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Galveston Bay fishing after Harvey

September 14th, 2017

big speckled trout Galveston Bay fishing after Harvey

By Capt. Joe Kent

Lots of questions are being asked about the effects of the recent flood waters on the Galveston Bay Complex.  Most of the questions are centered on whether the floods have a beneficial or detrimental impact on the eco-system and what we can expect in the way of fishing this fall.

For a number of years, the Galveston Bay Complex was experiencing a serious drought that was beginning to change the ecology of the bay.  High levels of salinity and restricted flows of fresh water from rivers and creeks were taking its toll on the wetlands and back bays.

Concerns were mounting about a change in our fish patterns, in particular a possible migration of certain species of fish out of the bays and an influx of different species into the bays.  It certainly was a situation that warranted concern.

Three years ago, the first of a series of heavy flooding hit and eventually lowered the salinity levels and created some ideal conditions for growing our stocks of marine life, both fin fish and shell fish.

In most cases, flood waters entering the bays do a lot of good for the basic component of the marine life cycle and that is the estuaries.  The nutrients that are washed into the rivers and other outlets help the vegetation grow and in turn provide a sanctuary for newly hatched marine life.

This is obviously a real benefit to all who partake in saltwater recreational activities and most beneficial to anglers in all areas including those who fish offshore.

On the other hand, flood waters that contain heavy concentrations of contaminants can be detrimental to the estuaries.  Contaminants in the form of chemicals and metals are the most destructive, as they can and do kill the life line of the estuaries, the vegetation and in general pollute the waters.

troutrowan 300x141 Galveston Bay fishing after Harvey

“Well, for speckled trout especially they are going to be found in large concentrations closer to the coast.”

 

Just how our recent flood affects the sensitive balance in the wetlands is yet to be determined.

While it remains to be seen as to the effects on the estuaries, there are a few things that can pretty well be counted on as far as the effects on fishing and crabbing.

Following the floods and during the time when heavy flows of water continued to pour into the bays, we have experienced a welcomed dry spell with northerly and westerly winds dominating under low humidity.  This has helped to get the flood waters draining more rapidly. 

Most of Galveston Bay has been muddy and off color with little or no salinity.  How long this will last is anyone’s guess.

Most of the time, trout will move out of the upper reaches of the bay system and settle in areas that are closer to the Gulf of Mexico such as those around the passes and jetties.  In those areas, trout tend to stack up and become easy prey for anglers.

Using last year as an example, our heavy floods came early in the summer and were followed by a similar pattern of hot, dry weather.  It was at least two months before the bays started showing signs of improvement.

If that pattern repeats itself, it could be November before the water returns to normal around the Galveston Bay Complex.  This is especially true in light of the fact that this year’s flooding was more extensive and severe than in years past.

So what does that mean for fishing?  Well, for speckled trout especially they are going to be found in large concentrations closer to the coast.  The jetties, surf and lower Galveston Bay should hold the prized game fish for quite a while.

Reds and other fish likely will be the offering in the upper reaches of the bay system, as they are not nearly as sensitive to salinity as are trout.

Fishing with Capt. Steve Hillman

September 6th, 2017

hillman speck Fishing with Capt. Steve Hillman

Steve Hillman with a mid October beauty, released after a quick photo.

Hillman Guide Service’s big trout buff on his early years and fishing favorites

Interview by Brandon Rowan

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Galveston and grew up on Dickinson Bayou where my parents started a small seafood business in the mid-seventies.  When not fishing off of our little pier I would fish out in the bay with my dad, uncles and grandpa.  This was back when we didn’t have to venture far to catch trout, redfish and flounder.  Reefs in Dickinson Bay, Moses Lake and Todd’s Dump gave us all the action we could ask for.

It really wasn’t until my mid-teenage years that I learned how to read the water well.  I fell in love with wading and learned what slicks meant.  This is when fishing hit a whole new level for me.  I caught my first topwater trout on a chrome/ blue jumping minnow on Dickinson Reef when I was around 16 years old.  I still remember how rafts of mullet would mark the J-shaped reef.  No GPS was needed.

In 1996 I graduated from the University of Houston – Clear Lake with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management, then took a job in the chemical industry.  Within a couple of years I came back to my roots in the family seafood business to take over the marketing aspects of the business.  We would fly clients in from all over the country and I would take them fishing and golfing.

