YOU’VE GOT TO LOVE springtime on the Texas Coast. It isn’t because the fishing is better in the spring; as you’ve seen in the pages of this magazine, fishing is always good on the coast for the fishermen in the know.
Spring is special more because of the sense of renewal that seems to permeate the air. Even after a mild winter such as we just experienced, the sun feels truly warm again, and blue skies are predominant. There may be a moderate to strong wind, but it is out of the southeast. Even the water seems better, with emerald green replacing the sandy, dun colors of winter. Fishing in the winter can be good, even great, but spring just feels better.
It should be no surprise, then, that fishing styles become more aggressive. I’ve shared many a boat with fishermen who wing out long casts and start working a lure—especially soft plastics—with an almost frantic, fast retrieve. The rod tip is up and whipping and the jig darts along. If they’re fishing topwaters, they snap them along in tight wiggles that make internal rattles sound off tick tick tick tick tick. As Micky told Rock in Rocky II, “what we need is speed!”
These fast, pedal to the metal strategy catches lots of fish. Trout and redfish are starting to work the winter kinks out of their bodies, and they are beginning to key in on young and emerging baits. They’re hungry, and very aggressive. Anglers box a lot of these fish.
The larger redfish, trout and flounder especially, usually pass this extended Chinese Fire Drill relatively unscathed. I remember a particular trip one April weekend in 2010 with Texas Sportsman host Fred Rodriguez and Dargel Boats and custom rod designer Roland Marroquin. We had dialed into some good numbers of speckled trout along the Color Change north of the Long Bar. They were good fat trout in the 16-inch range, and they were busting our quick-worked Gulp! Jerk Shads. The wind was light, and the clarity along the transition zone of the change was good enough to sometimes see the fish strike. I was passing my lure over a sand bar and a saw a larger trout—about 22 inches—come up and follow my bait.
In a moment of panic, I sped my bait up just a bit, and the three-pound fish turned off and disappeared. On spec, I shot another cast into the same pothole and worked bait back at a winter-slow pace. This time I felt a solid thump! After a brief struggle, I flipped the bigger trout into the boat, and after a brief discussion with Rodriguez for the sake of the camera, released the yellowmouth back to her spot.
How many comparable or better fish have I missed like that during spring trips? How many have we all miss. The bigger trout don’t like chasing down their food, they prefer to ambush slower moving wounded or dying baitfish. Even in spring and summer, the bigger trout don’t like moving too much.
So the key to maximizing the opportunities at larger trout is to slow down your presentations. In winter, the use of twitch baits such as the Mirrolure Catch 5, Catch 2000 and the B&L Corky call for ultra-slow presentations. Ditto for some of the swimbaits such as the DOA Airhead. The slow presentation allows fish that have become sluggish due to cooler water temperatures to key in on the lures. The same principal, though not in such as dramatic example, applies year ’round.
I’ve also found great success with a titanium-wired popping cork such as the Paradise Popper. The float offers an added element of sound to the setup; more importantly, it forces an angler to slow down the presentation. The bait stays in a bigger fish’s strike zone much longer, and Ol’ Mustardmouth doesn’t have to go chasing dinner.
Another favored technique among guides and veteran trout hunters is to use lighter jigheads than the standard ¼ and 1/8th ounce. Heads weighing as little as 1/16th and even 1/32nd ounce aren’t uncommon. The smaller jigheads allow the baits to descend in the water column more slowly, thus allowing for slower presentations. This technique is especially lethal along color changes and potholes on grass flats.
I’ve also been experimenting with rigging my swimbaits with the un-weighted version of the LazerSharp L11118G Swimbait hook. A swimbaits’ buoyancy is enough to allow the heavy wire hooks to create a slow sink. This setup was very successful on snook and large speckled trout in South Bay and Mexequita Flats on Lower Laguna Madre. The slow presentation even goaded a 3-foot tarpon into striking. The experience was brief and intense, but enough to convince me that a slow presentation could be very successful.
If you are a topwater aficionado, a slow, steady presentation is worth a try. Unlike a quick retrieve, which creates the familiar tight walk-the-dog wiggle and clackclackclack rattle, a working your Top Dog or a Poppa Dawg slowly creates a wider, gliding slide to slide action and a louder clack—clack—clack. The slower dance also simulates a wounded baitfish, which stimulates a more aggressive strike.
Sometimes the best slow retrieve is no retrieve at all. Captain Larry Corbett once taught me a technique with jointed minnows called “The Houma Hustle” (or as I term it, “The Big Wiggle). After a cast, rather than starting a retrieve, point your rod directly at your bait and start shaking your rod tip. The vibrations telegraph down the line and into the bait begins a stationary vibration. Though the lure wiggles back and forth, it stays in one spot. I’ve had many a trout and snook blast a plug while it was doing the Hustle.
A slow presentation doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have Job-like patience. Big predators may not chase, but they still have to eat.
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]