Late Summer Surf Fishing in Texas
Throughout summer many Texas coastal anglers are smitten with surf fishing. During this time, the tides generally run clear/green all the way to dry sand and the beachfront waters are full of a variety of gamefish such as speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, pompano, redfish, and more. As September dawns, summer begins winding down and the window for productive beachfront fishing begins to close. But, there is still plenty of time to enjoy some outstanding beachfront action before the year's first few fronts shut it down for the season.
As early as the first week of June, anglers are able to enjoy reliable speckled trout fishing in the surf. By and large, speckled trout are what drives the light tackle surf fishing crowd to the beachfront. And, during the early weeks of summer, specks are about all that is available. However, during late summer, there is a myriad of species available to beachfront pluggers. In addition to the much sought after surf run specks, late summer beachfront waters are filled with redfish, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, pompano and more.
Even though air and water temps begin to decline with the shorter daylight hours of September, the first few weeks of September are still summer. And, as is always the case for anglers looking to take fish from the surf during summer, a day of beachfront plugging should start early. If conditions are "green to the beach" and the forecast is for light overnight winds, set your alarm clock early. In the predawn hours, fishermen can often get action within feet of dry sand as speckled trout and other predator fish cruise along the first gut, feeding on baitfish as they go. This bite will typically last until about an hour after sunrise, at which point the fish will more often than not back into deeper water.
During the lowlight period, noisy topwaters such as Heddon Super Spooks and MirrOlure She Dogs produce good results. Dark or dull colors provide the best silhouette during the early morning hours. Soft-plastic baits that produce a good deal of vibration can also catch plenty of fish before sunrise. Paddle tail plastics such as the TTF Red Killer and Egret Wedgetail Mullet are good examples. And, of course, everything swimming in the surf will readily grab a lazing shrimp. For this reason, free-lined DOA Shrimp will draw plenty of strikes. However, since this bait relies strictly on sight to draw strikes, during lowlight periods it is virtually mandatory to use "glow." Savvy surf and jetty anglers carry a small flashlight to "charge" their glow shrimp before deploying it into the darkness.
As the morning wears on and the sun fills the sky, a greater variety of baits will begin producing. Topwaters can still work for much of the morning. However, chrome-colored baits become much more productive once the sun comes out to enhance their reflective qualities. High sun also enhances the effectiveness of spoons, the traditional Texas surf fishing lure. Silver and gold versions both produce in well-lit surf waters. At this time of day, a variety of soft-plastic tails will also catch fish. Regardless of the model of soft-plastic used, dark colors typically produce the best results along the beachfront. Finally, mullet-imitating plugs such as the venerable MirrOlure 52 Series have been a staple of Texas beachfront pluggers for generations and still produce plenty of fish today.
Beyond throwing the right bait, fishermen also need to know where to focus their attention. With hundreds of miles of coastline, eliminating water is a necessity.
Regardless of what portion of the Texas coast you're fishing, passes should always be given first priority. Whether it's a major, jettied pass or a simple "cut," any vein that provides water exchange between a bay and the open Gulf will attract fish like a magnet. Depending on the tide, the majority of the activity may be contained within the pass or may spill out onto the adjacent beachfront.
Passes are easy to spot and are obvious areas to fish. But, every stretch of beach has some anomalies, although at first glance they may appear the same. This also holds true for jetties, which may appear much more uniformed from the surface than they do beneath the water. In each instance, finding the subtle differences can mean the difference between catching fish and spending the morning making empty casts.
When driving the beach, keep one eye peeled for bait and other "fishy" signs while keeping the other eye open for changes in the topography. Any gut that runs across a bar is a good starting point. So are areas where tidal pools cut into dry sand. Look for differences in the slope of the beach at the water line - be it gradual or steep. Any debris, such as the remains of old shrimp boat wrecks, is sure to draw fish. Also pay attention to the composition of the beach you're driving over. Areas that have a dense concentration of shells typically extend out into the water and can serve to attract fish.
