During fall, the weather and water begins to cool up and down the Texas coast. Simultaneously, Texas' inshore glamour species -- most notably speckled trout and redfish -- move shallower and become much more aggressive. As a result, fishermen are able to employ faster, more aggressive presentations which help cover water faster and put more fish in the boat -- often in less time.
Unlike other seasons, during fall there really isn't a lot of guesswork required to figure out the retrieval speed. About the only exception is during late fall when the occasional early season hard northern blows through and puts fish in a finicky mood for a few days, necessitating a slower retrieve. However, during the balance of fall days on the water, all fishermen need to do is put the throttle down and work power retrieves across the flats. The fish are aggressive enough this time of year that they will let you know if they are nearby.
Of course, in order to successfully power fish the flats, anglers need to employ the right baits. During fall, the primary forage items for trout, redfish and snook are mullet and shrimp. Lures that imitate these natural prey items work best. But, for power fishing, it is also necessary to pick baits that work well with a simple cast and reel retrieve. A cast and reel retrieve is the most easy to repeat, which allows anglers to focus more on scanning the flats for signs of activity instead of concentrating on how they are retrieving the lure. This makes it much easier to cover a lot of water quickly, efficiently and productively.
Aggressive Autumn Inshore Angling Tactics
Topwaters are probably the most exciting, not to mention effective, methods to fish the flats in the fall. Aggressive retrieved walk-the-dog plugs are the one exception to the "cast and reel" lure choices for fall power flats fishing. Since there are a lot of "finger" mullet in the bay during fall, "junior" size plugs are the best choices. Models such as the Heddon Super Spook Jr., Bomber Badonk-a-Donk 3.5 inch, MirrOlure She Pup are all good choices.
Because fish are so aggressive during fall, it is also a good time to throw noisy topwaters, including prop baits such as the Smithwick Devil's Horse and poppers such as the Rebel Pop R. Both prop baits and poppers are a little easier to master for novice and intermediate anglers looking to get in on the topwater game. Additionally, floater/divers such as the Cordell Redfin can be retrieved just below the surface by using a cast and reel retrieve or can be worked as a topwater with a twitch and pause retrieve. Regardless of what type of topwater lure is used, fall remains the best time to experience consistent surface action in Texas bays.
Spoons are the traditional Texas flats fishing weapon. Weedless spoons such as the Johnson Silver Minnow in silver, copper or gold are very effective with a simple cast and reel retrieve. Spoons can also be worked "jerkbait style" or with a reel-and-stop retrieve, when anglers allow the spoon to sink in potholes during the pause. Spoons can also be wobbled or "waked" just beneath the surface when fishing in extremely shallow water or if fish are overly aggressive.
Crankbaits are rarely used on the Texas coast, but shallow running models such as the Heddon Spit 'n Image can be used to effectively cover water during fall. Ditto for spinnerbaits, which have gained some popularity with Texas inshore anglers in recent years, but are still very much underutilized. Spinnerbaits can be fished "out of the package" with their silicone skirt intact, although most saltwater anglers opt to swap the skirt for a soft-plastic tail.
The biggest drawback to both crankbaits and spinnerbaits is that neither cast very well. However, the fish attracting vibration these baits produce easily compensates for the lack of casting distance. Plus, both types of baits are very effective with a basic cast and reel retrieve. When fish are extremely aggressive, buzzbaits or spinnerbaits burned across the surface of the water can also produce good results.
Swimbaits are probably the most familiar and commonly used power fishing bait among Texas saltwater fishermen. There are a wide variety of models which are effective. Among the most effective are DOA CAL Shadtails and Jerkbaits. Soft-plastic swimbaits can be retrieved in a variety of ways, including the cast and reel method or by incorporating an active "twitching" or "popping" motion during the retrieve.
Numerous artificial lures can also be hung beneath popping corks. For power flats fishing purposes, small diameter "mauler" type corks work best. Short leaders, usually less than 18 inches, are the key. Artificial shrimp such as the DOA Shrimp work well, as do a variety of soft-plastic swimbaits and jerkbaits can also be effective when fished beneath popping corks.
THE REAL THING
Although most anglers who power fish the flats do so while casting artificial lures, it is also possible to utilize power fishing methods while using natural baits. As mentioned above, the primary forage items for speckled trout and redfish during the fall months are shrimp and mullet. While either of these bait items can be fished live using a freelining technique, that method is generally best suited for fishing a specific area with a concentration of fish, not for covering large expanses of water.
Rather than using a slow-paced method such as free-lining, anglers should employ power fishing lure techniques adapted to natural baits. One such method is rigging live on a jig head. To do this, cut the fantail off the shrimp and thread it backwards on the hook. It can then be fished in the same manner as a soft-plastic jig.
Skipping mullet is another effective natural bait power fishing technique. This method involves head-hooking a finger mullet and fishing it by either skipping it across the surface or in the same manner as a soft-plastic jerkbait.
Finally, natural baits suspended under popping corks work well for covering water -- especially when using a short (12 - 18 inch) leader. Bomber Paradise Poppers, Alameda Rattlers, and FP3 are all good models to utilize when power fishing the flats.
So, now that you know what aggressive fall fish will hit, the question that most commonly arises regards how to approach them. While wade fishing can be extremely productive during the autumn season, it is really more beneficial to stay in the boat and cover as much water as possible unless you happen upon a large, stationary concentration of fish.
That said, the quickest method to cover a lot of water is to drift. But, in order to drift, there must be a decent breeze. Many fall days see light winds or calm conditions. In thsoe instances, it is necessary to pole or use a trolling motor in order to keep moving. Again, the goal of power fishing the flats is to cover as much water as possible.
To that end, the quick cadence involved in power fishing the flats is yet another reason anglers should employ a cast and reel retrieve. Anglers are much less likely to have slack line issues with this type of retrieve, especially when crossing the flats at a decent clip.
While covering water is definitely the goal for power fishing, anglers always be aware of what is going on in the water (and sky) around them. Slicks can still pop up during fall. At times, the surface will explode with fish feeding on balls of bait. And, bird activity can be hot and heavy during fall as well. So, while covering water remains the focus of fall power fishing, when any of these obvious signs of feeding fish are spotted, all angling efforts should be diverted to take advantage of an easy bite.
After reading this article, one may wonder why they shouldn't just power fish the flats all year long? In order to be successful, power fishing techniques rely on fish being in an aggressive enough mood to be interested in fast retrieve and energetic enough to chase a bait down from more than a few feet a way. When fish are in that frame of mind, a power retrieve will attract them from a great distance and can be productive even when fish are scattered because they will cover so much distance to get to bait. But, when fish are finicky they are less likely to attack a quickly moving bait and certainly won't move a long distance to do so. In these instances, finesse fishing methods are much more productive. However, this is rarely the case during autumn, making it the perfect season to employ power flats fishing techniques.