Monday, May 14, 2007


A good fisherman has spent enough time on the water to instinctively understand the natural rhythms taking place around him. The current situation at any given time is the net results of many influences, some of which combine to amplify a particular element, while other influences dampen each other out. The accuracy of our understanding of things is only as good as our knowledge of the influences at work.

The tidal ebb and flow can be predicted by the movement of the moon, and the wind tends to rise and fall with the sun. The changing seasons influence the movement of bait, which in turn influences the fish that prey upon them. These are the obvious factors. The not so obvious rhythms are often over-shadowed by the predominant factors of the day, and are easily missed by the fair-weather fisherman.

The movement of seasonal weather fronts can often reverse or double the effect of the tides, especially in back-water bays where narrow cuts restrict the movement of water into and out of the system. This effect might last for days if, for example, a strong Northern front combines with an out-going tide to quickly drain the water out of the bay. The North wind continues past the onset of the next in-coming tide, which blocks the water from returning. The strong Norther includes some hard rain, the runoff of which refills the bay with fresh water, significantly lowering the salinity level. The muddy runoff water in the shallow bay warms quickly under the clear blue sky following the front, raising the water temperature by several degrees. In only two days, the entire system is turned upside down and might take weeks to recover. The weekend fisherman who failed to look at the previous weeks weather report might waste an entire day wondering why the fish weren't biting at his favorite fishing hole, when the day's weather was absolutely perfect!

It pays to look at the larger patterns over the course of several days, with an eye toward seeing the big picture. The fishing magazines are good at doling out 'rules of thumb', but I find that these are only mildly useful at best. The only real way to understand the unique characteristics of any bay system is to get out on the water and observe. This means take the time to notice how things change between visits, actually taste the water, and think about what might be causing the change. As you accumulate experience, you will begin to make mental connections - sometimes subconsciously. As you get in tune with the natural rhythm of things, subtle events begin to stand out against the background music. In other words, you begin to notice things. You begin to see the fish in the water.

You don't actually see them in a literal way, but you notice their effect on the surrounding environment. Like how a slight v-shaped bulge that interrupts the breeze pattern on the waters surface draws your eyes expecting to see a fish. The small bait jumping ahead of the swell tells your brain that it is a fish, and probably predatory. The proximity of the swell to a nearby grass bed tells your brain that its a redfish. Your hope and desire tells your brain that it is a big redfish, and you may exclaim to yourself or to your friend, "Look at the size of that redfish!", although you may not have actually, really seen it. If you have experienced this before, and have had the inclination to try to catch it, and maybe you cast a spoon ahead of the bulge in the water and actually did catch one, you would probably be right on the money this time. You might be inclined to try it again. This is what makes a good fisherman.

I think this theme can be expanded to life in general. Go with the flow, get out and experience life and get in tune with the natural rhythms that are taking place around you. This works as well in traffic as it does in the office, and even in your personal life. Affect desired change by applying subtle influence over time. This allows others to adapt more gracefully to the changes you are trying to make. Its like when you are backing your trailer down the boat ramp. If you stop and start, and make drastic changes to your direction, you will never make it to the bottom of the ramp. If, on the other hand you proceed carefully and make continuous small adjustments to your direction, you will most likely find success.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Cobia Woes

A friend of mine told me about this story on BigBendFishing.Net:

Still Learning, St. Marks, 7/5/04, long

This is a really funny story (although somewhat tasteless). Be sure to click on page two to get the follow-up. Ouch!

** Image Source:

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Blew Bayou

Last week Andrea caught several nice flounder off of the pier. I was excited that the flounder were back, so I planned all week to go flounder fishing when I got my boat back from the shop. What I had not planned for was the wind. The wind was literally howling out of the South this weekend, making the boat a real chore to handle. We only got to fish on Saturday morning, and we did not catch a thing. I know the fish were there, though -- Andrea still managed to catch another flounder from the pier on Saturday afternoon.

We left on the boat at about 9:00am on Saturday morning, and went up-river in search of calmer water. Although we did find a protected grassy shoreline that seemed to hold promise, the water was very fresh up river, so the fish were not there.

