Lost in the Texas Marsh

Standing JPEG

The clock on the dash of my truck shows 5:31, but I know it’s not accurate.  I keep it set eight minutes faster than the actual time, which means I’ll reach my destination a few minutes ahead of schedule.  That’s not uncommon since I always seem to wake up before my alarm goes off on mornings when I have a fishing trip planned.

As I approach my launch site, I do a quick scan of the area to see if my headlights reflect off of any other vehicles.  They don’t of course.  It’s rare that they ever do since I do my best to arrive before anyone else.  Beating the crowds is nice, but I don’t like to miss the sunrise as it peaks over the horizon.  That’s where it always looks the best.

I slowly back my truck up to the edge of the water and fumble through my gear for the can of Deep Woods Off.   On this muggy Texas morning, the winds are non-existent, which means the mosquitos will be out in full force.  I douse myself in the insect repellent before opening the door, but know it will only do so much.  Marsh mosquitos are tough, and I often think they view the spray as a marinade being applied to their next meal.

I exit the truck and begin the mindless task of unloading my kayak and gear.  I’ve performed this task several hundred times now, so within 10 minutes of arriving, I am on my way.

It’s still pitch black outside, so I turn on my 360-degree light, even though it won’t serve a purpose on this particular morning.  It’s way too shallow for powerboats to reach the spot I’m heading to, so the odds that I’ll become a speed bump in the dark are nonexistent.

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I have roughly thirty minutes before first light shows itself, which is more than enough time to complete the one-mile paddle required to reach my destination.  I keep my pace slow and steady, while carefully listening to the sounds of the marsh.  It’s quiet at first, and the only sounds I hear are the occasional splashes made by jumping horse mullet and few noisy seagulls.  Then, off in the distance, I hear something else.  The distinct flushing sounds that only feeding redfish make.  I don’t quite know the exact location, but turn the bow of my kayak in the general direction of the noise.   Even if I am unable locate this particular group of fish, it’s these types of sounds that get my adrenaline flowing for the day.

As I approach the area where I believe the fish had been feeding, I stop and wait, hoping that they will eventually give themselves away.  They don’t of course, so I fan cast the area with my topwater, hoping to get lucky. Three casts into the small cove results in zero blowups.  The fish that had been in the area just moments before seem to have vanished all of a sudden.

As the sun inches closer and closer to the horizon, my vision slowly improves.  A quick glance at the shoreline confirms what I already know.  The tides are extremely low this morning, with a good six inches separating the top of the water from the bottom of the grass.  Bait has very few places to hide right now, so the marsh birds are having a field day.  I watch a few Rosette Spoonbills as they swing their bills back and forth through the water in search of the tiny shrimp that are burrowed in the mud.  I don’t spend too much time watching though.  I have approximately two hours before the tide turns and begins rushing back in, so there’s little time to waste if I want to sight cast a few reds.

At times I’m paddling through 8” of water, but on occasion I hit an area so shallow that I’m forced to pole myself through what feels like more mud than water.  As I paddle, I do my best to remain in the center of the narrow channel that leads to the back of the lake. If I’m not careful, I could stray off course and be forced to walk through knee-deep marsh mud, which is not my idea of a good time.  This area is really shallow, but I know that I’ll find slightly deeper water and plenty of fish if I can just make it a little further.

After another hundred yards of carefully navigating my way through the maze of mud, I finally reach a consistent depth of one foot and my search begins.

I have four rods with me, just like I would on any other day.  One has a topwater; another has a popping cork, the third has a soft plastic, and the fourth is equipped with a ¼ oz. Beastie Bugg.  The cork, topwater, and soft plastic will more than likely not see much action today, but the Bugg is sure to get a workout.  If I catch any redfish this morning, it will be because I can see parts of, if not the entire fish.  After all, the low tides and exposed fish are the main reasons I chose to fish this particular marsh this morning.

The first area I approach is a small grass flat that has held good fish for me in the past around this time of the year.  Crabs, shrimp, baitfish, and numerous other creatures’ call this area home, and use it as a hideout from would be predators.  The redfish know that, and don’t seem to have a problem with putting in a little work for their food.

I start off by circumnavigating the football sized patch of vegetation, focusing on the edges of the grass.  I’m hoping to spot a few reds as they slowly move along the perimeter looking for their breakfast.  I’ve always had a hard time focusing on one area for an extended period of time; so naturally, I divide my time between watching the edge of the grass and looking out towards the middle.  I’ve spent several years training my eyes to subconsciously look for signs of redfish in shallow water, but so far, I am unable to locate any fish.

Large mullet in the area continue to jump, but the sound that their splashes make receive no attention from me.  Just like my eyes, my ears know what to listen for, so I’ll only jerk my head around if I hear the obvious sound made by redfish smashing bait.

After slowly covering a good fifty yards of water, I finally spot what I’ve been looking for.  A dozen redfish tails are sticking a few inches out of the water in close proximity to one another, as they rummage through the grass for small crustaceans.  I’ve witnessed redfish in this setting a hundred times before, but it never gets old. My heart starts racing, the excitement overwhelms me, and it’s like I’m seeing it for the first time again.

In the past, I would have paddle straight towards the fish, and fired a cast off in the middle of them as soon as I reached the outer limits of my reels casting capability.  More times than not, that cast would miss its mark, and the fish would scatter.  My past experiences let me know that those fish aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. It has taken a while, but I’ve learned that a little patience combined with a stealthy approach will almost guarantee that I catch one of these fish.

