Late spring floods mean going deep to find salt-loving gamefish
Mid-May created a sense of deja vu for many anglers. There we were, excited about summertime fishing, and then came the rains. Flooding at that time was seasonably late. We usually see hard rain earlier in the spring. And the rain had an all-too-familiar effect on upper coast estuaries.
Salinity once again bottomed out along the upper reaches of the bay systems, while tremendous freshwater runoff created dirty water and took out much of the playing field in terms of productive fishing spots. It’s a pattern we’ve seen repeatedly over the past several years. So, it just makes sense to say, “Here we go again.”
Anglers wanting to maximize success must adjust their game plans and strategies to catch fish in the aftermath of floods. Those willing to adapt and persevere will reap the benefits.
If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that strong influxes of freshwater have driven most gamefish to deeper water, where they’re concentrating along the bottom. Saltwater is more dense than freshwater, so there’s a layer of saltier water deep in the column. That’s exactly where the fish will be — in the saltiest water they can find.
Some of the best stretches of deep, open water to find fish schooled after floods are smack dab in the middle of East Galveston Bay. From Hanna’s Reef, to Deep Reef and everywhere between, the bay bottom is littered with oyster shell and mud. Hordes of speckled trout can be found there, hunkered down and feeding tight to the bottom.
The only way to catch these fish is with a bait presentation that stays near the bottom in the strike zone. While some may choose to throw live or natural baits on weighted bottom-fishing rigs, I prefer to chunk soft plastic jigs and cover water.
Because the fish are not venturing very high into the water column, I typically don’t use a jig head lighter than 3⁄8 ounce. As far as soft plastics are concerned, I like to use Z-man Scented Jerk ShadZ and Z-man Scented PaddlerZ in bright colors.
When it comes to giving the jig some action on the retrieve, it doesn’t take much. You want to keep the bait as near the bottom as possible, almost as if you’re trying to hang a piece of shell. Quick, short hops and twitches will do the trick.
If you feel any resistance or weight at all during the retrieve, then set the hook. Often, the bite is extremely soft and subtle.
Fish the passes
Another strategy is to get as far as possible from the freshwater inflows. Targeting passes where estuarine and Gulf waters meet is a great way to do this.
In west Galveston Bay, the San Luis Pass offers pristine opportunities, especially to those willing to get out of the boat and wade fish. The sand bars and guts just inside of the pass on the bay side are known for producing phenomenal catches of both trout and redfish. Some of the cleanest water in the entire complex is there, especially during an incoming tide.
The most productive way to find fish at the San Luis Pass is to focus on stretches of water teeming with mullet. I’m not talking about one or two mullet flipping on the surface — I’m talking about rafts of mullet. Once you find an area that looks “fishy,” start chunking a topwater and hang on.
The north and south jetties along the channel leading into Galveston Bay also are great options. The key is to figure out which direction the water is flowing through the cracks in the granite rocks, and then set up on the down-current side of them. Redfish and speckled trout use the rock crevices as ambush points, and are typically down current of the granite, waiting for the tide to funnel baitfish and crustaceans to them for an easy meal.
Don’t forget about the surf
When the water along the beachfront gets calm and clears up, it offers some the best inshore fishing to be had along the upper Texas Coast. Conditions don’t always align for this to happen, but when they do, you can bet the surf will be chock-full of a variety of fish.
Most of the time, it takes a moderate to light north to northwest breeze, or an extremely light southeast wind, for the surf along Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula to flatten. Keep your eye on the winds and the waves and plan accordingly when things get right. You’ll be able to leave the fresher, dirty bay waters in your rearview and focus on catching.
Use your eyes
As summer wears on, our estuaries gradually will recover from the tremendous floods that altered their compositions so quickly. More and more options will open up as salinity begins to return to normal. Be aware of this while you’re out on the water, and keep your eyes peeled for areas with improved water clarity or signs of activity. Just because there were no fish in a specific spot a week ago, doesn’t mean they haven’t moved in since.
Freshwater runoff is a variable we’ll always have to deal with. We’ve been here before, and we will be here again. There are still areas holding fish, you just have to be mindful of where you’re fishing in relation to significant sources of freshwater inflows.
Focus on areas with higher salinity compared to the upper reaches of our bay systems, and be willing to adjust your game plan on the fly. Your persistence will be rewarded.
Editor’s note: Anglers should be aware that under Galveston ordinances, wade fishing, swimming or otherwise being in the water, is illegal in some parts of the San Luis Pass. It can be dangerous in all parts of the pass. Before you leave the boat, get informed about the rules and always wear personal flotation devices.