Upper coast bays bounce back after springtime floods
Freshwater is the lifeblood of an estuary, and it’s what makes the upper Texas coast so incredibly productive, dynamic and unique. Major creeks, bayous and rivers provide our bays with nutrient-filled freshwater inflows from the watersheds that feed into them upstream. This runoff is essential for the overall health of these ecosystems. But too much of a good thing can have negative effects.
Flooding spring rains produced immense influxes of freshwater that bottomed out salinities and churned large portions of upper coast bay waters into a muddy mess. Visibility and water clarity became extremely poor. This created a scene that many local anglers have become all too familiar with in recent years.
The fish can’t eat what they can’t see. As a result, fishing action came to a screeching halt for many immediately after the heavy rain that occurred across the eastern and southeastern portions of the Lone Star State during the month of May.
Despite the fact that anglers are dealing with another summer following an extremely wet spring, the resilient nature of our bays remains strong. Enjoying a successful day on the water is still an attainable goal when a flexible game plan is in place.
I have learned some of the best tactics for dealing with significant freshwater inflows by spending time on the water in southwest Louisiana on Calcasieu Lake. Just a short drive from almost any upper Texas coast locale, the neighboring estuary has plenty of similarities with our home waters. I consider it an extension of the upper Texas coast.
Recently my wife, Emily, and I spent a couple of days fishing Calcasieu with Capt. Nick Poe of Big Lake Guide Service. Poe was in the middle of coping with similar struggles from too much freshwater runoff when we arrived. Most of the estuary’s water was in poor shape, but he had a plan to combat this issue.
We focused our efforts in the best looking water we could find with the most visibility, and ended up targeting the banks along the north end of the Calcasieu ship channel where the term “good” took on a new meaning. There was nothing good about the appearance of the water we were fishing in, but it did sport better clarity than waters anywhere else.
Poe rigged us up with popping corks and scented baits to help get the attention of hungry fish in the off-colored water. His tactics proved to be effective and we landed hordes of redfish for two days straight.
Another strategy Poe employs when salinities are below normal and the water clarity in Calcasieu Lake is lacking is to focus his efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, far away from sources of freshwater runoff. Stretches along the beachfront, as well as the short rigs out of the Cameron jetties south of Calcasieu Lake, are excellent hotspots to load up on speckled trout. I’ve spent many days fishing these areas with Poe, and the action can be hot and heavy.
The same tactics Poe uses to cope with influxes of freshwater in southwest Louisiana can be applied to all of our upper Texas coast bay systems. Sometimes, the best option an angler has is to target the best looking stretches of water that are available, even if the water clarity in these areas appears to be far from ideal.
Channels, jetties and passes, as well as the surf and near-shore structures within the Gulf, are other prime options. These areas will contain the saltiest water and may hold higher concentrations of fish.
It’s important to note that saltwater is more dense than freshwater. This allows it to sink toward the bottom while the water with a lower salinity floats near the surface, creating a layering effect throughout the water column. Because of this, most of the fish will be holding tight to the bottom in the depths where there’s the saltiest water.
Anglers can use this bit of information to their advantage to catch plenty of speckled trout by targeting deep water structures, such as mid-bay reefs, well pads and spoil banks along channels. These gamefish will be stacked up in the salty water along the bay floor where the structures are, so bait presentations that sink quickly to the bottom are the best choice.
As summer wears on, salinities will continue to increase throughout our estuaries as the systems rebound from the effects of freshwater runoff. The upper reaches of our bays will maintain lower salinities the longest, and they’ll be the last to bounce back.
Conditions are improving and the playing field of productive water is increasing in size each and every day. Make plans to fish the best water you can find and go catch ’em.