It was during this time when I realized just how much satisfaction I got from watching others enjoy catching fish.  In 2004 I obtained my captain’s license and started running trips.  Some folks told me to be careful taking something that I enjoy and turning it into a job.  I suppose this is true for some.  For me, it was the right choice.  I never intended on becoming a full-time fishing guide but the circumstances pretty much played out that way.  Now, I have some of the best regular clients that any guide could ever ask for.  Funny how things seem to work out the way you least expect.

When I started guiding I ran tarpon, bull red, shark, black drum, flounder and trout trips.  While I enjoyed all of that I realized that my true passion was fishing for trout and reds.  I’m a firm believer in sticking to what you know.  And, by doing the same thing day-in and day-out you can stay on the patterns and become better.

Do you have a favorite fishing moment?

My favorite experience is when a young man from Idaho called to book a two day fly fishing trip with me in March of 2006 for him and his father.  The first day was spent wading coves in West Bay amidst typical March stiff winds.  The bite was tough on flies, but the trout and reds were cooperative (for me) on conventional tackle.  Kurt and his dad kept their distance from me despite me constantly waving them in my direction.  They caught a few undersized trout on seaducers, clouser minnows and spoon flies.  They seemed to be happy despite not catching a bunch of fish.  The wind gave us a break on the second day and the fishing was much better.  Once again, however, they wouldn’t wade over when I was on fish.  They caught some, but I was a bit perplexed and maybe even a little disappointed that they pretty much hung out away from me in their own little world.  I pulled up to the dock at Teakwood Marina and Kurt’s father headed for the truck as he was a little tired.  Kurt handed me my check and said the following; “Captain Steve, I know that me and my dad could’ve caught more fish had we spent more time by your side or used conventional gear, but I need to tell you something.  My dad has terminal cancer and the doctors only gave him a few months to live.  He started taking me fly fishing when I was a little boy and those memories are the ones I cherish the most.  We got to relive some of those memories the past two days and I want to thank you for that.  This may be the last time I get to fish with my dad.”

As Kurt walked towards his truck tears flowed from my eyes.  I drove home thinking about how blessed I was.  That two day fishing trip with Kurt and his father will forever be etched in my memory as well as my heart.

mirrolure27 Fishing with Capt. Steve Hillman

MirrOlure MirrOdine XL

What is your favorite soft plastic and hard bait for trout if you had to choose only one of each?

My favorite soft plastic would have to be a Limetreuse Saltwater Assassin and MirrOlure’s MirrOdine XL would be my choice for a hard bait.

What is the biggest mistake you see other fishermen make?

I would have to say that the biggest mistake I see on a regular basis is other fishermen motoring over fish.  Just the other day we witnessed a boat motor through several good trout slicks then line up behind us to make a drift.  He was more concerned with what was happening on my boat then what was happening in the water around him.  This has become a daily occurrence.  I would love to see more awareness and better etiquette.

Fat redfish like this one can be found schooling in open water, September through November.

What should anglers key in on during September and October in Galveston Bay?

The early days of September are usually similar to our late summer patterns which involve drifting slicks in 7 to 11 feet of water over shell and throwing mainly soft plastics.  Depending upon the timing of cool fronts, late September and early October can become more of a transitional pattern where trout are found deep as well as shallow.  Slicks and active bait are always good telltale signs but gulls hovering over migrating white shrimp can also lead you to the fish.  Wading near marsh drains is always a good plan especially during late October.  Trout can be somewhat spread out until a true fall pattern arrives which usually occurs in November.

Do you have a favorite tide stage to fish?

My favorite tide to fish depends on where we’re fishing but our trout seem to feed better during a tide change.  If we’re wading the mouth of a marsh drain then I like a high tide going to a low.  If we’re drifting open bay reefs then any tidal movement is best, regardless of direction.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in Galveston Bay over the years?

I could write an entire article on this subject but I suppose the most noticeable change is the bottom landscape of the bay.  Many islands are now reefs and many reefs are now gone.  Through the years the bottom structure has changed from environmental changes and man-induced changes.  We have lost more than half of our live oyster reefs and all of our rangia clam beds mainly due to Hurricane Ike and other environmental changes.

I’ve also seen the number of boats increase dramatically over the years.

