This is the last in a series of articles I’ve written for the average bay fisherman who is interested in a professional fishing guides perspective on selecting how to fish, where to fish and what bait to use during a day a fishing. This last article is perfect for the approaching Winter and early Spring fishing patterns as the low tides from cold fronts are more predominant this time of year. It has almost been a year since the I wrote the first article and I hope at least someone, somewhere has found them useful! If you haven’t read all the articles you can go to www.fishntexas.com/fishntexas_stories.htm to find the others in this series. One of the most often asked questions is what causes low tides and in our area that is easy, cold fronts with strong north winds! Next add a full or new moon phase, limited rains and you have the perfect scenario for a low tide. In closing this first paragraph I would like to add that ethics in this type of fishing really come into play as many times the boats are stacked together on a shoreline or gut, please give the guides courtesy and they will return it, more than likely they were the first ones there anyway!
Now for the fishing, on a low tide you can expect the fish to be grouped up and what the fish will eat will be your first question! There are two main baits that are used this time of year and they are Shrimp and Mullet, both live and dead. We also have a choice to use crab and sometimes it is the difference, however Shrimp and mullet are the main stay. Many days during the Winter and early Spring we cannot find live shrimp at the bait houses, this is usually do to the weather. Shrimpers have trouble locating shrimp schools at times and the price of fuel doesn’t allow too many days of not bringing them home, so they stay at the dock until things look better. Although I prefer using live Shrimp, dead shrimp will work just fine most of the time, however make sure it is pretty fresh and big! There are a number of local fish markets that keep Shrimp for these occasions, so when you find one make sure you keep the number handy because there are many slow winter days when the bait shop will not open because of weather, slow business or no bait!
Once you’ve chosen your bait, the next line of business will be to decide on several different areas to fish, I say several because you’ll always want a backup plan. Remember to be careful on the water when the tide is low, all sorts of of things can hamper your progress to your fishing hole. Really pay attention to following the guts or passes and do not cut corners! Every year we have a fishing phenomenon in which the fish are really get stacked up in places like South Bay Gut, Morris & Cummings Cut, Quarantine shoreline, Yucca Cut and the list goes on! Now before shallow running boats became the norm even for the weekend fisherman us guides really enjoyed these areas and the were dead on productive, however of late everyone has a shallow running boat – even the dreaded Winter Texans (I wouldn’t say it like that if I ever saw one release a fish they had caught! LOL!), so the fishing isn’t as predictable as the old days (or what the papers report). With that said there are still a lot of fish to be caught, you just need to be smarter than the fish! Use your previous knowledge of the area, any deeper water spot you’ve crossed could hold fish! Also pay attention to other boats on the water and keep in mind that just because there are a lot of boats in an area most of the time only one or two are catching fish and when trying to join these groups go the opposite direction of the fish and use your TROLLING motor. Never attempt to enter with your big motor, if you don’t have a trolling motor you can drift in there but you better have a push pole to get out or you’ll make a lot of people really mad if you drift through the fish or fire up your motor to head the other direction! With all this being said be equipped properly or don’t do it, that is just plain ethical.
Once you’re anchored and ready to fish, look around to see what bait or rigs seem to be working. If you can’t tell or you are alone keep rods with the various methods described below, if one is catching more fish, well then rig more rods like that one! Sometimes you will not be able to get too close to the fish, use the rig you can cast the farthest. A general rule, but not absolute, for choosing bait is the wind and water color, dirty water/windy day Something with scent and in clear water/calm day live bait! There are times when I have had very fresh frozen shrimp from the seafood market and can’t get a hit, however if I squeeze the head off of a live shrimp the fish go to town…or rather my cooler! That is why I always choose live Shrimp when available even though it costs a lot more! Last thing, don’t move around, pick a spot and be patient, the fish will work their way to you usually. If you move around too much are getting in between boats you’ll only make enemies and spook fish! I waited 2 hours once and watched a couple of guide buddies catch their limits, when they were done I was first in line to the spot and smacked the fish!
Let’s get down to the rigs I prefer when fishing these baits. I always use 20# fluorocarbon leader tied to the main line with or without a swivel. I use a Carolina Rig when fishing cut bait, live Shrimp or live Mullet with a 1/4 to 1/2 oz weight. I sometimes use a Texas Rig with live shrimp for more casting distance. As with most live bait or lures I use a loop knot at the terminal or hook end.
Leader – Easy, I use only 20# fluorocarbon! The leader length should be about 18″ give or take. It should be long enough to were the knot does not have to go through the eye when casting which prevents longer casts. When using a popping cork you want the bait to sit just above the height of the grass.
Hooks – 3/0, 4/0, 5/0 6/0 Gamakatsu or VMC Kahle hooks depending on the size of the bait.
Weights – 1/4oz – 1/2 oz barrel weight.
Jig Heads – I predominantly use Bass Assassins jig heads. I like the 1/4 oz version and I keep both chartreuse and plain colors!
Knots – I use a line to leader knot instead of a swivel for the Jig Head leader however I tie a loop knot on the Jig Head. The only time I use a swivel is when fishing the bait on the bottom using a weight because at times I need a longer casts on the calm shallow flats and i want the bait to stay down. I tie a loop knot at the Kahle hook or end of the terminal tackle for more realistic movement.
Here are some special tips to keep in mind with this type of fishing, after time you’ll be adding your own special touches that work for you or your fish, whatever the case may be!
- When the bite is slow try using smaller pieces of cut bait and smaller hooks.
- Use the bigger shrimp, grilling size, at times I have to buy double the bait just to get enough of the size I want.
- When fishing guts use your trolling motor to look for mud puffs, that is where the fish are, setup to cast at your maximum distance to that area.
- Remember structure, the fish are sometimes in the middle however the edges like grass, shell, drops are what the fish orient themselves to.
- If the bite is soft try peeling the Shrimp, I know, I have to really like you to peel Shrimp or pistachios for you!
- If the fish aren’t taking the bait good let them run with it before they feel the line pressure, drop the rod tip to them.
- If frozen shrimp is not working use live shrimp, squeeze the head off, I mean squeeze not break, you want all the guts and legs left on them.
- If two guide boats are next to each other at a certain distance, it is usually for a reason ask permission before getting between them, they’ll be glad to help you out.
As always remember that nothing about fishing is set in stone, pay attention, vary your approach and find what works! When your group gets their limit (couple more if you want to release) leave quietly to let other anglers enjoy it?don’t just keep hammering them, if there are other around. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and remember if you don’t eat it release it , preserve some fish for our kids!
_— Capt. Scott McCune
_“The Saltwater Cowboy”
Other Articles in this Series:
Part 1: Bay Fishing with Bait 101
Part 2: Popping Cork and Shrimp Texas Style
Part 3: Calm Summer Mornings to Windy Afternoons — Croaker & Piggy Perch