succession.
He laughed. “I gather you’ve been asked this before.”
“Well, yeah” I responded. “It almost always finds its way into conversations I have.”
Of course, off-shore, bay and bank fishing has many facets, but I have some tips an old salt like me might suggest concerning these mistakes and how to avoid them to improve your fishing game. I hope these suggestions help you. They are tried and proven over many years of hands-on experience and have benefited those who put them into practice.
One: Fishing too heavy—It’s pretty simple, and it applies to fishing literally all over the world, not just in Texas.
Lighter lines and lighter tackle equal more fish. Bi 1 ½-inch diameter rods and bigger, and power-winch-type reels might be good for off shore fishing, but are over-kill and unproductive for bay fishing.
I’ve seen some bay anglers use hooks literally larger than two human hands for alligators. It’s easy to get caught in the “bigger is better” game, but 95 percent of an angler’s catch can be handled by medium to medium-heavy tackle.
Hint: Show up at a boat ramp frequented by guides and look at the type tackle in use. You’re not gonna see the type reels Quint used in the movie Jaws.
Two: Not keeping your rod-tip up—The rod and reel is an energy-absorbing as well as maneuvering device. Over the years rod and reel has become excellent in catching fish.
To watch someone who truly understands this device and the skills it takes to use it properly is truly poetry in motion. The rod has many functions, but for now, I want to focus on three things. If you learn nothing more from this article than these three, it will be worth your while.
1) It (the rod) absorbs energy. It accomplishes this by flexing/bending much like a bow that shoots an arrow.
2) It expends energy. When casting, the flexing/bending increases the energy of an anglers casting efforts.
3) It is a maneuvering device. There is a bit of an art to making the fish go where you want it to go. The accomplished angler masters this skill with a rod.
Let’s see how these three work together. The rod absorbs the energy; it uses the energy from a hooked fish against the fish and when used properly holds the hook set in place—that is, in the fish. A rod fished at a 90-degree angle from the angler’s body (meaning straight out) CANNOT absorb or expend energy—it’s simply a matter a physics. To fish a rod that way one might as well be fishing with a hand line and no rod.
The proper rod angle from the pivot point in the person’s hand is about 45 to 50 degrees. Another way to describe this is about the 10 o’clock position on a face clock. This allows the rod to work for you in setting the hook as well as fighting the fish, expending and absorbing energy the whole time.
This technique goes double for fishing here in the Rockport area where so much oyster shell resides. A rod held straight out (at a 90-degree angle or less) is a cut line and lost fish begging to happen. The flex of the rod also allows an angler to maneuver a fish where he or she wants it to go.
This is NOT muscling or power pulling the fish, but using the flex of the rod to slowly turn the fish. It’s accomplished by a slight pressure applied horizontally (left or right) and slowly letting the rod turn the fish. Knowing how to do this is an important part of fully using a good rod.
Big fish/trophy fish, some swear deliberately, know how to cut a line off on under water structure. My theory is the truly big fish that are hooked seek structure to hide behind, that’s the way they have avoided being fish poop, allowing them to become trophy size.
An underwater prop/lower unit, anchor/rope, power pole is structure that a fish uses. Most large/trophy fish are lost within five feet of the boat. Enter braided line with its no-stretch characteristics and it’s easy to see why it’s replacing mono line (which has a lot of stretch). Now you have a case where rods and their ability to bend make the proper angle used even more important. I kept a log years ago on clients that fished both ways those that didn’t keep the rod tip up and those that did, the 45-degree angle (rod tip up) boated 70 percent more fish.
Three: You need a boat—This is the most expensive type fishing one can engage in, especially here in saltwater. One reader of my articles sent me a breakdown at a price per pound for boat fishing and it worked out to about $1,000 per pound of fish taken home, and that didn’t include maintenance. Even an avid recreational angler who fishes say 10-15 times a year is looking at well over $200 per pound (a study of recreational anglers who use their own boats concluded that most after the first two years, fish fewer than five times a year). Just the logistics of storage, launching, lack of parking and breakdowns from lack of use can be reason enough to apply one’s time to bank/pier fishing.
