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The Keys to Shallow Redfish Success

September 1st, 2018

soule2 The Keys to Shallow Redfish Success

Captain Clay Sheward with a healthy marsh redfish.

By Capt. Steve Soule

“Everything happens for a reason.”

We’ve all heard this expression, maybe not so often when we talk about fishing, but it definitely applies. As we learn an area or just learn to fish, things happen throughout the course of our days on the water. When we are novices, or less experienced, most of these things seem random or happen by chance. Whether it’s catching a fish or finding a new spot, it isn’t easy to see how the pieces of the fishing puzzle fall into place. Over time, the pieces come together, and details of how and why become much more clear.

For advanced or professional level anglers, fishing isn’t left to chance. It simply cannot be if you want to find shallow redfish success and find it regularly. I’ve learned lessons over many years and watched similar scenarios play out time and time again. The perspective of a guide, especially one who isn’t actively fishing, but more teaching and directing customers to fish is a very different one. Years of pushing a small skiff around the shallows teaches you many things. You get to watch fishing moments play out from a totally different point of view. It’s like having a grand stand seat on the front row, watching the entire scene play out in front of you, successful or not.

There is a ton to be learned both visually and with the end of the push pole about contours and bay bottom variations. My early years as an avid wader taught me many lessons that simply could not be learned from a standing in a boat. Contours, tapers and bottom composition are some of the most important factors in determining fish location and feeding pathways. These things, like so many that have led to fishing success for me are often quite subtle and the type of things that go totally unnoticed by the majority of people on the bay.

Sharpen Your Sight

I had a day several years ago fishing with a customer new to shallow water. I had met him around 5:45 am for a mid summer sight casting trip. As per my usual, the morning was spent trying to acclimate the customer to the world of shallow water fishing. Trying to teach him to see fish, even when they aren’t visible, and understand the signs. This particular day, I became much more aware of just how many signs and subtleties I look for and try to relate to customers. It was somewhere around 11 a.m. when I mentioned a small mullet jumping. This was a little more obvious than many of the things I had pointed out that morning. The customer responded that this was the first thing they were able to notice, despite me talking and pointing things out all morning. I found this rather interesting, mostly because it made me realize that the level of scrutiny I look at my surroundings, goes far beyond what most people would see.

For those new to the sport, I’m sure that it’s tough to keep up with someone like me who is constantly pointing out things of interest and trying to describe their significance. Moreover, it probably generates some concern when they can’t or simply don’t see even half of what I tell them I’m looking for. I talk about all manner of things from “mud boils” and swirls, to wakes and pushes. Not the average language for most, and among the thousands of jumping mullet, flying birds and general commotion on the water, these things aren’t easy to distinguish.

reds918 The Keys to Shallow Redfish Success

Kristen Soule’ with a shallow water redfish and a shirt borrowed from dad.

Now, when we start to take this to an even more intense level of things like seeing a two-inch white shrimp jumping 50 feet away from you, it becomes easy to understand how this can be challenging when its all so new.

In my nearly 40 years of shallow water fishing, I’ve had the pleasure of fishing with hundreds of anglers, from complete novices to those who have fished this coast much longer than I have. I’ve always made a point of trying to learn something from every situation, and there have been many days when lessons have come from people with considerably less experience. Perspectives can be so different as we progress in fishing and gain knowledge and experience.

I have a great friend and fellow angler that I have known for many years and have gotten to spend more days on the water recently. We just had a day on the water where he asked me about boat positioning. This is all important in sight fishing, especially fly fishing, and a topic that all of my friends seem to expect me to have an exact answer to. This particular day, I gave a response that had become something that I’ve come to take as fairly obvious. “Follow the contour line;” a fairly subtle depth change that runs along this particular shallow flat. Something that in my mind had become a standard practice and to me was quite visible. It took some time, zig zagging back and forth across this contour before he began to realize what I meant. Just one of the many things that has led me to greater success in finding fish.

For many years, I have made a point to take careful notice about where I see fish and as much as possible what they are doing and the direction that they are moving. When you fish shallow, you get to see so much more and the opportunities to learn are everywhere around you. If you make a practice of little things like this,  over time you can start to see patterns form that will only lead to future success. Sometimes these patterns apply within the course of a day, other times they are the type that would get logged into the memory banks as seasonal.

One of my favorites has always been trying to note what depth the fish are at. Given that most of the water I fish is shallower than most people would fish, it’s much easier to take note of. You probably wouldn’t think that the moving between 7 and 10 inches deep would make much difference, but there are many days when it really does.

roseate spoonbill

The Other Birds

Birds on the bay can be some of the best indicators around. I always tell people they are way better at finding fish than we are. We fish for fun, mostly. Birds find fish, and things that fish eat, to survive. Knowing various birds that we see around the bay and understanding what their various behaviors indicate is another invaluable tool. We all know the value of seagulls in leading us to hungry packs of trout or redfish. How many of us pay attention to a snowy egret or an ibis? If you saw three roseate spoonbills walking a shoreline, would you pay them any attention? Do you ever pay attention to pelicans? Could you even identify a loon? Every one of these birds can and will lead you to fish, along with many others. But without having seen them in action and having the experience of knowing what they mean, they just become a part of the coastal scenery.