It was still enjoyable. I got to try out my new trolling motor in the wind, and it performed adequately. Andrea got some practice casting into the wind, and was very helpful in handling the boat. She manned the power-pole switch at the console while I worked the trolling motor from the bow. I would use the trolling motor to glide along the grass line, and when I found a likely spot, Andrea would engage the power-pole shallow water anchor.

I think we make a pretty good team. Andrea even wanted to brave the open water, but after getting drenched when a good sized wave broke over the bow, she convinced me to turn the boat around and head back home. It was actually pretty funny to see - she looked as if she had gone for a swim!

After eight months in our bay house, I am beginning to learn the seasons. A couple of weeks ago we started seeing black-berries come up all over the place. Last week we picked a couple of gallons worth, and even a few more this weekend.

Andrea has tried a couple of recipes that have come out very good. She made a black-berry cobbler last weekend, and a black-berry coffee cake this weekend. We froze the berries on a cookie-sheet, and separated them into portions. The we used a seal-o-matic to package them up. Now I have a freezer full of them, so we will be enjoying them all year.

You know, now that I think about it, the flounder started showing up at the same time as the berries. You can bet that I will be looking for flounder this time again next year.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Flatfish Fiesta

Andrea has got the magic touch. She caught four flounder this weekend, and let another three get away! Three of the ones she caught were keepers, too. I can't seem to catch one, even fishing in the same spots with the same lure. I guess my job is to take them off the hook, fillet them, and cook them. I think I got the stinky end of the stick, if you catch my meaning.

We rarely catch anything but catfish, black drum, and the occasional small redfish from the pier. This weekend the flounder were stacked up, and busting on all of the bait that was in the water. There were thousands of small shad in thick schools, all around the pier. Occasionally we would see a flounder spring up from the sandy bottom and send the bait jumping out of the way.

I examined the stomachs of each of the flounder I cleaned, and they were all filled completely with shad. Except for the largest one, which contained a decent sized shrimp. I found this interesting that it contained a shrimp - I guess it means that the shrimp have returned to our bay, too. This is great news, because it means that the red fish will be up in the grass soon, where they are easy to see.

I also caught a large gafftopsail catfish. It weighed about five pounds and put up a heck of a fight. I know people eat gafftops, but I just don't care to mess with all of the slimy goo they excrete. You always know you have a catfish on the line, because you can see the gunk on your line before you get the fish to the water's surface. I let this one go.

My boat was in the shop this weekend, getting some electronics installed. We took the opportunity to go exploring by truck. We drove out to Matagorda beach to see what was going on. On the way, we heard on the radio that it was adopt-a-beach clean-up day, so I anticipated that it would be busy when we got there.

We had to buy a beach access permit in Matagorda before we crossed the draw-bridge to get out on the island. The beach was quite literally crawling with people. The winter storms sure messed things up since the last time we visited. There were fallen trees and drift-wood all over the beach. People were busy cleaning things up.

We spent some time looking for shells, and letting our dog Heidi get some exercise. Heidi kept looking over the top of the dunes, so eventually I went up to see what she was looking at. I was amazed to find that behind the dunes was an extensive network of bayous and ponds.

We drove up a small road between the dunes to find many people with kayaks and fishing poles. I took the opportunity to go wade fishing, and so did Heidi, much to the dismay of my wife. The water was clear and cool. I was not wearing my wading gear, so I took it easy. Wearing only sneakers, I did not want to risk stepping on a sting-ray. We spooked quite a few redfish that were hiding in the grass, but I did not get any hook-ups. I think I will come back here eventually without the dog -- maybe I will have better luck.

The weather was perfect this weekend. The wind was out of the east on Friday, but shifted out of the south-east on Friday night. The water was a little murky, but much cleaner than it has been lately. I am excited that we caught flounder. Next weekend I think I will take the boat out in search of flounder. With my new trolling motor installed, I should be able to get right up next to the grass line.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ride The Tide

Let me start out by saying that we did not catch many fish. The wind was really blowing, and it limited my options. It is the Captain's responsibility to make sure his passengers are safe, and considering that I have only had my new boat a couple of weeks, I did not think it was a good idea to test its limits with passengers on board. I admit, I was probably overly cautious, but as they say, "better safe than sorry". In talking to a few other fisherman afterwards, I learned that we actually did quite well -- better than most, in fact.

