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Whose water is this?

June 29th, 2019

sheward fish on Whose water is this?

Captain Clay Sheward starting the morning hooked up in the marsh.

Consideration and knowledge goes a long way for on-the-water etiquette

By Capt. Steve Soule

Every single one of us who boats, kayaks, fishes, goes sight seeing, jet skiing, wading or any other use of public waters has come from a different place or perspective. Some are very experienced, others have little to no experience. Each and every one of us has a different view of the resource that we share. None of us are wrong or right, though we may be highly opinionated or have well founded thoughts and beliefs. We all have a right to the use of the resource, and we all have the shared responsibility to respect and maintain what we have.

If you search the internet, or speak to people who utilize the bays and waters of the Texas Coast, or any other for that matter, you will find no shortage of opinions and arguments regarding how we come in contact with each other on the water. Over time, we start to develop the belief that we are right or someone else is wrong. This may or may not be true or correct, but we tend to believe that our way of utilizing the resource may be better than the next person’s plan.

Does a fishing boat have any more right to be in an area than a jet skier? Does a poling skiff have the right of way on a flat over a tower boat? Does a wade fisher have more right to be in a spot than a boat drifting? I believe that it is safe to answer all of those questions, and many other similar scenarios with a resounding no!

There isn’t any one of us who takes advantage of our right to access public water that has special privileges that others do not. Now, with that said, consideration of others must come into play, along with some knowledge and understanding of how your actions may impact others around us, we can all enjoy the resource.

Knowledge

In nearly every case where someone is upset with another person on the water, ignorance, or lack of knowledge is the primary issue. I don’t use the term ignorance in a derogatory manner, but truly in the sense that there is a lack of knowledge or information that causes the perceived infringement on another.

There are most definitely some cases where people act in malice towards others, either because they don’t care or they believe they have some right. For those who do this, I can only suggest that you consider the consequences. Imagine if every time a boater, or anyone on the water took revenge on every person they believed had done them wrong. Likely this will not resolve the problem, nor will it allow any involved to enjoy the water as they had planned.

Let take a look at perspectives, and knowledge of others and what they are doing. Maybe goals on the water and what would be required to achieve them. For most of us that fish, having a productive spot to ourselves, without a boat coming inside of 100 yards sounds like a good thing. In some case it may take even more room than that to keep the spot producing. This is very different than what a jet skier would want. For them it would be fun to have boats running nearby so that they can jump wakes. A very different view of how to spend time on the water and easy to see how conflicts could arise.

A wading angler, walking quietly down a shoreline, has a plan of stealthily approaching fish, and if skilled, could easily stay within casting range of fish for long periods. A drifting boat of anglers, no matter how careful, will always make more noise and spook more fish. If you haven’t spent time in clear or very shallow water, this may not have ever occurred to you. After a lifetime of fishing in both shallow and clear water situations, I can tell you that the noises we make in boats definitely alert fish to our presence and reduce our chances of catching them.

The Lateral Line

Every single thing that moves in the water, no matter how big or small, creates a pressure wave. This is like a sound signature, and tells every animal with a lateral line that there is something nearby. Most fish, can judge the size of the object or animal making the pressure wave in total darkness. This sense is one of many that keep fish safe from harm.

Once we are aware of this, and look for its impact on our fishing, we can see that even a wader can send out pressure waves and make noises that alert fish to our presence. Often this can be why one person catches fish while another nearby does not. Given that fish can so accurately “feel” sounds or movements that can indicate the presence of danger. If fish can be spooked by a wader or a quietly drifting boat, you can only imagine the reaction to a boat running through the shallows at 20 or 30 miles per hour. Sheer panic is the immediate reaction to such loud noises.

If you fish shallow water long enough, you will without a doubt, witness this first hand. In many cases the cause isn’t intentional. I seriously doubt that we haven’t all sped across a flat, through a marsh or down a shoreline looking for signs or trying to reach a destination spot, never really giving thought to fish along the way. It’s probably not that anglers have a blatant disregard for fish or fishery, but likely that we haven’t fully considered the impact of our actions.

Common Sense and Courtesy

With the ever increasing numbers of people enjoying the bays and lakes, comes greater potential of encroaching on others. Every situation is different and some are more avoidable than others. Classically the case of channels or passes from one area to another create challenges for passing boaters. Neither has any greater right or privilege, though common courtesy goes a long way.

It doesn’t really matter whether you are operating a boat, kayak, jet ski or even wading quietly, public waters are a first come first served playground, and we all want to be able to enjoy the discoveries we have found without unwanted interruptions.

Its hard to say there is any set of rules regarding distances or behavior that govern us on the water. It is however safe to say that if we all give the same consideration that we would ask, time on the water would be much more pleasant. Taking the time to understand and respect the intentions of others on the water isn’t hard and will likely yield the same respect in return. It only takes a brief moment to determine the direction a boat is drifting or poling, or the direction waders are walking, and shift your course to avoid cutting them off.