Jetty fishermen should also try to pick out features that are different than the remainder of the structure. When the water is clear enough, it is often possible to find rocks that have fallen away from the main jetty. You can expect plenty of fish to hang around these loose rocks. Also look for areas where the current flows beneath or through the jetty. And, look up and down the jetty, reading it like a shoreline. Any points, indentions or other differences should be key areas of interest.
Although the vast majority of beachfront and jetty fishermen along the Texas coast are in search of light tackle quarry, late summer also presents an opportunity for "big game" fishing for pedestrian anglers. With a little tweaking to their tackle and techniques, just about every coastal angler stands a chance to get in on the nearshore big game action along the coastline during September.
Although plenty of light-tackle 'pluggers' are accustomed to using standard issue bay tackle in the surf for specks, slot-size redfish, and Spanish mackerel, anglers looking to tangle with beachfront big game need to seriously beef up their equipment. Of course, the tackle still needs to be relative to how and for what species anglers are fishing.
As a rule a 7-foot, medium/heavy rod paired with a reel capable of handling 225 yards of 15 pound test should be considered the absolute minimum for 'big game' duty. This type of outfit is suitable for casting lures and baits to juvenile tarpon, kingfish, bull reds, small shark and mid-size jacks.
Anglers looking for larger fish should step it up another notch. Heavy action rods paired with reels capable of handling 300 or so yards of 20 pound test are a good starting point for jetty and pier fishermen. When fishing from these structures, 7- to 7 1/2-foot rods will suffice. Fishermen working from dry sand should opt for a longer rod, in the 8- to 10-foot range, and a reel capable of handling at least 350 yards of line.
In general, spinning rods are a better fit for making long casts and are the way to go when using artificial lures or casting baits. However, many beachfront fishermen employ kayaks to paddle their baits into place. Casting outfits are a better choice for this duty, as they typically offer anglers better leverage and increased line capacity.
Tarpon, kingfish, jack crevalle and ling are all easily targeted with lures. The same goes for bull reds in situations where the water visibility allows anglers to spot approaching schools. Flashy, noisy lures like 1-ounce RatLTraps are commonly thrown by fishermen blind casting from jetties for kingfish, jacks and tarpon. Swimbaits such as the DOA Baitbuster and Swimming Mullet are good 'catch-all' baits for tarpon, kings, jacks, ling, and bull reds, as are 1/2- and 1-ounce Blakemore Bucktail Roadrunners and 1-ounce DOA Shrimp.
Of course, lures are not a prerequisite and bait fishermen have as good or better chance at landing these species from shore or jetties. Live crabs, jumbo shrimp, finger mullet and ballyhoo are all temptations for bull reds and tarpon. Ribbonfish and ballyhoo are excellent kingfish baits.
Anglers looking to hook up with shark, grouper, and stingray, or just hoping for a big bite from any species, are best served using natural baits. Live or dead ladyfish, jack crevalle, shad and whiting are good choices for these species. Stingray "wings" also make good shark baits.
Usually, these baits will be either fished on bottom, freelined or dangled beneath a balloon. Shark, grouper, stingray and bull reds are all known to grab a bait off the bottom. Freelining is a better method for tarpon and ling and will also attract kings, shark, jacks and bull reds.
Balloon rigs are a great way to suspend baits for shark and kings. A balloon rigs functions much the same way as a popping cork or bobber would inshore. The purpose of the balloon is simply to keep the bait suspended at a set depth. To accomplish this, a small balloon is tied onto the line anywhere from a few inches to a few feet above the bait. When a fish strikes, the balloon will go under water just as a cork would. The main difference is the pressure of being submerged typically causes the balloon to pop. Once popped, the balloon no longer causes increased pressure to be exerted on the line. Fishermen working from the beachfront must paddle a balloon rig into place using a raft or kayak. Jetty and pier fishermen can usually 'lob' the rig far enough to allow the current and/or wind to move it into position.
So, although September may be the swan song for summer surf fishing, it's not over yet. In fact, some of the year's finest beachfront action will happen over the next few weeks. But, once it's over, it's over -- at least until next summer -- so don't waste a single day, fish the September surf as often as possible.