SHALLOW WATER LURE SELECTION
Again, just because specks and reds change their neighborhood doesn’t mean they’ll change their menu. Shrimp, crab and small baitfish still rate at the top of their dietary list. However, anglers pitching these baits – or artificial imitations of them – need to pay special consideration to how these baits fit into the overall shallow water scheme.
In general, shallow flats hold clearer water than deeper areas of the bay. And, sound is tremendously amplified in skinny water. Add to this the fact most specks and reds are fairly nervous when feeding in water that barely covers their backs and it is easy to see where stealth plays a crucial role in fishermen’s success.
Typically, lures thrown into shallow water should land softly, make just enough noise to get noticed without spooking nearby fish, and – since the clear water offers excellent visibility – be colored as to blend naturally or closely imitate natural prey items.
Downsizing is usually the first step in this adaptation process. And, most anglers can take comfort in the fact that most of their favorite ‘full size’ lures are also available in a ‘little brother’ version. Small models of topwaters, soft-plastics, and spoons are all very effective on the shallow flats. Heddon Super Spook Jrs, Cordell CJ8 Redfins and Bomber 14As are just two examples of smaller replicas of popular full size baits that can be effectively used on the shallow flats.
Subtle, natural or translucent colors also allow anglers to present offerings in a ‘non-threatening’ manner. Small soft-plastics (3 to 3 1/2-inch) in clear/silver fleck, clear/gold fleck, or other such similar colors that give the bait a dim outline as opposed to a heavy silhouette are extremely effective.
Soft-plastics should be rigged on the lightest heads that are practical to cast. This typically means 1/16-ounce heads. Heads heavier than 1/8-ounce shouldn’t even be considered. Some soft-plastics, such as Bass Assassins, lend themselves well to weightless rigging, which is also deadly on fish inhabiting shallow flats.
Soft-landing, slow-sinking or suspending plugs are often overlooked, but extremely effective. Texas Rattlin’ Rig Chatter Tubes are excellent for this duty, as are suspending versions of Bomber’s 14A.
Finally, some of the best shallow water artificial offerings aren’t lures at all, but flies. Lightweight balsa wood or foam poppers and unweighted streamer patterns land softly and attract plenty of fish on the flats. In fact, at times anglers wielding a fly rod can far outpace conventional tackle fishermen.
SHALLOW WATER TACKLE
Of course, even the lightest lures available won’t be effective if they are delivered properly. To that end, the tackle used to toss these featherweight plugs is a bit different than that used to hurl magnum plugs across the open bay.
Actually, casting ability and presentation begins with the line. Ironically, this is one area angler often overlook. Light, invisible, flexible line can make a crucial difference with both casting distance and subtle presentation. Cajun Red Advantage in 8 or 10-pound test offers anglers a good combination of these elements.
Some anglers like to use a short fluorocarbon leader, which offers even more transparency than standard monofilament or copolymer lines. However, fluorocarbon is also stiffer, which allows for less lure movement unless a loop knot is employed.
It also takes the right stick to deliver light lures with distance and accuracy. However, light rods need not be ‘limp noodles.’ A properly designed rod for this purpose should have an extremely soft tip that tapers into a formidable backbone.
Smooth reels are also extremely important. The need for a smooth drag is amplified on the flats because such light line is being used. If the drag does not allow the line to feed off smoothly, break-offs are much more likely.
Fly rodders should also look to ‘lighten up’ on the shallow flats. Typically, 8-weight rods are employed for bay fishing in Texas. However, once anglers move into the knee-deep range, 6- or 7-weight rods make much more sense. Floating lines are usually employed in such shallow water and the lighter weight lines land with much more grace. And, since most flies used in skinny water situations are smaller than those used to probe deeper water, these lighter rods are more than adequate to deliver the payload.
SHALLOW WATER APPROACH
Approaching fish in fin-deep water also takes a bit of a different tactic. Again, these shallow water fish are skittish and every sound, every move by any object – i.e. a boat or an angler – is amplified in this shallow water arena.
For many – if not most – saltwater fishermen, working the flats on foot only makes sense. And, wading is certainly an effective means of approaching shallow water fish. However, successful wade fishing involves more than hopping out of the boat and walking to the nearest fish.
Before getting out of the boat at all, anglers need to select a stretch of water that holds plenty of promise. Whether it is ‘fishy signs’ like baitfish or slicks or features such as potholes or ridges, there must be something to stack the odds in favor of a particular piece of bay bottom before anglers embark on a wading odyssey.
Once in the water, anglers must move incredibly slow to be effective. Again, fish in these areas are extremely sensitive to wakes or ‘bulges’ of water that can telegraph the approach of danger. If you see water building in front or behind you as you’re wading, slow down.
Of course, not all anglers are comfortable leaving the confines of a boat. There are essential two means by which to approach shallow fish from a boat – drifting or poling. As is the case with wading, anglers employing either of these two methods must move extremely slowly. Even if light winds prevail, drifting anglers are well-advised to utilize a drift-sock to ensure a slow pace of movement.
Poling anglers should also pace themselves cautiously and should use the pushpole to stop the boat completely from time to time in order to assess a flat. These fishermen should also be careful to move the pole in and out of the water as quietly as possible and be aware of the bottom composition. Hard sand and shell is apt to make fish-spooking ‘crunching’ sounds if pressure is not applied properly.
Non-wading fishermen have the additional option of fishing from a kayak or canoe. Both of these crafts float in extremely shallow water and can be propelled silently. However, even strong paddlers need relatively close access to productive water to make the day successful. In areas where land-based access doesn’t exist within comfortable paddling distance of productive flats, anglers have taken to transporting lightweight kayaks by boat to prime flats.
However, regardless of how you get there or what you decide to throw, now is the time to take advantage of the shallow water fishery that exists along the entire Texas coast. September into November is prime time to find foraging reds, specks and flounders in these skinny water haunts. With a little foresight and planning and a few minor adjustments to the game plan, Lone Star State anglers can have some amazing days in water that barely covers their wading boots.
Every year that goes by sees more and more inshore anglers inching into ever shallower water in search of speckled trout and redfish. However, fishermen looking to move from a few feet of water to – at times – a few inches need to make a few adjustments to their game plan in order to be successful.
Of course, some things remain the same regardless of water depth. In fact, specks and reds love to feed on shrimp, crabs, mullet and pinfish weather they’re covered by one foot or four feet of water. The differences anglers need to be aware of are more subtle than dietary needs. Although they can be more aggressive, fish found in shallow water are typically more skittish as well.
To that end, fishermen hoping to work water that is knee-deep or less need to spend a little time considering three primary things: 1. what to throw to these fish, 2. what equipment to deliver these lures with, and 3. how to approach these skinny water inhabitants.
Shallow Water Stealth for Texas Bay Fishermen