As the weather continues to warm and the hatchlings continue to mature, they will eventually begin finding their way out of the backwaters and into the open bay. Once they enter the main bay, the young shrimp, crabs and fish will rarely strike out straight for open water. Instead, they typically feel their way along shorelines or through grass covered flats. So, anglers should concentrate their angling efforts in areas that baitfish will be most likely to use for protection, such as shorelines, grass beds and grass flats. The predator fish will certainly be in these areas, seeking an opportunity to ambush their prey.
Not only do anglers need to locate areas holding bait, but once they do they need to attempt to imitate the bait items as closely as possible. During mid- to late-spring, these typically means downsizing lure choices. Topwater plugs like the Heddon Super Spooki Jr are mainstays. On calmer days, even more subtle offerings such as the Heddon Zara Puppy or MirrOlure MirrOmullet (16MR) can be more effective, as they land softly and offer plenty of "dog-walking" action. Suspending plugs like MirrOlure MirrOdine and MirrOminnow, sinking plugs such as the MirrOlure 38MR and 4M, and jerkbaits like the Bomber 14A are other hard baits that produce well under calm, clear water conditions.
Soft-plastic tails should also be downsized, with 3.5-inch models being the largest to be considered this time of year. Paddle tail plastics tend to work best when the water is rough and/or off-colored. Straight-tail jerkbaits, grubs and curl tails work well when water clarity is decent to good.
However, while anglers can usually count on at least a moderate wind during spring, there are days when conditions are slick calm and the water clarity is excellent. And, even on moderate wind days, there are often back lakes and coves that are protected enough that the water conditions are unaffected by the wind. In these situations, anglers should go "ultra-light" with their offerings. The TTF Tiny Speck Killer and Puzzler jigs are outstanding for sight-casting to specks and reds under this conditions. DOA's 1/20th ounce shrimp and swimbaits like Creme's 2-inch Spoiler Shad are good shrimp and baitfish imitations. Curl tail and paddle tail grubs also produce well, especially when paired with Blakemore Roadrunner heads, which feature a small spinner blade beneath the "chin." The Baby CW Crab measures just 2 3/8 inches long and, because of its wide circular profile and extended legs, lands whisper soft on the water's surface. Many of these ultra-light baits can also be rigged in tandem.
On the subject of tandems, late spring is an excellent time to throw multi-bait rigs, as small shrimp and baitfish are rarely spotted solo. Rather, they are generally in groups of two or more. Standard tandem rigs, as well as one of the myriad of Alabama rigs, which allow fishermen to deploy four to six lures in a tight "bunch," can effectively imitate groups of shrimp and baitfish. This can be especially effective for drawing the attention of predator fish to downsized lures.
Last, but not least, anglers have the option of employing spoons when covering active April flats. Actually, spoons are perhaps the best choice for this type of fishing, so long as there is enough light to cause a reflection and the water is clear enough for fish to find a flashing, wobbling piece of curved metal making its way over a grass flat.
Silver, copper and gold weedless spoons can be used in a variety of manners. For covering water quickly, a standard Cast-and-Reel retrieve is best. Spoons cast a mile and can be effective with a variety of steady retrieve speeds. Another "power" technique that can be used to effectively cover lots of water with a spoon is waking. When utilizing a spoon as a wake bait, anglers should strive to keep it near the surface, causing it to resemble a waking mullet. In order to accomplish this, a spoon with a fairly slow fall rate and wide wobble are necessary.
To get the spoon near the top and keep it there, anglers should start by making a long cast. Begin cranking as soon as the spoon hits the water. To maximize the retrieve over the length of the cast, reel rapidly at first to get the spoon moving upwards. Once the spoon breaks the surface, slow the retrieve to the point where the spoon is struggling to stay near the top. A high rod angle can also assist in keeping the spoon near the top during a slow retrieve.
If fish are a bit more finicky, retrieving spoons jerkbait style or by slow-rolling, anglers can usually induce strikes. Of course, if the water clarity allows, spoons can also be used for sight-casting. But, since they land with quite a splash, it is usually best to cast a spoon beyond a sighted fish and drag it back in front of them rather than casting directly in front of them.
DIRTY WATER IS A GAME CHANGER
To this point, everything has more or less addressed fair to good water conditions. But, of course, one of the by-products of relentless spring winds is dirty water - lots and lots of dirty water. But, despite commonly held beliefs, dirty water does not necessary equal poor fishing. Far too often anglers spend the majority of their time running around and looking for "good water." However, not only is this not necessary, it is often counterproductive. Some of the spring fishing can be found smack dab in the middle of some of the muddiest water. Rather than avoiding dirty water, anglers should learn how to fish in it. If the bait and predator fish are in an area, anglers should fish there regardless of water conditions.
Most often, anglers fishing dirty water for the first time resort to live bait, believing artificials won't produce in such conditions. While live shrimp, croaker and mullet will catch plenty of specks in off-color water, so will plugs and plastics. The key is choosing the right colors - usually dark and bright colors work best - and the right action - a paddle tail plastic will give more vibration than a straight-tail bait. Also, since visibility is reduced, baits - natural or artificial - should be retrieved fairly slow to allow fish to hone in on them. And, this is the exception to the "downsize" rule in spring. In ugly water, full size lures will work better.
When the waters get dirty, a cork can aid anglers with a slow retrieve and also induces fish attracting sound. This tends to "get the fish's attention" and point them in the general direction of the lure or bait dangling beneath the cork. With plugs, patience is the key - work the lure as slowly as possible and practical. Since slowing down is necessary under rough water conditions, many anglers choose to wade fish. Those who stay in the boat should deploy a drift sock or stake out every so often to thoroughly work a flat.
As the water gets rougher and dirtier, it's almost impossible to make too much noise. In fact, during spring, it is generally necessary to make more noise than the waves splashing across the water's surface. Therefore, anglers are best served using noisy topwater plugs such as MirrOlure She Dogs, popping corks like Bomber's Paradise Popper, inline-rattles like those offered by Texas Rattlin' Rig, and big paddletail plastics to attract fish under rough, dirty water conditions.
Without a doubt, there will be plenty of active fish on the flats during April. In order to take advantage of April's active flats, anglers need to know how to adjust their strategy from day-to-day as conditions change and be willing and able to "match the hatch," so to speak, with the various newly arrived prey items in the bay. By finding the right flat and choosing the right lure and retrieve, virtually any angler can enjoy easy fishing on April's active flats.
April is definitely a spring month, as evidenced by the often howling winds that persist throughout the month. However, it is also the beginning of a consistently warm period of the year. By the fourth month, temperatures have been on an upward trajectory long enough to encourage fish to be spending much more time on the shallow flats. Additionally, the warmer water temperatures mean both bait and predator fish such as speckled trout, redfish, flounder and snook will be more active in the shallows during April. But, because most of the prey items are newly hatched, April flats fishing is an odd blend of power and finesse fishing techniques.
April Sees Flats Fishing Activity Increasing