E arly September is a great time to go offshore or to fish from the beach. In both locations the water is typically calm and clear.
For boats going offshore, ling, kingfish, dorado, tarpon, and even sailfish venture to within 25 miles of the beach. On the beach, anglers are treated to a great variety of fish hungrily feeding in the surf. But early September is also when the weather and water are at their warmest, and these conditions bring the possibility of a sudden summer squall, tropical storm or hurricane.
We have ample warning when a hurricane or tropical storm threatens, but summer squalls can form quickly and change the Gulf of Mexico from friendly and fun, to ugly and dangerous. When Gordon Bradeen and I surfaced from a scuba dive on a rig 40 miles offshore, the fisherman in the boat next to us said, “I just heard on the weather radio that a big storm is moving toward us from the east. I’m heading in and I suggest you do the same.”
Gordon and I started back to Matagorda in calm seas, but soon the wind kicked up accompanied by dark clouds dumping copious amounts of rain. Gordon’s boat was 21 feet long, and the seas were 12 feet high. We had our wetsuits and lifejackets on as neither of us thought that we would make it to safe harbor.
At one point a massive wave came over the transom, and we were both concerned about losing the engine, but it continued to run and Gordon handled his boat expertly, quartering into the seas, generally in the direction of the Matagorda jetties. If he had handled the boat in any other way, we would have certainly been rolled and swamped. As we approached the beach, the weather abated, and we did not have far to run along the beach to the entrance of the jetties. We both experienced a huge sigh of relief when we realized that we had made it back safely.
If we had ended up in the water, we would have had several advantages: Gordon was wearing a personal EPIRB that would have sent distress signals and our location to the Coast Guard, we were both wearing wet suits which would have provided warmth, positive buoyancy, and sun protection, and we had life jackets on. Sudden squalls often show up on the beach, especially in the afternoon, but you will be fairly safe from wind and lighting if you sit in your vehicle.
When calm, blue water, loaded with finger mullet, menhaden, and billions of little minnows is up to the beach, it brings in all sorts of predators. I was wade fishing on the west side of the jetties in these conditions when a 24-inch spanish mackerel leaped out of the water in front and to the right of me, arched higher above me, and landed on my left.
Spanish mackerel is one popular species to target, but the technique used to catch this fish varies from what you would use to attract other desirable species. Spanish mackerel like shiny, fast, prey. You may want to use a silver spoon attached to a wire leader because their sharp teeth will slice through a fluorocarbon or monofilament leader.
Speckled trout cruise the guts between the sandbars in schools, and they will go for a lure from the surface to the bottom. When you catch one, put it on the stringer as fast as possible and get your lure back out there, because soon they will move on.
Redfish like the trough, so if you want reds, allow your lure to bounce on the bottom. Bluefish are one of several fish that will hit artificial lures and live or dead bait. They are found at various depths. I have never kept one, but Vic Dunaway, author of Sport Fish of the Gulf of Mexico says, “Small bluefish make fine table fare if broiled or pan-fried soon after being landed.” Another common catch in the surf is whiting and they are very good eating. Sand trout move in large schools and they are fun to catch, and are good to eat if cooked fresh.
Beach and offshore waters have many calm and clear water days in September. Enjoy these fine fishing opportunities, but keep safety in mind.
Kayaking Off the Beach: There are not very many days that you can safely take a kayak through the surf and fish, but the calm days of September support that endeavor. Texas law requires a life jacket to be in your kayak, but when you go offshore, it is wise to wear it. Anything that can go overboard, such as your paddle or tackle box, should be attached to a line.
Typically a current runs parallel to the beach; figure out which way it is going and have someone drop you off so that you can drift with the current. Make sure you are capable of paddling against the current to return to your launch spot.
You might hook into a shark or other big fish that you think might be dangerous or you don’t want to fight, so make sure that you have a way to cut your line in a hurry. When you get one of these exceptionally calm days in your kayak, chances are you will have a special experience. One of my most memorable kayak excursions off Matagorda Beach was when a bottlenose dolphin swam next to me for several minutes, making eye contact.
Email Mike Price at [email protected]