I know several avid bank beaters (bank fisher people) whom I will put up against any boat angler as to number of keeper fish caught. You don’t need a boat to take fish home. Yes, it requires skill, planning, perseverance, but it also offers freedom, relaxation and less stress than a boat owner.
One lady told me she just dreads going fishing with her husband because of their boat. “I don’t back the trailer well, we must get up too early just to find a place to park, the boat breaks down, and more often than not we seldom catch fish, how does that equal fun?” she asked.
To be brutally honest most professional fishing guides see recreational anglers as runabouts, tearing boats up, running over habitat, and many impeding (messing up) the fishing of others, not even realizing it. In their defense, though, some are better all-around anglers and more respectful than some guides. The coastal waters are NOT the place to learn how to pilot a boat. Those that do normally pay the price.
Four: Bait caster for casting live bait (almost an oxymoron). In the hands of an accomplished angler, a bait casting reel is highly effective, but for the angler who doesn’t use a reel every week it can be a recipe for disaster. I have clients who can throw a bait caster almost as well as I can throw a spinning reel. Most will admit though that a spinning reel on the right rod will out-cast a bait caster in distance almost every time.
The spinning reel is not as smooth and it tends to be as one client called it “clunky” with all its moving parts, but when it comes to baits being of the natural variety (live and cut bait) the differences in the weight of the baits when re-baiting from cast to cast can create all kinds of time consuming problems for bait casting reels—mostly backlashes and nests which are totally frustrating for most anglers.
The reason for this is usually two-fold. One: the bait casting reel has a counter weight setting. Although it works well for one bait, the next one might be a different weight creating too much or not enough to balance out the weighed offset.
Two: the angler is not experienced in casting a reel that he or she has just picked up, which is the case when fishing with a guide. Add the windy conditions, and a bait caster in the hands of a novice is a good way to ruin a day’s fishing. Guides who use bait casters almost always do all the casting. If a guide is gonna berate a client, the source is usually a bait cast reel that now looks like a bird’s nest.
Five: Lack of a license or an expired license. In talking with a game warden I highly trust and think a lot of (Scott McLeod), I asked him what are the biggest reason he experiences for citations here in our area.
No license or expired license was the main one. He explained the angler’s excuse for no license is one you can kinda understand—they’ve seldom been checked by a game warden and most only fish for one day, or just play the odds.
That’s a mistake, he said. For the expired license, most pertain to the Year to Purchase License which runs for one year from the month / date of purchase (not from August 31st like most licenses). With either type of license, for most it’s a matter of just losing track of the expiration date.
Six: Not enough PFD’s / life jackets and no Throwable Type IV flotation devices—Many simply just lose track of how many they have in the boat; most don’t know anything about the Throwable Type IV Flotation. Another biggy is a child under 13 not wearing a PFD. If you wanna see what a citation looks like, this is a for sure way to find out.
Seven: Keeping Undersized Fish—Bank fishermen tend to be the ones who do this the most. The reasons vary, but most assure they did check the length, and it just shrank. In their defense, the cause may not be an optical brain fog on their part. A fish that is very close to the legal length, then put on ice can shrink, especially if it’s in ice-cold water.
The rule of thumb for me is a 15-inch trout can shrink 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch going from warm water to an ice-cold ice chest. I seldom if ever keep fish that are that close to the legal mark. Fish in a live well that are undersized almost never shrink as a matter of fact some studies say they can gain 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Let me add it matters which angle you’re at when measuring. When fish are close to the mark, one should be directly above the scale when viewing the size.
Eight: No Over-Sized Red Tag—A red fish over the limit (over 20 inches) must be tagged immediately. A tag in the pocket or one lying on the boat console is NOT considered a tagged fish. I have seen many people tag an oversized red fish at the cleaning table. That’s a citation waiting to happen. Also, some get large black drum and reds confused. Enter the hybrids (cross between a red and black drum) that many say do not exist, and it can get confusing. If you’re not sure, turn it loose.
