T he Flats, from Carlos Bay all the way to the Laguna Madre, should be holding redfish in February,” says Capt. Jack McPartland, a guide who fishes the Texas mid-coast area.
Some of the flats have well known names such as Estes Flats, Inside Dagger Island or Traylor, but most of the locations do not have GPS names.
“We have nicknames for them, but you won’t find them on a map,” continued McPartland in reference to guide speak. “I have some flats that I call the “football field,” the “Pig Pen.” These are names from the old days before cell phones. We would communicate with each other using VHF, like the CB of the water.”
Capt. Jack won’t give you the GPS of the hard-earned places he has discovered, but he will teach you how to find your own hot spots.
“I tell people if they pull up a map and look at the depths noted by the little numbers, they will figure out what I mean by the flats,” he said. “Almost all of what I call flats have a sand bar, a chain of spoils, or little islands that usually separate what I consider flats. Most of these places you can see, some you can’t.”
Bait or lure of choice is cut mullet, live mullet and live shrimp. Fish the live shrimp under a popping cork and adjust the length of leader for water depth.
“The main thing is to keep the shrimp just above the grass level on the floor of the bay,” Capt. Jack said. “If you can’t find a bait stand with bait, a gold spoon or Berkley Gulp in white or New Penny will work.”
Braided line is on the spools of his reel, with monofilament for leader material. “I use an 18-inch monofilament leader, tied line to line, no swivel” he told us. “You can’t hardly break braid. With the monofilament leader I can break it off, if one of my clients snags something other than a fish. I can tie another hook on three or four times, usually, before I have to tie on a whole new leader.”
Capt. Jack’s hook of choice for redfish is a 6/0 circle hook when using cut bait. “The circle hook will work fine for black drum also. You might go a little smaller for them. The main thing about the circle hook is that if the rod is in the rod holder, and they just bang it, the hook will self-set.
“I don’t care for the circle hook with live bait because it’s a thicker hook,” he said. “I’ve had a problem when the bait wiggles. They bore a hole in their body, and the bait actually falls off the hook.” When fishing with a live mullet he uses 4/0 Kahle hook.
He prefers finger mullet for live bait. “The only reason I differentiate finger mullet is that I have had some people catch mullet 12 inches long and try to fish them. Finger mullet is about the length of your finger.”
McPartland fishes live finger mullet on a Carolina rig. “Mullet are hyper,” he said. “If I throw a mullet into a pot hole, I don’t want them running off. I will use about an 18-inch leader with a swivel and about a ½ ounce egg weight above the swivel so when you throw it out there, he can’t just swim off.”
He has some little tricks for fishing mullet or pin perch. “With pin perch I usually try to free-line them. I cut the tails off them so they can’t swim off. Perch will live through that; mullet won’t.”
The dorsal fins on a perch are hard bone. “If you are not catching fish on perch, Capt. Jack said, “trim off that dorsal fin and all of sudden the fish will start eating.
“If the fish are aggressive they don’t give a dang, and they just eat, but I can’t count how many times we are working perch and we can’t get a fish. I know the fish are there. Trim that fin off, throw it back out there, jig it a couple of times, and thump, here we go. So, we start trimming off the dorsal fins.
“I had one client cut off every single fin. It looked like he had a wiggly silver dollar on the end of his line. He was giving the perch a fin manicure.”
Capt Jack has one last bit of advice for fishing the flats in February. “Check how high or how low the tides are, especially when fishing after a front blows through. It’s real easy to get grounded in skinny water, or worse, damage your boat and motor.”
Hotspot: Fish Pass, Mustang Island
Species: Trout, redfish flounder
Tips: Wade the flats.
Email Tom Behrens at [email protected]