Do you have a recently discovered lure or new technique you’d like to share with our readers?

I’m pretty much a creature of habit who tends to keep things simple.  That being said, I seem to be throwing more waking baits such as Strike Pro’s Hunchback this year.  It’s a subsurface hard bait that wobbles from side to side.  It has a loud rattle that tends to draw strikes when sometimes other baits won’t.  Other than that, I usually stick to the basic soft plastic and topwater program.  It really depends on what I see while we’re fishing.

Favorite place you’ve ever fished?

Hands down, my favorite place I’ve ever fished is Baffin Bay.  I love catching legitimately big trout and Baffin has produced more big trout for me than all the other bays I’ve fished combined.  Galveston Bay has produced some big trout for us through the years but not as consistently as Baffin.

Steve’s 8.25lb trout fell for a MirrOdine XL.

Is there anything you’d like to see changed in the current regulations?

The jury is still out on this question for me.  I carefully observe the changes I see on a yearly and daily basis while running my charters.  I also study the data from the Texas Parks and Wildlife, as well as others such as the Harte Research Institute.

My current opinion is that we’re struggling with habitat in this bay and fishing pressure has greatly increased.  Man-made and environmental changes have had a negative impact on our estuary.  I don’t think anyone can deny that.

The question is what changes should be made?  Is a limit reduction to 5 trout the answer?  I personally think it’s a good start.  Sustainability of our spotted seatrout as well as our habitat should be on the front burner.

Aside from fishing, what else are you passionate about?

I thoroughly enjoy fishing but my biggest passion is spending time with my family.  My wife and I only have one daughter, and she turns 16 in January.  Time seems to pass faster than ever and I don’t want to miss anything that has to do with them.  We’re a goofy little family and we can rarely have a serious conversation, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

You can contact Hillman Guide Service by calling 409-256-7937 or by emailing captsteve@hillmanguideservice.com

 

Fools Rush In

May 3rd, 2017

fly fishing reds Fools Rush In

By Capt. Steve Soule

www.ultimatedetailingllc.com

It isn’t always a question of right or wrong. Sometimes it becomes more a matter of better or worse. Everyone has their own idea of how to approach each fishing situation, some well thought out, others are much more haphazard. The “approach,” the level of stealth, and knowledge of the area you are fishing can have a huge impact on success or failure when it comes to catching fish.

As anglers, most of us start each day with some form of a plan on what we want to catch and where we plan to try to catch it. With experience, these plans get better and more detailed. The bottom line is that we all benefit from having a goal in mind to accomplish each day on the water. If we give more thought to what that goal is, and how we might be able to tilt the scales in our favor when it comes to achieving that goal, we all stand to catch more fish, or at the very least, gain more knowledge that will lead to more fish in the future.

I feel certain that most experienced anglers have a plan of attack for each day that they fish. A location picked based on experience, knowledge of an area, or information about an area. Novices, or anglers newer to an area, the plan is likely not so well thought out.  This isn’t to say that a novice angler can’t or won’t catch as many fish, just that they don’t possess that level of experience to know exactly where to go or when to go to certain areas.

As an experienced angler, your goal should be to refine your knowledge and hone your fishing skills. As a novice or less experienced angler, your goal should be learn areas and develop an understanding of the structure, tides, and other factors that will influence the location and movements of the fish.

Take your time, use stealth when arriving and working the area you intend to fish.

As many times as I’ve talked about structure over there years, I realize that there is still a lot of confusion surrounding the topic. Structure goes well beyond just what we can see above the water; sometimes its obvious and sometimes its very subtle. Some of the many things that I consider structure can often be hard to detect. There is obvious structure like shorelines, reefs, rocks but sometimes the little things like grass, guts, humps and very subtle depressions are the keys to finding fish holding points and movement pathways. Finding these in shallow clear water is much easier than in open water. Wading and having actual contact with the bay floor can be a big help, and for those fishing deeper waters from a boat, learning to read a depth machine can be crucial.

Something interesting to remember, is that it isn’t just the contours of the bay floor, but also what’s on the bay floor that will impact when and where fish will be. Mud, grass, shell, clay, sand and many other things determine what type of prey will be in an area during different seasons and their predators.

