Spring to Summer Saltwater Fishing Transitions
Although the start of May is a full six weeks before the official start of summer, most Texas bays see fish transitioning to summer patterns long before the calendar says spring has subsided.
Without a doubt, increased air and water temperatures are the signatures of the transition from spring to summer on the Texas coast. When the air temperature consistently reaches into the high 80s or low 90s, the water temperature will rise rapidly. Once the water temperature climbs above 70, fish are, for all practical purposes, entering a summer pattern. Of course, this change doesn't happen overnight. The transition from spring to summer patterns takes weeks. But, in order to be successful during this transitional period, anglers need to have a good understanding of both spring and summer behaviors and know what to expect as the conditions continue to change.
But, again, the fish's change in behavior begins with the change in temperatures. During the relatively cool spring, fish spent the majority of their time over muddy bottom. Although they were generally found in shallower water in spring than winter, they still clung to the insulated protection of the mud bay floor. As the water warms, they will begin to move over the cooler sandy bottom areas. This will continue on through summer and into fall.
The time of day fish are found at various depths will also begin to change. During winter and early spring, fish were most often deeper early and moved up shallower as the sun warmed the water. During late spring and into summer, this pattern reverses itself -- fish will be found shallow early and will move deeper as the day wears on. This all has to do with water temperature. Whereas in winter and early spring sunlight was necessary to make the shallows warm enough to be comfortable, during late spring and summer extended sunlight can make skinny water unbearable -- especially for speckled trout.
However, the next few weeks present anglers with one of the best times to find fish in shallow or moderate depths all day long. This transitional period sees the water warm enough for fish to be on the flats early, but not so unbearable that they have to vacate the shallows during midday. This near ideal water temperature combined with subsiding winds offers fishermen great sight-casting opportunities during the month of May. And, as fish begin to move over sand, they are actually much easier to spot than when they are working over mud or grass bottom.
As the month wears on and the temperatures continue to climb, fish will spend less time in the shallows and more time and mid-depth and deeper water. While the fish may spend the hottest part of the day sulking at depth, the late spring period is a time when transitional areas such as ledges and drop-offs take on a greater importance as fish tend to linger in these areas while moving from shallow to deep.
Another trait of late spring is the varied diet of speckled trout, redfish and flounder. During this time, fish will be feeding not just on the masses of shrimp moving out of the bay, but also on finger mullet, pinfish, shad, marine worms, sand eels, crabs and glass minnows. The key to be successful on many days is figuring out the preferred meal of the day. For while it seems as if fish are enjoying a never-ending smorgasbord during late spring, the target prey is actually usually very specific at any given time. For instance, when glass minnows are freshly hatched and covering the bay surface, it is often hard to get fish to strike a shrimp or mullet imitating lure. They tend to key in on whatever is the predominate bait source at that moment. And, during late spring, that can vary widely and change rapidly. Fishermen should make observations of active bait from day to day and even from spot to spot within the bay.
Since fish's diet is varied and seemingly ever-changing this time of year, fishermen need to be prepared for just about anything. During May, fishermen can usually count on a fairly reliable topwater bite - especially early and late or on overcast days. However, the size of the topwater plug is important. Although recently hatched baitfish are growing to "eating size" for specks and reds, they are still far smaller than the mature fish found in the bay during winter. Therefore, "junior" size plugs like the 3.5-inch Badonk-A-Donk, She Pup, Top Pup and Super Spook Jr are the best options for surface action. Due to the often thick floating grass on the surface this time of year, the DOA PT-7 is another great option, as it combines the dog-walking action of the most popular topwater plugs with the weedless design of a Texas rigged soft-plastic.
When fishing the flats, but not sighting fish, anglers should look to cover water. This is easily done with weedless spoons such as the Johnson Silver Minnow. Paddletail jigs such as the DOA CAL Shad Tail, Egret Chub Minnow and YUM Mud Minnow are a good choices as well.
Depending on the weather and area of the Texas coast, a glass minnow hatch can occur anywhere from April to June. If glass minnows are present, it is essential to cast something that is as close to an exact replica of a glass minnow as possible. For this duty, the MirrOlure MirrOminnow (19MR) is tough to beat.
Whether it is pods of shrimp or schools of baitfish such as finger mullet, late spring often finds prey items bunched up in a protective posture. When this occurs, a single bait may go unnoticed by predator fish. In this instance, the new YUM YUMbrella rig is a great choice. This rig has five "leaders" with snaps for attaching individual lures. Anglers only need snap on the appropriate lure to match the bait item which is found grouped together on a specific stretch of water. When fitted with plastics such as Money Minnows, it is a perfect imitation of a small school of shad. Load the YUMbrella with DOA Shrimp and is a great replica of a pod of shrimp. It is particularly effective when fishing deeper or stained water.
Late spring's mild to moderate water temperatures usually results in more active fish - both in terms of number of species and behavior of individual fish. To begin with, a greater variety of fish are active throughout Texas bays during May than had been the case during winter and early spring. Flounder, speckled trout, redfish, snook, black drum, sheepshead, mangrove snapper, tarpon and more can be found in some combination depending on the area of the Texas coast. Secondly, because the water temperature is generally "comfortable" for the fish, they are feeding more actively. This allows fishermen to use more "power" fishing techniques, which allows them to fish faster and cover water at an increased clip.
Light winds and the abundance of aggressive fish makes this time 'tween spring and summer a perfect time to fish with families and kids. Schoolie specks are a particularly good target for family fishing excursions, but again, there are a number of species that are active in Texas bays this month. And, like the fish, people are also a little more comfortable spending a day on the water with May's mild temperatures as opposed to August's oppressive heat. This is particularly important when fishing with young children. The longer they are comfortable, the longer they are likely to enjoying fishing during the day.
In the spirit of full disclosure, it is only right to say not all late spring transitions are positive. Perhaps the biggest negative of this time of year is the swelling crowds on the bay. For all the reasons listed above -- good weather, active fish, etc -- more and more fishermen will be making their way to the bay during May. Anglers accustomed to being virtually alone on the water most days will soon find themselves surrounded by a flotilla of bay boats. But, although it is impossible to spin bigger crowds as "a good thing," May is also a time when active fish are found in just about every part of most bays. This means there is plenty of productive water for fishermen to spread out over, meaning everyone should be able to stay out of each other's way, catch fish and enjoy a day on the bay in May.