When you look closely at almost anything, trends or patterns can be found, this is especially true with fishing. Part of fishing is predicting the fish’s next move based on the patterns observed. If I was the best fisherman ever, I would drive my boat directly to the fish and catch everything, every day. I hate to break your heart; this is not the case. No matter how hard we try, we fisherman will never be able to completely predict where the fish will be tomorrow, regardless of whatever pattern we see. We can hone our skills and get good at predicting, but the fish do win from time to time. It’s a part of life.
I’m not giving you excuses. The irony of this is, if the fish were trying to catch me, I’d be in their stomach before you finish reading this sentence. Looking back over the past few years I too have followed a particular pattern. I only sit down at home to write fishing articles when the weather is frigid, and my only chore is to keep the pipes from freezing. With all do respect, Rockport Texas is a great place to be outside enjoying the outdoors for most of the year. Today is not one of those days.
I like being outdoors basking in the warm sun while puffy white clouds drift by in the shapes of animals. Do you blame me for not wanting to be inside writing fishing articles? Quite frankly, I didn’t have any better options so here I am, holed up in my house, trying to stay warm, trying to be efficient or productive if you will…Surviving. There is also more irony to this: I ask myself where the fish might be at this exact moment in time? What they might be doing? The answer is the same; holed up, trying to stay warm, keeping their pipes from freezing, trying to be efficient, surviving. Not the first time I’ve said this, but fish and humans are much alike.
Enough with the jibber jabber ironies of life and fishing. 2024 is looking to be a good year of fishing here in Rockport Texas with respect to what I experienced last year. The freeze of 21’ did some serious damage to our Texas saltwater fisheries. I have seen a slow but gradual recovery during 22’ & 23’ in the overall abundance of fish species however, the numbers are still off from historical highs. Some areas faired better than others, mostly due impart to water depth and their vicinity to the Gulf of Mexico.
With that said, many of my favorite areas to fish have not been as productive as I would like thus forcing me to adapt. Most of my fishing efforts since 2021 have been focused on areas close to passes that flow into the Gulf of Mexico. The overall abundance of marine life in and around the major passes, like Cedar Bayou, has kept me close. I also fish much slower and more patiently than I did pre-freeze. Driving around looking for a hole-in-one has led me to wish I hadn’t moved from where I caught my first fish on many days. I can’t tell you how many days I have gone back to a spot where I caught one or two fish earlier in the day and left, only to find a pile of more aggressive fish.
Before I decide to commit to a particular area, I look for signs indicating the presence of fish. Sometimes the signs are subtle, so subtle that one could miss them in the blink of an eye. The fish will not always be doing backflips out of the water. A single shrimp jumping, a seagull hovering, a muddy spot, slicks and nervous bait are all good indications that the fish are there. Great! So, you think you found them. All the right signs, yet not a single bite…This is when the game of patience and trickery come into play. Is it worth sitting around waiting for the fish to eat or are my chances of success better if I try to find a different location where the fish are eating?
This is a dilemma, and unfortunately in life there is no right answer for every circumstance. However, life is a game of odds. We must go with the best available option. When fish are abundant, sometimes it pays off to systematically move until you land on a pile of stupid aggressive ones. Prior to the freeze of 21’, the odds were in your favor using this approach. As of lately, I have adopted a less aggressive strategy that sometimes involves what I call “pudknocking”: the act of meticulously extracting individual fish, one at a time, from a particular structure by making very short and calculated moves. Slow and steady wins the race sometimes. It might not be wham, bam, thank you ma’am but at the end of the day a lot of folks might be scratching their heads while you clean fish.
This is all easier said than done of course but I have a tried-and-true method that warrants your consideration. It’s called the “two-minute warning.” Allow me to explain: You are in a good location with plenty of fishy signs but little to show for. You have plenty of other ideas and dreams of finding that one magical location that makes for a fairy tale ending and good stories. You ready the boat to move, you fumble the key. Just before you turn that engine over, pause to reconsider… One more cast, two more minutes, we catch one we stay, we don’t we move…
It is those two minutes that I think about the most when attempting to unravel the mysteries of my success and failure over the past few years. I can’t begin to describe how many times a simple decision, such as being a little bit more patient and making just one more cast has turned a day of fishing into a day of catching. As with anything in life, it is the inches and seconds that determine success versus failure. In most cases, when we find ourselves short of meeting our own goals, victory seems so far off despite our best efforts, just remember that two minutes can change everything. Do you remember Al Pacino’s “inches” speech in the movie Any Given Sunday?
Fishing is a mind game and it’s not hard to defeat yourself. The only remedy is optimism and persistence. If by chance it doesn’t work out, learn from your mistakes because there is just as much information embedded in failure as there is in success. When I have a tough day of fishing, I take it personal, and it sucks! In the end, I might not figure out what I did wrong, but I can certainly figure out what to do differently next time. Of course, if you don’t want to think that hard about fishing then your best option is to just call me so I can do the thinking for you! All jokes aside, there is a method to my madness and it all stems from experience, trial and error.
Speaking of trial and error, I recount a charter last year where my customers wanted to pre-fish or scout for a fishing tournament. I found the speckled trout that we were looking for, but I struggled to find redfish. The following day I caught up with them to see how they did. To my satisfaction they did well, and even found a few redfish to help them place in the tournament. When I asked about the redfish, they told me it was strange. They threw cut mullet and live shrimp in the locations that I suggested without any luck. Whether out of desperation, luck or true insight, one of the guys decided to throw an atrocious looking soft plastic lure in the exact place the real baits had been moments before. Within a matter of minutes, they landed several nice fish on the last thing I would have used for bait. It just goes to show how unpredictable fish can be.
On another occasion this past year I remember several days where the redfish would only eat a live croaker the size of your hand. If you threw a normal sized bait, both you and the croaker would die of boredom before any action. It was as if the redfish had a ruler and were measuring each bait. Not only will the fish eat unexpected baits from time to time, but they will also completely ignore, or gobble food based on size. Sometimes they like to slowly graze, eating only small hors d’oeuvre. Sometimes they want one big main course and nothing more. When dealing with finicky fish, drastically altering the size of the bait can make a huge difference. For example: Try using a small chunk of dead shrimp vs an entire live shrimp. The same can be true for using larger baits as well.
I’d like to thank all my customers for a great 2023 and I am looking forward to this year. I have a wonderful job and get to meet so many great folks along the way. Unfortunately, meeting many great people also includes losing some great people from time to time. Rest in peace Adam and David. I’ll never forget the beautiful days we spent chasing fish without a care in the world. My blessings go out to your friends and families, and I hope that they find peace.
Until next time, probably the next freezing cold rainy day, stay safe and well. Give me a shout if you want to go fishing!
-Capt. Johan Coombs