The keys to success aren’t always obvious. I’ve told people for years that you can’t always go look for the fish. Some days you have to look for the signs of the fish. The movements visible on the waters surface; a shrimp flipping out of the water, being able to distinguish a different type of baitfish, or recognizing the difference in the way mullet jump. Being “tuned in” to your surroundings and constantly making the effort to learn and understand the “why” can only make you a better angler and one who finds success more consistently over time.

Marsh Fishing in Spring

February 28th, 2018

redfish marsh fishing Marsh Fishing in Spring

Captain Clay Sheward hooked up to a redfish deep in the marsh.

By Capt. Steve Soule

www.ultimatedetailingllc.com

Spring may be the toughest season of all to figure out on the upper Texas Coast. It’s the first of our two annual transitional periods, and in my opinion, definitely the harder of the two to get a solid grasp on when it comes to patterning. With so many factors at play, March and April can wreck even the best made plans.

To gain a better understanding, we need to think first about where we are transitioning from. In a winter season like we’ve just had, the coldest in nearly 10 years, we truly put fish into a winter pattern. This is a pattern that can be predictable and reasonable easy to describe and understand. Fish tend to move slightly deeper and hold over certain types of structure or bay substrate. Food sources, though limited have become reliable and are somewhat easy to locate as they are larger and more visible than at other times of the year.

Temperature

At the first signs of spring, anglers can often do very well. Predatory fish move from deeper to shallower water as the air and water temperatures warm. The initial warming creates added temperature to the cold blooded fish as well as their prey. This change typically makes both more active and sends predators out in search of food. But this isn’t always the easiest thing for hungry predators to accomplish.

Everything is transient in spring; both predator and prey. Temperature and barometric pressure swings wildly during this period. Weather varies from mild to violent

and boating and fishing pressure is steadily increasing.

Wind, tide, temperature and timing; all of these factors play a major role in spring fishing. But the prevalence and types of available food for predators is still limited.

Spring Prey

Winter forage, like mullet and finfish are still present but the return, or emergence of other various food sources happens at a much slower pace than their departure during fall. Wintering crabs and shrimp that have buried in mud through the cooler months will be some of the earliest additions to the menu, followed by a slow trickle of various other small baitfish species. Keep in mind that this is a slow process that is triggered more so by the “photo period” or length of daylight versus darkness than it is by temperature. Many food sources don’t truly return in force until later in spring.

Wind

Wind is always a factor in spring, especially during the first half of the season. Light wind days are few and far between, and late season cold fronts can often push us well into the small craft advisory range. This doesn’t lend itself well to great fishing days and certainly doesn’t make spring inviting for anglers. With high winds come several other factors that influence fishing. High tides and rapid barometric pressure come to mind at the top of the list.

reds Marsh Fishing in Spring

Marcos Enriquez with a nice shallow water redfish.

High Tides

Discussions on high tides seem to happen repeatedly during spring. For those who fish open and deeper water areas, the significance is reduced dramatically. For those who fish relatively shallow waters, the impact is quite substantial.

Big rising tides push small prey animals deeper into marshes and other areas where they can find cover from predation. The host of predators, like redfish, trout and flounder, will follow. Often, this puts predator and prey out of reach of most boaters and increases the overall size of the area we have to search. Fish become like needles in a haystack.

It often seems like redfish enjoy exploring new territory, and high tides are the open invitation for them to take off wandering.

Pressure

The large swings in barometric pressure during spring can provide both good and bad fishing. Changes in pressure seem to create short windows of increased feeding activity, especially when they happen in conjunction with moving tides or a moon position that would already cause fish to hunt for food. We can’t fish purely around pressure changes, not predictably anyway. You can shoot for catching the big changes as fronts approach and pass the coastline, but safety and comfort are often compromised. More often than not, most of us as anglers are stuck with the days that we can get on the water. It’s interesting to note, that even small changes in the direction of barometric pressure movement can effect fish feeding behaviors. Steady pressure, or pressure that is steadily on the rise or fall, often yields stagnant fish feeding

Timing

Timing, as I mentioned earlier, can have a huge impact on our success rates in fishing. Knowing seasonal patterns is very helpful in understanding when fish tend to feed in certain areas. If you don’t have years of fishing log information, then you can only go and hope for the best in finding actively feeding fish or rely on local information. Often, springtime doesn’t follow the typical feeding periods normally associated with summer. Don’t be one of the anglers that hunt out a summer feeding pattern this early in the year.

Bottom line, springtime fishing requires more thought on average than any other season along the coast. Careful planning, understanding the conditions, researching or having years of experience can help greatly. Knowing the available food sources, and making appropriate adjustments in your lure arsenal can pay off with big dividends. Most of the new arrivals of prey animals are quite small, which often leads to day where even larger predatory species are focused on eating small but numerous meals.

With careful planning, and an educated approach, spring can pay big dividends of big trout. But, if you think that you’re going to find a summer pattern just because of the rapid warm up, you will be in for quite the surprise.

Get out and enjoy the warmer weather, and don’t be discouraged by the difficulties. Instead, use the time wisely to cover more water and seek out the patterns hidden within the season.