Public waters are a source of enjoyment for many varied groups; a resource that needs respect and consideration. I have no doubt that we as users of the resource can collectively do a much better job of managing that which we all love, than politicians could ever dream of. Our first hand knowledge provides a view that can’t be seen from an office and an understanding that can only come from experience. The responsibility to be the stewards, falls on each and every user, and the better we can self maintain, the less the likelihood of misguided bureaucratic management.

Fish and fisheries are not an endless resource. Having the right to run a boat basically anywhere we want doesn’t mean its always the best thing to do. Just like having the right to kill our legal limits of fish every day would not be a good way to preserve the fishery.

As much pleasure as we find in our time on the water, we probably all have the same desire to pass this along to the next generation. With a little thought and consideration, we can not only enjoy our time on the water, but also leave it in great shape so that generations to come can experience it as well.

Winter Redfish Patterns

January 1st, 2019

sheward Winter Redfish Patterns

Capt. Clay Sheward with a chunky 28″ redfish on the fly.

By Capt. Steve Soule

It’s cold, damp and dreary: the kind of weather that makes it hard to find motivation to get up and going. We are deep into daylight savings time, with short days and not nearly enough sunlight to fuel my tank, but somehow there is still some motivation to be found for winter fishing.

The bright sunny days are often few and far between. Cloudy skies and damp conditions seems to dominate our weather patterns between December and February. Where is the “upside” to this? Well, fortunately for all of us fish heads, they still have to eat.

By no means does this cover the entire weather pattern spectrum of winter, but for the shallow water enthusiast, we can start with two basic condition sets that we must learn to contend with: sunny skies or cloudy skies. With these two basic conditions, there are other trends that tend to coincide with them.

Bright & Blue

Sunny skies are typically the trend after the passage of a front, and with the bright skies an initial strong wind flow and tide movement. Sunny skies are great for the sight fisher, allowing the angler to see and target the fish. Aided by the clearer waters of winter, fish can be much more easily spotted in the shallows with bright overhead skies. This is not always an indicator of our ability to catch them, but the ability to see them is the first step when sight casting.

A Stealthy Approach

Light wind, sunny skies and clear water will require a very stealthy approach from the angler as these conditions make fish much more vulnerable and aware of potential threats to their safety. Stop well short of the areas you intend to fish or believe are holding fish and work slowly and methodically until you locate them. Loud noises, boat wakes and other pressure waves that we create can alert fish to our presence. Keep in mind that when you get a bite its definitely time to slow down and work the area more thoroughly. One of the greatest parts of winter fishing is that when you find one fish, you have likely found an area holding many fish.

Dark & Stormy

So, if sunny skies and light wind make for great sight fishing, but likely only happen once every 3-5 days, what do you do when the clouds and cooler temperatures roll back in? You must learn where the fish move as the temperatures and tides drop. It may require a fair amount of knowledge of the area you’re fishing, but falling temperatures and falling tides actually generate a fairly predictable pattern from fish.

It is important to understand about how changing temperatures effect fish movement. As a general rule, during the cooler months, if the air is warming and the water is cold, fish will move shallow as soon as the air temperature exceeds the water temperature. Much the same, when the air temperatures drop below the water temperature during cooling periods, fish will tend to move towards deeper water. Knowing this basic principle will help guide you during the winter months.

Cloudy skies have settled in, seeing the fish is virtually out of the question. Temperatures are cooler and the tides are low; where have the fish moved? Here is when you need to understand the structures in the area. Contour depth changes, reefs, and bay floor make up all play a big role in where fish will move during these conditions.

Typically, open water adjacent to the shallow marsh is the first depth contour change that will allow slight insulation from cooling water. This is also where you are likely to find some added structure like oyster reefs. Look for areas with dense dark mud as it will not only hold many small food sources, but will maintain a slight advantage in warmth as well.

Sunny vs Cloudy Days 

There will be other notable differences in these two primary patterns. Periods of sunny skies, light wind and clear water will dictate the use of smaller lures and flies, stealthy approaches and much more subtle presentations to catch fish.

When the skies are cloudy and wind has returned, and especially when temperatures are falling, it often pays off greatly to increase the size of your presentation. This is when mullet imitations can bring huge catches, not just in numbers, but often in the size of the fish. Topwater “dog walking” lures and slow sinking, suspending finesse lures and twitch baits can provide rod jerking strikes that you won’t soon forget.

catch2000 Winter Redfish Patterns

MirrOlure’s Catch 2000 is a great subsurface bait for winter.