Nine: Game wardens are the enemy—Nothing could be farther from the truth. If you fish and hunt, YOU should know the law.
In my experience if a game warden sees you really tried to adhere to the regulations, and you’re not being a pain in the butt, some slack is often given. Of course, there are game wardens who are jerks. Welcome to the human race! The lion’s share, however, are passionate men and women who dearly love our natural resources. You try to pull the wool over their eyes and you’re gonna get spanked, plain and simple.
Game wardens have bad days too. They are human. Based on the conversations with several game wardens I know, there are reasons one might be terse with a hunter or angler. These reasons include but are not limited to One: the angler/boater they checked just before you gave them a hard time, and it just carried over to you, again that’s human nature. Two: Their assignment that day may not be their favorite ex: maybe they were assigned safety checks for the day, something they don’t like to do. Three: Assisting in a bad or fatal accident, which they often get called to, can also set a tense tone for the day. Game wardens are not bullet proof; they take an oath to protect our natural resources and apply the laws thereof. If you are hunting or fishing today thank a game warden, for without them it’s doubtful those natural resources would be there for us to enjoy.
Ten: Non-aerated bait buckets—an angler buys live shrimp or croaker or mullet, spends his or her hard-earned money, gets to their favorite fishing spot and instead of live bait they now have fresh dead bait. For usually one reason, no aerator in the bait bucket.
During the summer bait in a bait bucket can die within 15 minutes. To aerate is to introduce oxygen into a given material, in this case water. The finer the air bubbles the better. Change the water out every hour and CLEAN the bucket with fresh saltwater before getting the live bait.
A bait bucket that is all-inclusive with insulated sides, a bubbler and a lid is cheap insurance for a good day’s fishing. Live bait 3/4 of the year is gonna catch more fish. Open the bait bucket lid while fishing for CO2 to outgas properly and remove the batteries from the bubbler if you’re not going to use it for more than a week.
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August is still live bait territory, but those who add some soft plastics to their angling arsenal are wise beyond their years. By now the fish have had every live bait known to the Texas coast and some not so known. (One guy uses red wigglers and catches some nice fish on them.) So changing up the game now can be very productive.
Morning glory, new penny, pearl white and sapphire shine are good colors to try. If live bait isn’t working, throw some of these soft plastics. You might get your arm broke, they will hit them so hard.
Copano Bay– Early morning, work the northwest shoreline close to the Turtle Pen Area for reds; finger mullet free-lined is a good choice here. Some keeper trout on Little Lap Reef with free-lined croaker being the best choice.
Aransas Bay– Wades down Blackjack Point are good for reds using mud minnows and finger mullet. Free-line is best here. Halfmoon Reef is a good spot for trout using croaker free-lined. The potholes on the north side of Mud Island are a good spot for trout and reds using croaker and finger mullet on a light Carolina Rig.
St. Charles Bay– The mouth of Cavasso Creek is still holding some keeper trout, with shrimp under a rattle cork the best choice. Bird Point is a good place for reds and some black drum using free-lined live shrimp.
Carlos Bay– The shoreline adjacent to Cedar Point is a good wade for reds using mud minnows or cut mullet. Free-line is best here if the wind allows. Otherwise, a VERY light Carolina rig you can work slowly across the bottom is a good choice. Third Chain is a good spot for black drum using fresh dead shrimp under a silent cork.
Mesquite Bay– Wades between Ballou Island and Cedar Bayou are good for trout and some reds using free-lined croaker. Some flounders and reds on the east shoreline with free-lined live shrimp as the best choice.
Ayers Bay– Some black drum may be found on Second Chain. A silent cork is best here with live shrimp. Use a light Carolina Rig with small Kahle hooks and cut pieces of squid to catch some nice sheepshead off Rattle Snake Island.
The airport shoreline just off 1781 is a good spot to set up for reds in the late evening. The area has many small reefs and deep edges. Cut mullet on a medium heavy Carolina rig works well here. If you can’t wade, the shoreline is best fished with a prevailing south wind.
Email Capt. Mac Gable at [email protected]