MOST LOWER COAST ANGLERS will tell you that their favorite month to hit the water is November. Fewer anglers are out because hunting season is in full swing
The weather is much more moderate, transitioning between the searing heat of summer and the weekly cold fronts of winter. Most appealing to all about the Turkey Month is that the fishing takes off.
Redfish and trout cover the flats, flounders move to the edge of passes in anticipation of their migration, black drums start to show up in prodigious numbers and sizes, and pelagics such as blackfin tuna, kingfish, and even wahoos are within easy reach of a short jaunt.
The most exciting part of the entire November fishing experience, however, happens along the beachfront. Vast schools of small baitfish—usually pilchards, scaled sardines or the diminutive rain minnow—are corralled by various predators. Among them are the aforementioned kingfish, Spanish mackerel, bonita, large speckled trout and redfish, skipjack, and tarpon.
These voracious apex hunters tear into these schools with abandon. It’s quite a sight to behold, with bait spraying and jumping, large fish splashing, and gulls and pelicans joining in on the fun.
The action underneath baitballs can be ferocious, especially when predators begin strafing through them. As fish attack, even more show up and join in. The frenzy grows and grows until an angler can’t figure where to cast.
An angler with knowledge of how to run a boat in the surf and a sturdy bay boat can get in on the action. Choose a calm day and cruise within a quarter mile of the beachfront.
The baitballs are usually visible as dark shadows on the water that hold stationary as the waves and current roll over them. Sometimes it’s even easier to spot the balls because bait is crashing into it and birds are hovering and diving over them.
The prize quarry that hangs under these baitballs is the tarpon. Silver kings ranging from 40-pound juveniles to monsters pushing 180 or even 200 pounds cruise around and slurp down wads and wads of bait from these swimming buffets.
It’s easy to spot them rolling or flashing in the clear water of a calm November day. Bailey says that they can be easily fooled, if an angler plays the situation properly.
As with any other schooling situation, anglers should ease up to a baitball from the upwind side and drift in when possible A trolling motor is a great asset, because it will allow you to hold your position and prevent you having to come back around over and over.
Sight casting toward an area where a tarpon was immediately spotted either rolling or darting under the surface is the preferred method. However, plenty of anglers hook up while blind casting.
The lures for baitball tarpon is pretty straightforward: anything that can adequately match the hatch should be fine. The old standard is a ¼ ounce Johnson Sprite or Tony Acetta Spoon in chrome. The smaller size and silver flash mimic a rain minnow or white bait quite well.
Of course, the smaller hardware can be a liability if a really big tarpon or a kingfish grabs your offering. Some fishermen will switch out the small treble hook with a larger Sproat or O’Shaugnessy hook for a better hookup.
White bucktails such as ½ ounce Roadrunner or Spro jig, a white, clear/glitter or pearl soft plastic is also lethal. The old standard is the curly-tail grub, but shad tails and boot-tailed swimbaits work fine too. Whatever you throw, rig a short piece of wire to the bait. Spanish mackerel and kings also love these baits.
LiveTarget Lures has developed a series of plugs in their Baitball series that mimics smaller rain minnows and anchovies that make up these schools. Another option is some kind of tail. A soft plastic is ideal for this application because you can use a heavier jighead (such as ½ or ¾ ounce) to get the bait down quicker while still using the same sized tail.
Big tarpon aren’t the only critters hiding under the school of harried baitfish. Usually, some good-sized redfish and even speckled trout are sitting near the bottom to pick off any wounded or dead morsels that fall from above. As every angler out there knows, these gamefish will not turn their nose up to a soft plastic.
Fly anglers should have a blast fishing these baitballs. A standard eight- or nine-weight fly rod with a sinking fly line is ideal. White or silver flies such as a small Tarpon Bunny or Chicken Feather replace the white jig or spoon.
Again, a short segment of soft wire is a good idea to prevent or mitigate bite offs. Plenty of backing is a must, because a big tarpon or king can take a lot of line when they greyhound for the horizon.
Location: South Mansfield Jetties (accessible via South Padre Island Access Point 6)
Species: Redfish, tarpon, mangrove snapper.
Tips: Fish bait or soft plastics among the rocks for snappers, in the first and second guts for reds and spoons.
Email Calixto Gonzales at [email protected]