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Classic frontal approach – high pressure will come right behind it.JAY WATKINSASK THE PROUNRAVELING THE POST-FRONT PUZZLEI hope everybody is enjoying the cooler weather pattern that we have in place right now. Cold is coming and with it some changes in our approach and our gear, but maybe that is next month’s article. In this issue I am going to talk about fishing post-frontal periods versus the preferred pre-frontal periods. I am still very busy, so I fish at least 20 to 22 days a month, 12 months a year. This means that I fish more days with less than ideal conditions than when conditions are best for catching. To be very honest, and not to boast, but I have been busy just about my entire career, which means I have been forced to learn how to fish in tough conditions. Understand that tough does not always mean bad weather.
Some of the most beautiful days along the middle and lower Texas coast are not the best conditions for catching fish. These conditions are excellent times to be on the water fishing, no doubt, but many times they are just not ideal for catching fish. This becomes especially true if we have our efforts focused on the small percentage of trout that have reached trophy status. For me personally, weight trumps length. Mike McBride told me of a fish he caught not long ago that weighed more than 4-½ pounds, but only stretched the tape to 22 inches. What an absolute tank and a fish. If caught again in a few years it will definitely be approaching trophy class. I don’t know how I got off on that but let me return to my subject for this month’s piece.
When I was playing sports I had two coaches that insisted on working on the fundamentals in which the team was lacking. To be honest, we lacked in most of them but we loved the game. I love this fishing game, and over the past dozen or so years have become a fishing coach to those wanting to learn. Many wish for tough days when booking me, hoping to see some magic that helps them produce when others struggle. There is no magic. Attention to detail is what helps us become better than average on tough days. If I had to describe the typical setup for a tough day, the fall and winter months would definitely stand out.
Many have experienced unbelievable periods during a pre-frontal period. This would be especially true when lucky enough to also have a major or minor solunar period occurring just prior to the front’s arrival. It’s all the good and magical things we have heard about – barometric pressure declining, just as cooler air temperatures arrive, and eventually cooler surface water temperatures. Make this on a Tuesday and not a weekend, and we are golden…right?
But what happens when the front has already pushed through, the clouds disappear, tides drop, water turns air-clear, and barometric pressure has risen through the roof? Lockjaw is what happens most of the time when we are chasing that small percentage of upper-class trout. Low tides will concentrate baitfish, so we at least have that going for us.
For many there is a mental block when fishing for trout in the conditions just mentioned. If I had to make a guess I would say 75% of the field will eliminate themselves before the first cast. That leaves 25% of the anglers on any given day with a real advantage. I have said this many times but it is worth repeating. The head game is the most important part of your fishing game. You must remain confident and you must stay focused the entire day when faced with truly tough periods after fall and winter fronts.
Tricked a nice one!High barometric pressure associated with most frontal passages is most often the reason given for a tough bite. I would agree that high barometric pressure can create tough feeds. Add to this a drastic drop in barometric pressure prior to the front and trout on an all-out gorge feed during that time, and it would stand to reason that we would experience a period of time when the trout did not want or need to eat. I personally don’t like prolonged periods of low tides for trout fishing. Short periods with a major drop will concentrate bait and trout alike, but I like to see it rising again a few days after the front.
Clear water allows me to see all the structure that I know will be holding fish. I can also see the deeper guts , potholes, and drop-offs and other bottom features these areas hold. In the areas I fish the two most productive bottom structures are either submerged grassbeds or scattered clumps of oyster shell. Locating bait, whether active or not, is still the key to my daily success. Many times I will see large pods of mullet moving along the bottom as we idle into a targeted area. Mullet of any kind in any numbers are a huge player in your day. Finding the food source and staying put is often our best bet.