Don’t just show up to an area and rush through it. So often I watch people on the water rush into an area, only to turn around and leave 15 minutes later. There is very little that can be gained in this approach. Unfortunately, in most cases the fish aren’t just waiting for us to arrive and throw things at them. In fact, most of the time we scare fish as we arrive and often shut down feeding behavior with our rapid and noisy arrival. This will spook fish in an area, slowing or stopping the bite temporarily.

Take your time, use stealth when arriving and working the area you intend to fish. Though it has become increasingly popular to run boats shallow and look for fish, this approach has significant short and long term impact on the environment and the fish. Starting with the obvious, sea grass and boat propellers do not mix! Some grasses recover relatively fast while others can take long periods to regrow. Prior to Hurricane Ike, there was very little natural grass growth in Galveston’s West Bay. Through man’s intervention, grasses returned and had a positive impact on bay habitat and water clarity. Fishing the same areas without the grass, was a world of difference. If just enjoying and appreciating the grass habitat isn’t enough, there is a Texas law in place that prohibits destruction of sea grasses.

Beyond the habitat impact, there is a huge short and long term impact on the fish. The sound of an outboard motor can not only be heard, but also felt by fish at a great distance. Knowing that fish are sensitive to vibration and sound should make us all aware that a hasty approach, using the big motor, doesn’t usually result in great catches.

Lets take this a step further. I know all too well how cool it is to see fish moving and feeding in shallow water, having spent over 35 years fishing shallow water from poling skiffs and other shallow water boats. I’ve seen a lot and learned a ton about fish behavior and their reaction to different things that enter their environment. Moving too fast in a poling skiff, a slight stumble when wading, and many other subtle sounds can alert fish. The practice of “burning shorelines” has way more negative impact on fish. A slow, and methodical approach will lead to much more productive fishing.

Take your time, use stealth in your approach, use the day as an opportunity to study, not just fish, and you may just learn how many things are missed by so many fishing around you. Fishing from a more methodical perspective will help you shorten the learning curve and improve your fishing not just today, but in the future as well.

Tips For Catching More Fish

October 31st, 2016

redflounderstring Tips For Catching More Fish

By Capt. Joe Kent

There is an old adage that 10% of the fishermen catch 90% of the fish. Well, while not statistically proven, the odds are that the old adage has a lot of merit.

If you are one of those anglers who comes away feeling like everyone around you is catching fish while you are left with an empty or sparse stringer, hopefully some of these tips will help you join that exclusive 10% group that takes 90% of the fish.

While actively guiding fishing trips, there were a number of things I observed that definitely handicapped my guests from catching many fish.

Most likely the biggest obstacle was in casting skills.  Other fishing guides agreed with me that if there was one big fault it was in the lack of being able to cast a bait to a target and at the same time avoid another big problem, backlashes.

fancast 300x240 Tips For Catching More Fish

Good casting skills are imperative for fan casting or placing your bait precisely near structure or jetties.

Line Control

There are a number of other skills anglers need to address; however, accurate casting and controlling the line is at the top of the list.

Casting skills take practice and the time not to practice is when on a fishing trip with others.

Choosing a rod and reel you are comfortable using and is appropriate for where you are fishing is the first step.

Practice, practice and more practice is the key to developing your skills in the art of casting.

Once you have become comfortable with your choice of rod and reel and have developed control over where and how far you can cast, then attention can be given to a number of other problems that tend to plague those not bringing home stringers of game fish.

liveshrimphook

Hook live shrimp under the horn.

Bait & Tackle

While space does not allow an elaboration on each of the following, using the wrong bait for the occasion, hook size and hooking live bait, especially shrimp, are key issues.

For newcomers and those not seasoned at saltwater fishing, I always recommend using live bait, especially shrimp when fishing.

Hooking live shrimp involves practice and experience.  There is a small area under the horn on the shrimp’s head that is the appropriate spot to hook the bait.  Using too large a hook or hooking the shrimp anywhere else is going to kill the bait and render it in the same category as dead bait. Use a number 6 or 8 treble hook or a small live bait or kahle hook.

Once you have become comfortable with your casting skills and can hook live bait properly, then you are ready for the easier parts of this lesson.

sewind

A light southeast breeze is usually best on the upper coast.

Learn to Read the Water

Tide movement and water clarity are of utmost importance in triggering feeding among schools of fish.  Once you see those elements come together then you can start looking at the wind direction.