On a positive note, I did get a chance to do some exploring. I discovered a few promising fishing spots that I will definitely be re-visiting as the conditions improve. I also expanded my knowledge of the bay. The more I know where to go and where to avoid, the less stressful and the more enjoyable boating becomes.

Having a GPS/Sonar unit really helped. Before this incredibly useful piece of gear was installed, I was essentially driving blind. I had to try to derive the depth and bottom composition by taking cues from the contours of the surrounding landscape. Lets face it, coastal ground does not have many contours - that combined with the very shallow water creates a very real threat of running aground.

Fortunately, with the help of my new electronics, we did not run aground. In fact I was able to successfully navigate a few places that were hereto before unaccessible. I also learned that my new boat can run very shallow. It is very cool to be able to get to places that other boats don't dare to go. After my trolling motor is installed next week, I will be able to get even shallower.

Shallow is good - you can see the fish, and cast ahead of them. This is much more effective than randomly casting and hoping something grabs your lure.

Spartina Marsh

This photo shows just a shallow spot. I was able to position the boat just outside of this slough (pronounced 'sloo'), and wait for the fish to come to me with the incoming tide. This slough was one of an intricately connected set of bayous that traversed the Spartina marsh grasses. The rising tide would wash through the bayous, filling the back ponds. Bait would get pulled into the system, were redfish would wait in ambush. I was able to see this action by standing on my boat's polling platform, then cast way up into the mouth of the slough were the redfish were waiting. We caught several small redfish this way, and one nice keeper.

The tides are a very important element in this kind of fishing. The moving tide affect fish behavior in predictable ways. It also effects were you can and were you should not take the boat, otherwise you might find yourself stranded when the tide runs out. Fortunately for us, we had a strong tide that rose in the morning, and went back out at night. The rising tide allows you to get into the shallow back-water places that you would otherwise avoid. The fish slowly move into the shallow areas with the flood, chasing bait. On an outgoing tide, its best to place the boat at the mouth of a lake or bay, where all of the hungry fish will be waiting for the bait to be delivered to their open mouths.

The moving tide also creates eddies, and ambush places where big spotted seatrout like to hang out.

Seatrout Eddy

We caught a nice one here by parking the boat down current from this point. There was scattered oyster beds and a long sand bar that created a strong swirl in the water. I could imagine a big trout waiting for a small mullet or shad to get caught in the eddy. By casting ahead of the sand bar and letting the current take the bait into the swirl, my suspicions were confirmed - he took the bait. Now he's in my freezer.

I have a power pole installed on my boat, which is a great innovation that lets you sink a fiberglass pole down into the mud or sand at the push of a button. This effectively parks the boat in place. The boat will swing around the pole in the direction of the wind and current. Then by alternately pulling up and pushing down the power pole, you can slide along the current, stopping at intervals along the way. It is very stealthy too, because you don't need to start up the big motor, or even the trolling motor. Used in conjunction with the trolling motor, this could be a formidable weapon in the hunt for fish. I'm going to see if I can get a remote switch for my power pole mounted on my trolling motor, to do just that.

Having a shallow running boat lets you get into the grassy places where redfish like to hang out. Here is a grassy spot with an oyster reef running along side of it. It looked very promising, but did not pan out this time. When the redfish are feeding in the grass beds, I will be back.

Redfish grassy point

I keep a couple of four to six foot sections of pvc pipe on board. If I see an underwater obstruction, like a pipe or pole, I can use a pipe to mark the spot. This will hopefully keep me or anyone else from running over it, and damaging their boat. Having the pvc on board has another benefit. When I wanted to get a feel for the bottom composition, I would grab a pvc pipe, and push the end into the bottom. If it was soft and mushy, I knew it was mud. If it was soft and firm, I knew it was sand or clay. It it was hard and crunchy, I knew it was a reef. Its good to know where the reefs are, because they usually hold fish. At first glance, this spot looks like it would be a very muddy bottom. Surprisingly, the pvc pipe test revealed that it was a flourishing oyster reef. These are the best spots, because they are not obvious, and so are often over-looked by other fisherman. I'll come back here, too.