The fish are moving slowly, but they are moving, which means the direction they are heading is important.  I watch for a few seconds and determine that they are moving directly away from my current location.  I take my time and slowly paddle around the right hand side of them, making sure to stay a good 15 yards away at all times.  In all honesty, I’m not even paddling water to move my kayak.  Instead, I am placing the blade of my paddle into the soft mud, and propelling myself forward by pushing against it.  This approach is a littler quieter, and it allows me to get within casting distance of the school without giving myself away.

DSC_0047 copy_800x532A few minutes have passed now and the fish are still unaware of my presence. They are devouring shrimp and crab without the faintest idea that one of them is about to be yanked from their little group.  Half of me wants to spend a few minutes watching them feast, while the other demands that I make an immediate cast.  I only take a few seconds to decide, and the half that is begging me to make a cast wins.  It’s been too long since my last trip and I need to feel that tug on the end of my line.

I pick up my rod with the Bugg, double check the direction they are heading, and release a near perfect cast that lands three feet past and three feet in front of the school.  The Bugg lands softly and matches the size and color of the fleeing shrimp perfectly.   Not a single fish spooks, so I know what is about to happen.  I let the Bugg fall for about 3 seconds so that it reaches the bottom where the fish are feasting, give one twitch, and feel that familiar thump I’ve been waiting for.

I reel down my slack and lay into the fish with a powerful hook set.  At this point, all hell breaks loose.  The unlucky red that has taken my bait bolts from the group, the remaining fish scatter in every direction, and my reel begins playing that sweet music that only a fisherman can appreciate.

I begin what will probably be a 2-4 minute battle with the fish, but in all honesty, my favorite part is over.  I enjoy fighting the fish as much as the next guy, but my favorite thing about sight casting, is the eat.  I love seeing the fish pounce on my bait, feeling that hard thump, and experiencing those first five seconds of ninety mile per hour drag peeling as the fish races away, leaving behind a massive wake.  It’s what keeps me coming back for more time and time again.

Hot Pink Curl Tail BuggThree minutes have passed now, and the fish has made a couple of extraordinary runs, but with little energy remaining, he has accepted defeat.  I reach over the side of my kayak and bring my opponent onboard.  It’s a solid red at 25” with a beautiful bronze color.  The Bugg did its job and ended up in the corner of the fish’s mouth.  After a few wiggles back and forth, it comes free, leaving the fish unharmed and ready to rejoin his friends.  I gently slide him over the edge of my kayak and back into the water while holding him by the tail.  I’ll hold him here until he pulls away on his own, which occurs less than ten seconds later.  With a powerful wave of his tail, he splashes me with a little water, his idea of revenge I’m sure, before disappearing into the grass.

I spend the next few hours repeating this process and landing a handful a fish. The incoming tide has now ruined my skinny water and temperatures have already climbed into the lower 90s.  I’ve scratched my redfish itch for the day, so leaving a little earlier than planned doesn’t bother me on this particular morning.  I head back to the truck and no longer have to worry about getting stuck in the mud.  The water is even with the bottom of the grass now, so I am able to paddle anywhere I choose.

As I arrive back at the truck, I am greeted by a couple of kayakers that have just returned from their morning trip.  They don’t have a drop of mud on them, and I am completely filthy.  It turns out they were heading for the same general area that I had fished, but quickly decided to change plans upon arriving because they said, and I quote, “There just wasn’t enough water for the fish to be back there”.  Instead, they opted to fish a nearby deeper channel without any luck.  I can’t help but laugh a little and tell them that an area that’s too shallow for redfish doesn’t really exist.

DSC_0111 copy_800x532I describe the events of my day and tell them about everything I had to go through to reach my spot.  I tell them about the schools of fish and show them a few pics on my phone.  From the looks on their faces, I can tell that they are trying to decide if my story is true, or if I’m sending them on some wild goose chase to protect my honey hole.  I encourage them to give it a try one morning and they say they will give it some thought.

For those curious as to why I spend so much time in the shallow Texas marsh, this recap of the day’s events sums it up.  Watching the sun rise, listening to the sounds of nature, covering several miles of water as I search for fish, and seeing them pounce on my lure is a combination of events that makes it all worthwhile.  There are several different opportunities out there when it comes to selecting an area and species of fish to target, but for me, redfish in the marsh tops them all.

 

Tips and Tricks

Don’t be afraid to go shallow – Redfish will swim through water that even your kayak can’t float through.  If you choose not to fish a spot because you think “there’s just not enough water”, you could be making a big mistake.

Constantly use your eyes and ears – In water this shallow, redfish will often give themselves away if you know what to look and listen for.  Tails, backs, wakes, fleeing bait, hovering birds, or one tiny shrimp can be what leads you to the fish.

Use patience when you locate a fish – Often times, anglers get so excited when they see a visible fish that they will make a cast as soon as possible.  Take a minute or two and observe the fish.  See which direction its heading, determine whether it’s aggressively chasing bait, and if so, what is it eating.  Also, enjoy the sight of watching a 25” redfish as it swims through a few inches of water.  There are plenty of people that will never experience that.

Expect fish to be spooky – Redfish in really shallow water are normally pretty spooky.  Using small baits and casting past and in front of the fish by several feet is usually required if you want to keep from scaring them off.  Once the lure hits the water, very small twitches will help to draw attention to your lure without spooking the fish.

 

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