Along the Texas Gulf Coast, the southeast wind is called the fishermen’s breeze as it brings clear Gulf water into the bays and along the beachfront.  This is a big plus when choosing a time to go fishing.

The so called 10% group takes time to plan their trips and, based on the forecast, they know what the odds are for a productive excursion.

Hold Steady

Most of the seasoned anglers limit their fishing to given areas that they tend to get to know well and learn where the fish will be at a given time. Concentrating on a particular bay, the jetties or surf can do wonders for your confidence.

Patience is a major key to success.  Guides and other experienced fishermen choose a spot and will stay there knowing that the fish have appeared there regularly while often having to fight boredom themselves and the impatience of their guests.

There is no way anyone can expect to take home a big stringer of fish on each trip; however, following the steps mentioned above you should greatly enhance your chances of increasing your odds of catching fish when hitting the water.

Lure Colors for Trout and Redfish

February 29th, 2016

sunnylures Lure Colors for Trout and RedfishWhat a difference color can make!

By Capt. Joe Kent

Have you ever been fishing with friends and either you or they were catching fish while the other person was not?  Well, if you were using artificial baits, I bet the difference in success was a result of the color of the bait, assuming they all were different colors.

Fish are not color blind and can see clearly on the darkest nights and can distinguish colors.

greenwaterlures Lure Colors for Trout and RedfishSaltwater fish living where the water is very clear tend to be bluish or silver.  This makes them almost invisible and lets them blend with the clear water background.  When they move into the bays to spawn, they change colors and become brownish and stay that way until they move back into their normal habitat.

sandywaterluresThe reason for this change is to camouflage and protect them from predator fish.

The color of a lure has everything to do with catching saltwater fish.  Personally, I have fished with others using baits of various colors and after an hour or more, certain colors would be hit while fish turned up their noses to the rest of the colors.

The example I mention has occurred on several occasions while wade-fishing or drifting and casting with the same type of baits, in each case we all were tossing soft plastics.  One situation took place in Port Mansfield, the other in East Galveston Bay.

In Mansfield, white Norton Sand Eels with chartreuse tails out performed other variations of the same bait three to one and root beer colored touts did the same thing over other colors of touts in East Bay.

Rudy Grigar, who largely is credited with starting the interest in fishing with artificial baits in the Galveston Bay complex, had years of experience in dealing with baits and colors long before most “hardware” and “soft plastic” fishermen arrived on the scene.

Grigar loved to check fish, that had been recently caught where he fished or planned to fish, for their feeding habits.  Opening the stomach cavity would reveal just what was being consumed and would give a clue as to the color of bait to be used.

Early in the season when glass minnows or small mullet were the top choices of trout, he would use light-colored baits.  A silver spoon with a white bucktail often enticed a hungry trout that was feeding on the small fin fish.

Later in the season when shrimp were migrating, he would use darker, preferably light brown, colored baits.  Gold spoons with pink bucktails were one of his favorites.

Grigar had a list of bait colors he recommended for various conditions and always had the caveat of saying “ I recommend  the following colors; however, if you are on fish and they are not hitting your bait, try another color”.  Fish will surprise you.  They are not dumb.”

Redfish

Lure color selection is dependent on water and weather conditions.

The colors and conditions he recommended were:

For bright, sunny skies and clear water use, he recommended white, silver or gold.  Overcast skies or light drizzle, he recommended bright colors such as red, green or strawberry.

For green water, which is prevalent during windows of light winds and good tidal movement during the summer, his favorite was chartreuse.

In sandy waters, florescent lures and yellow redheads worked well. The same held true for murky waters.

For muddy waters or heavy, sandy conditions such as those created by strong southwest winds during the late spring and summer, his advice was to wait for the water to clear and not to waste your time.

What about the tail colors?  The colors recommended above do not reflect buck tails or different colors for the tails of soft plastics.

Carlos Rogers who fished the Port O’Connor area for years, was adamant about different colored tails and buck tails for baits.  He felt that the tail color would offset any ill-effects of the primary bait color and for that reason always had an assortment of soft plastics and spoons with various colors at the end.

White and pink were Roger’s favorite colors and anytime he added one of those to a lure and did not catch fish he switched to the other color. If the fish still did not bite he was convinced that they were either not around or not feeding.