Hidden oyster reef

So, my mental map of Carancahua Bay is starting to fill out. My goal is to identify about ten spots with potential, then keep checking those spots to see how the weather and water conditions affect my fishing success. This past weekend I learned that strong wind and murky water do not make for good fishing. All of the fish I caught were shallow. The birds were widely scattered, and were not revealing any fish. I did manage to find bait, however. Where the bait is, the fish are - so I was on the right track. By locating bait, I have also confirmed that bait has returned to our waters. This is a very good sign that the bite should start picking up soon.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Rock The Boat

Shoalwater Port Bow

I finally got my boat! I've been waiting anxiously for a couple of months for it to be ready, and I picked it up weekend before last. I truly believe it was worth the wait. Even though bad weather messed up the water all week, I still managed to catch a few fish. Most importantly, I got a chance to get to know the boat. It's no bass boat, thats for sure. It handles completely differently than my bass boat, and it seems perfectly suited for our bay.

Shoalwater Port Stern

Our house is on Carancahua Bay. The big storms that rolled through last week had the water looking like chocolate milk. I had fun running around the bay, but only managed to catch a few catfish and a couple of stingrays. I had to go all the way out to Espiritu Santo Bay to find clean water. I'm glad I did, though. We caught a couple of keeper trout and a nice redfish. I lost the biggest trout I have ever seen when it broke my line. I got it all the way up to the boat, and was reaching for my net when he decided that he had enough. Not before I got a good look at him, though. He must have been about 25 inches long! I wish I could have landed him to snap a picture. I probably would have let him go.

I think its going to be a great season - especially now that I can get to where the fish are!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Changing Seasons

Winter is just about over, at least as far as the wildlife is concerned. The pelicans that wintered in our bay have been practicing some very interesting maneuvers. They stretch out over the water swimming in pairs, then take to flight in timed sequence and appear as a perfect string of white pearls draped across the horizon. You can imagine that each individual knows its number well, because anything but perfection would be completely intolerable. There is always one bird set apart, like a coach whistling out a cadence so the team doesn't miss a beat.

White Pelicans

The winter cold-fronts swished most of the water out of the bay, leaving behind only partially exposed crab traps, like the few tiny flakes of gold left in a miner's pan. The great blue herons found them to be a convenient spot to rest while they scanned the shallow water for a glimmer of life. Lately, each cold front has been followed by a resurgence of warm, salty air tipping the pan and allowing water to wash back in from the gulf.

Great Blue Heron

Up until recently we haven't caught many fish from our pier, simply because there were no fish to catch. They were waiting out the storm in the deeper holes scarcely found in our bay.

Flounder Imprints

This past Saturday, Andrea and I caught a few hard-head catfish and a small sting-ray. Although not much fun, and not great to eat, I was nonetheless excited that life was returning to our waters. On Sunday, when Saturday's cold front combined with a low tide and pushed the shoreline past the end of our pier, you could see impressions of flounder along the outside edge of the grass beds. They were small, but almost perfect outlines of flounder in the mud. I noticed the imprints were mostly facing toward the shore. It seemed that they were waiting to ambush any small critters that were hiding in the grass, only to be exposed by the out-going tide.


The prospect of catching a flounder put my wife Andrea and I into the fishing mood again, so we spent the greater part of the day on Sunday trying our luck. The water was much cleaner, and definitely salty, so I had a feeling that we would do well. In fact, we did much better than expected. Andrea caught her first redfish, and at 22 1/2 inches, a very nice one at that. I caught one an inch shorter, but also a keeper. We caught several black drums and another small redfish, but no catfish, and no flounder.


I think this is going to be a terrific spring, and I am glad for the changing seasons.