For winter sight fishing my go-to lures would be a dark colored small swim or paddle tail soft plastic rigged on 1/16th to 1/4 ounce screw lock jig heads or a hand-tied Buggs lure. When the clouds roll in, it’s tough to find me not fishing a top water like a Super Spook or Spook Jr., or a She Dog or She Pup. I like natural colors like white, bone and chrome for clear water. Use darker colors for dirtier water or cloudy conditions.

When it’s time to drop below the surface, the Catch 2000 or Corky series are hard to beat. Pink, Texas chicken and chartreuse/gold are my go-to colors. Some interesting fun can also be found with shallow running twitch or crank baits. Again, all I can say is hang on! The strikes can take your breath away.

Putting It All Together

There is so much more to winter fishing than I can possibly cover here, but understanding the basic temperature change and fish movement will get you started. Digging deeper, you will start to notice that barometric pressure also plays a huge role, and understanding tides and structures are like the interlocking pieces of the puzzle.

Don’t let winter fishing intimidate you! It’s like any other time of year and just requires a different knowledge base to create success. As an added bonus, fishing during the clear water and low tide periods during winter may also provide you with the best education you will get all year.

Take this opportunity to learn more about bay floor structures, such as shallow areas, reefs, guts and deeper channel flows. This will help your overall understanding of where and how fish move around the bays.

Fall into Great Galveston Fishing

September 6th, 2017

souleredfish 1 Fall into Great Galveston Fishing

Alisha Soule with a Galveston marsh redfish.

By Capt. Steve Soule

After what feels like an eternal summer this year, I could not be more excited thinking about fall and cooler temperatures. There are so many great things that happen on the bays, and of course the cooler temperatures don’t hurt my feelings one bit.

In mid August its still hot but one of the first major changes happens; the kids go back to school. There’s a slight drop in fishing pressure as many of us have to change our focus from entertaining kids to keeping them on track with school work and other related activities.

Tropical weather from late summer is usually the starting point of some very slight bay water cooling. The increase in even daily thunderstorms and cloud cover starts the downward trend of water temperatures. This seems to in turn trigger some slight change in fish feeding and activity periods.

Extreme daytime temps of summer can reach well into the 90’s and often leave us with fish that are sluggish and less active during the mid day periods. Scorching heat and cloudless days can push fish to slightly deeper water and definitely seem to keep fish from high levels of surface feeding. Not to say that there won’t be activity in the heat but many days it can be reduced from other peak times. Add in some heavy cloud cover and you will notice a decrease in water temp even without rain fall. Mix in some solid rainstorms with the cloud cover and its entirely possible to knock several degrees off the surface and shallow water temps.

Short days, long stringers

By September, we have typically passed peak temperatures. It’s still hot for sure, but we are beginning to trend slowly downward. Shorter daylight “photo period” helps as there is a reduction of hours of sun heating. Another slight boost to fishing is the second annual reduction of fishing and boating traffic due the opening of some shooting sports season. Teal season does put some boats on the water in select areas, but they aren’t moving around much during the first few hours of the day. In general, the reduction of boats running around tends to help “settle” the fish and allow them to spend their time doing the feeding and moving habits that are normal and less of their time trying to avoid propellers and loud noises that our boats make.

Fish the outgoing tide

One of the biggest changes, and one that affects certain parts of the bay very dramatically, is the change in tides and timing. This is a known annual event, though there is no exact repeating date when it occurs. At some time in September, we will see this change, the change of having a typical daily incoming tide in the early morning hours. Eventually we see the early morning tide turn to an outgoing swing. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if you understand the number, size and varying types of baitfish, shrimp and crabs that have grown through the warmer months and have spent their time deep into marshes and up rivers and creeks, falling tides tend to become the predominant feeding time.

Knowing where some of the big numbers of prey species are makes it easier to understand how an outgoing tide can spike feeding activity. Small baitfish and invertebrates are much more subject to being moved around by the force of tides, not to mention that their food sources are moved and easily available during periods of stronger tide movement. As these tides flow and bring food out into open areas, fish tend to binge feed on more available food sources.

Conversely, on incoming and higher tides, many of the food species are able to find cover and shelter in places that make it challenging for predators to reach them.

Cool water feeding

The final change of the fall tends to come slightly later in September or early October, and is again temperature related. Though we will probably see some very mild cool fronts, the early “stout” fronts will make a huge difference in fishing. The smaller mild fronts will create small changes in bay temps and fish feeding, but as we start to see more significant fronts, feeding activity increases at a much more notable rate. Since these early fronts don’t typically bring huge temperature drops and are quickly followed by rapid warming, they don’t really cool the water that much. Stronger fronts that last longer, will create even more water cooling.

So, why does cooler water make the fish feed? In short, so many of the small prey species that arrive in the spring, have grown to maturity and are prepared to move out of the back bays, creeks and rivers and these movements are triggered by falling temperatures. Add the onset of outgoing tides and you have a perfect recipe for heavy feeding.