I look for areas where I know the fish have easy access to shallow feeding and warm-up zones, as well as deeper and darker depths that will provide security in calm, clear conditions. I also pay very close attention to brown pelicans and the osprey during periods of tough fishing. These guys, especially the osprey, do not waist energy in areas where food is not available. I had a day last winter where I counted thirteen osprey, if my memory is correct, working a flat with me. Man, what a day, and what an experience it was to fish with these guys. I do believe that number is the highest I have ever seen in one area working baitfish.
Hunter Odom downsized his lure on a high pressure day.So, we have located bait, found some bird activity, located the proper bottom structure, and varied water depths that hold similar bottom structure. Now it is time to start the search with actual casts to these areas. My wading box will always hold my favorite Custom Corky Fat Boy or Soft Dine, Texas Custom Double D, and MirrOlure Lil John and Lil John XL. I believe in clear-bodied lures for clear water, for the most part. My standard rigging includes thirty-six plus inches of clear 20-pound mono leader with sixteenth-ounce 2/0 screw-lock Texas Custom Jig Head. No swivel, no snaps or those twisty things, just tie direct with a small loop knot. Keep it simple and focus on presentation and attention to every movement of your lure.
Trout that are not needing or wanting to eat will pick up a lure if you put it on her nose. She might not intend to eat it – but remember, she has no hands, if she picks it up it’s in her mouth.
Last week our bite got ugly tough for a few days. And just so you know – ugly tough is tougher than double-tough. On many occasions a bite was just a slight click on the line. Any sudden upward movement of the rod resulted in slack line. This was true even when we reeled down quickly with as little rod movement as possible. I found that a quick and steady retrieve, allowing the rod tip to bend very slightly toward the fish, followed by a low sweeping hookset, yielded the best hook-up ratio. It’s a very quick response when done properly because I do it all in a single motion.
Every quality fish would immediately come to the surface in an effort to throw the lure. As frustrating as it was on several occasions, this response to the bite produced good numbers of quality fish. On two particular days it did not and I guess that is why it is called fishing, not catching. I truly hate that saying because when I use it, it’s me admitting that I am not as good as I need to be.
I have a strong tendency to go to soft plastic when searching for areas holding fish. I will also be quicker to size down from an XL to a standard Lil John, or from a Fat Boy to a Soft Dine. My confidence in being able to make a soft plastic or slow sinking-suspending bait do exactly what a baitfish might do when it encounters a predator is very high. Many times, once I have received a bite or two, I will change to one of the other lures in my box to see whether one of them might also work. I instruct my guys every day to pick their most favorite lure and start with that. Baits that we have had good success with provide a high level confidence, which gives the angler more staying power in an area when the bite is slow. Sometimes the staying power is the key to working through a tough period and allowing a bite to develop around us.
With that said it is also important to move slowly in the area that you feel is holding the fish. Walk around larger areas of sand where small satellite grassbeds or grass humps are present. Walking through the area will drive wary fish out of casting range. I can’t tell you how many times I have fished an area hard, covering all the structures in it while wading around its edges, only to return an hour later and find the area full of fish. Were they there all the time? Who knows. But I promise, if they are and you walk through it they won’t be there when you return.
I am also big on being able to make long, accurate casts when faced with fish that don’t want to be caught. Practicing both when on and off the water is the only true way to obtain the ability to cast greater distances accurately. Rods coupled with the proper reels have a ton to do with increasing casting distance, so invest in quality gear. My Custom 6’6” or 6’8” Henri rods paired with a 13-Fishing C2 or TX2 gets it done for me in the distance game.
So, I like it tough from time to time. It keeps us humble and it provides an opportunity to become better anglers. I always told my boys that failure builds character. Comically, both have had told me when we were struggling during tournaments that they had enough character already. It’s all good, and if we will look at our fishing in that way we will continue to enjoy our time on the water.
May your fishing always be catching! – Guide, Jay Watkins
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Letting the fish tell you what they want
CONTACTJay Watkins has been a full-time fishing guide at Rockport, TX, for more than 20 years. Jay specializes in wading yearround for trout and redfish with artificial lures. Jay covers the Texas coast from San Antonio Bay to Corpus Christi Bay.