By Capt. Steve Soule | www.ultimatedetailingllc.com
Spring on the upper Texas coast brings warming temperatures, to both air and water. We have longer daylight periods and typically much more sunshine, accompanied by vigorous winds and choppy bays. It also is the time when multiple food sources return to our bay waters and shallows, flowing new life into areas of the bays that may have seemed desolate and devoid of life during the winter. The combination of springtime transitional patterns and occurrences can, and often do, confuse and complicate the plans of bay anglers.
This time of the year, we are still in a back and forth battle with passing cold fronts and swinging temperatures, though the greater trend is warming. With this in mind, we often have to change plans based on temperature. It is key to remember that as air temperatures drop below those of the water, fish will tend to move slightly deeper, and as air warms to temperatures greater than water, they tend to move shallow. This is in part due to the comfort level of the predators, but to an even larger degree, this pattern has to do with following their food sources.
Let’s throw in a little twist to this generalization. The bottom make up of the bay areas that you fish can also play a large role in temperature as well as comfort and availability of food sources for predators. Soft or darker colored mud bottom, especially in relatively shallow water will warm faster on sunny days. This can create comfort zones for both bait species and predators alike. So, as much as we watch temperatures, we also need to be aware of the amount of sun and bay floor make up to help focus our efforts on productive areas.
Photo period is an often overlooked part of transitional periods throughout the year. Photo period, the number of hours of daylight versus night, triggers many things beyond the obvious additional heating of the water temperature. It’s well known that this is one of the triggers for spawning periods of fish. It also plays a large role in the timing of baitfish and other prey species returning to various areas of the bays. Coincidental timing I suppose, but since most all plant life requires sunlight to grow, its a well timed natural occurrence for the return or emergence of many of the smaller fish and crustaceans right when their food sources become more prevalent. Here’s an interesting thought about photo period and longer hours of daylight during spring. Even at the same daily temperature, longer days will yield greater warming than shorter days. This helps with the overall warming trend even on days when temps aren’t significantly warmer, purely because of the extended hours of daylight.
COMPARING SPRING & FALL
Keeping in mind that this is a transitional season, spring is one that requires more patience compared to fall. During our fall transition, the bays are at the peak of life, with numerous prey species readily available and in abundance. Much of the activity in fall centers around the mass migrations and attempted exodus from the shallows first,and then from deeper waters. Because the triggers for feeding are falling temperature, photo period decrease and changes in wind and tide, the ensuing patterns become fairly predictable.
In spring, things just don’t happen all at once. There are many factors that affect the return of bait species, and unfortunately, they don’t all happen at the same time. There are counter forces that can slow and change the timing of when they occur. With many of the returning species of bait, we are dependent on favorable offshore conditions along with onshore wind flow to bring them into the bays. Some, on the other hand must move to more open water from deeper inland, in creeks and bayous. Timing and location of these events is different every year.
In spring, wind plays a huge role in many ways. Wind can have an obvious effect on the location and supply of many smaller prey animals. As much as heavy south or southeast winds can make our fishing days challenging, these are much needed to speed the return of many offshore species to the bays. Even though the exact timing and amount of any given species hitting certain areas of the bays is very unpredictable, there are some things we can count on nearly every year.
The gulf passes and outlets will be the first to see many species and typically in the greatest quantities. Shortly after, the adjacent shorelines and nearby structures will gradually blossom with new life. Similarly, the upper reaches of the bays will begin to see an increase in bait flows that seek slightly higher salinities returning from low salinity areas up creeks and bayous. These are great starting points in our search for fish, knowing that these areas will consistently have the earliest increases in food supply for the predators that we seek.
Beyond the challenges of finding fish, springtime winds can make fishing unpleasant, difficult and often unsafe. Some quick thoughts on wind; how it effects fish and anglers when it comes to deciding where to fish. Logic tells us that wind can move many of the small species, especially when it works in unison with tides. Winds can drive schools of small bait to wind blown shorelines, and make movement or escape from predators very difficult. This can and will create something of a buffet line for predators who can more easily move and prey upon small species.
These shorelines are often overlooked, and some days they should be for safety. North and west shorelines that see the brunt of the spring winds are great under moderate wind days and days following hard onshore wind flows. On the days that the winds are just too high to fish these areas, it makes much more sense to fish protected shores. Again, look for the shorelines and areas that are nearer to gulf passes or upper reaches of the bays where creek flows will deposit concentrations of food.
Keep in mind that spring winds often can create more than just a comfort problem for anglers, but often a safety concern, making certain areas just not worth the effort or risk to fish.
LURES FOR SPRING
I couldn’t talk this much about springtime transition and food sources without mentioning what types of lures to throw and some timing aspects to consider. This is one of the best times to fish bigger mullet imitations, especially topwater baits, but you will often need to be patient to find success. Timing is often the key here, tides and moon position can make a big difference in getting bites.
As much as I would love to do nothing but throw topwater lures, some days you have to scale down and get lower in the water column to get bites. If you find yourself surrounded by smaller baitfish, it can be well worth the time to try some small plastic swimming tails on lighter jig heads. There are also times when only very light or natural colored baits work when all else fails. Matching the hatch isn’t always necessary but getting close to the size can help.
Something else fun to try during spring are lipped twitch baits, like those from Rapala and Bomber. The erratic darting action and slow rise or suspension on the pause can often be the trigger to get stubborn fish to bite.
Though spring can present challenges in many ways, it can bring equal rewards for those who pull together the many puzzle pieces. Watching tides and winds and planning accordingly can put you in the midst of schools of fish hungrily feasting on ever increasing supplies of small food.
Be prepared to adjust your plans, be thorough in your search and coverage of areas. If you are in an area that you feel sure there are fish, don’t be afraid to stick around and adjust your tactics. Some days a lure change can make all the difference.
Don’t let failure in one spot prevent you from trying other areas, and make great notes about areas that are showing abundant food. Many times the food sources will show before the predators, and knowing this will provide you with great fishing areas to return to later.