Fish are aggressive, food is more readily available, the boating and fishing traffic has reduced and the comfort level is significantly better to spend a day outside. Sounds like a perfect time to go and enjoy the outdoors.    

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.

Fishing Bull Tides & Spring Winds

February 26th, 2015

souleredfish Fishing Bull Tides & Spring Winds

Torrey Hawkins releases a 29-inch marsh red.

By Capt. Steve Soule

Spring on the upper Texas Coast brings the return of many things, sunshine and warming temperatures are what we tend to notice the most.

springmarshflies Fishing Bull Tides & Spring WindsAs much as those two factors make us rush to the bays, they are not the keys to angling success in the Spring. Though they do in fact play an important role, they are not nearly as influential as most anglers believe them to be.

Conditions, specifically those that we can easily detect above the water, are not the same as those that a predator like a redfish or speckled trout feels below the water’s surface. If I was to give my personal estimation of the two conditional factors that have the greatest influence, they would have to be water temperature and daily photo period. These are what both predator and prey feel, and are the factors that drive spawning and the return to shallow bays and estuarine waters.

Beyond sun and rising water temps, wind is probably the most notable factor for anglers, and probably the one that is the most discouraging. We can’t change the wind and it isn’t always easy to forecast, but we should all understand its impact and learn to use it to our advantage.

Strong southerly winds and powerful incoming tides of Spring are the arteries that deliver the life blood to our coastal bays and estuaries. These will typically start bringing new life as early as February, and continue well into April and even May. These bull tides bring numerous prey species, along with their food sources, back to the shallows. Each of the returning animals’ migration, whether large or small in distance, is timed perfectly by the return or resurgence of their primary food sources.

An entire article could be dedicated to prey species, their eating habits and preferred habitat, but knowing a few factors that play critical roles in locating and catching trout and redfish are worthy of mention. Blue and stone crabs, white, brown and to a lesser degree, pink shrimp, glass minnows, menhaden and shad, as well as sheepshead minnows and many more all make their annual return to the estuaries during spring. They wash inshore on incoming tides towards lower salinity estuarine waters where they can thrive and find abundant microbial food sources.

The Bass Assassin Sea Shad in Slammin’ Chicken is a good springtime marsh bait. Purple is a common color in juvenile blue crabs.

The Bass Assassin Sea Shad in Slammin’ Chicken is a good springtime marsh bait. Purple is a common color in juvenile blue crabs.

The Norton Bull Minnow in Texas Roach is good for low visibility marsh water. Use 1/16-1/8 oz jigheads with these soft plastics.

The Norton Bull Minnow in Texas Roach is good for low visibility marsh water. Use 1/16-1/8 oz jigheads with these soft plastics.

As anglers, we can all benefit from a greater understanding of the life cycles and influences within our chosen fishing grounds.

Just as these animals arrive, due to abundance of food, so do their predators. In nature, every step of the food chain is driven by three basic, instinctual needs: food, safety, and reproduction. Knowing this makes it very clear that to find our target fish, we must find its target or preferred food. As anglers, we can all benefit from a greater understanding of the life cycles and influences within our chosen fishing grounds. We must accept that sometimes the things that frustrate us the most can provide the greatest advancement in our angling skills.

Wind can make our fishing days challenging; knowing where those winds deposit concentrations of prey species can make them more productive. West Galveston Bay’s notorious winter “moss” can frustrate us to no end, but the realization that its “decay stage” provides possibly the largest food source for many returning and emerging prey species, might well make you look more closely at the areas most inundated.

Knowing some of the favorite prey species and their preferred habitat and food sources are great. Now, it’s up to you as a successful angler to locate them. Most of these small species are difficult to physically locate. Thankfully, there are some larger and more widespread animals that can help us locate the smaller food sources that often lead to greater catches. Since most every angler reading this has likely experienced fishing an area devoid of prey species and the ensuing unproductive day, we probably all can now see the importance of finding the food source.

Focus your efforts, whether on open bay shorelines, or in the marshes, on the areas populated by mullet. They are not only much easier to see, but they also eat the same decaying plant material that most of the smaller prey species dine on. Also, take the time to explore every stretch of water inhabited by shore birds such as egrets, herons, ibis and spoonbill. Areas where terns and gulls are diving are likely to have juvenile surface dwelling animals, riding currents. Many of these are extremely small and hard to see, but don’t think that hungry predators would pass up on the opportunity to feast on these helpless little morsels.

Wendell Breazele with a nice fly caught trout.

Wendell Breazele with a nice fly caught trout.

Don’t let the most transitional season deter your efforts, use this season to explore and use your angling skills to locate fish in places you haven’t often looked. You will find, that even though spring fishing can be very challenging, it can also be very productive for those who armed with knowledge. You might just find some very aggressive fish that are waiting to reward you with explosive strikes.