The Toughest Brine Time
What's the most difficult time of year to locate and catch inshore fish?
I've asked this question to dozens of anglers of all skill levels and I've noticed an interesting trend. When talking to folks who are new to inshore fishing and average weekend warriors, I mostly hear two responses – the dead of winter and the heat of summer.
Valid responses, no doubt. The extreme temperatures that accompany both seasons can put fish in a funk and make them reluctant to bite.
However, when I ask the same question to guides and experienced anglers with thousands of hours of on-the-water experience, I get a different answer. They'll tell you that right now, during the spring, is when they have the hardest time staying on a solid pattern.
The consensus among the more experienced sticks is that while the winter cold and summer heat can stifle the bite, the extreme temperatures also work to concentrate fish in predictable locales. One guide I spoke with summed up it up like this: "When it's freezing cold or brutally hot, all you have to do is get one bite. If you find one fish, you can find a wad. Then it's just a matter of figuring out how to make 'em bite."
Springtime, on the other hand, is a state of flux and transition in coastal estuaries. The constantly changing winds and tides combined with flip-flopping warm and cold temperatures courtesy of late-season frontal passages keeps fish, and anglers, guessing as to when things will finally settle down.
So what's the key to finding and staying on a solid bite during the spring transition? There isn't one simple answer, but you can employ a few simple tactics that'll increase your odds. Here's a list of a few springtime tips I've put together based on my own experience and the information I've gleaned from some of the coast's top fish-finding talents.
During spring, the fish never seem to stay in one place for long, and neither should you. Don't rot in just a few spots during a given fishing day. You may find fish shallow in the backwaters, lingering in deeper water near depth contours and reefs or anywhere in between.
My approach is to give an area 30 minutes. If I haven't gotten a bite in 30 minutes, I'm firing up the outboard or picking up the paddle and heading to new water.
And just because an area has lots of bait activity, good water clarity or shows any other sign that it may be holding predatory fish, don't let that sucker you into staying for too long. Instead, make a mental note and come back to visit the spot later once you've eliminated some other areas. Sometimes all it takes is a shift in tide or a few hours of sun to turn fish on, but there's no use trying to force-feed them if they're not ready to eat.
Run A Route
Building off the last tip, it's important to note that covering water doesn't equate to running around the bay like a wild man. Without a plan of attack it's easy get overwhelmed when trying to unlock a springtime bite.
Map out a milk run of four to six areas with different features. Hopscotching around on six separate mid-bay reefs doesn't accomplish much. Take a look at small marsh ponds and bayous, then move out to larger backwater lakes. If that doesn't work, head out to a main-bay shoreline. From there you can move deeper and target structure, guts, grass beds and reefs.
There are plenty of artificial bait purists out there (I'm one of 'em), but sometimes you just can't beat bait. If you've exhausted your milk run and still haven't managed to scrounge up a bite, try throwing something alive. You don't have to drown shrimp all day, but quickly working over an area with live bait is a surefire way to decipher if you're wasting your time in a fishless zone.
If your live bait presentation gets pounded, at least you can be confident that you've located fish that are willing to eat. Then it's up to you to coax them into taking plastic.
Don't be content to keep one bait on the end of your line all day. Just as it's important to explore multiple areas, you need to explore different depth zones and mix up presentations with your baits. During the spring, anything goes. Make it a point to dissect each area you visit with topwaters, slow-sinking plugs and plastics, and anything else you have confidence in. The idea is to fish the entire water column, top to bottom.
It's also a good idea to fish with baits of different sizes. You may find fish in one part of the bay system are focused on small forage or a recent baitfish hatch, while fish in another area are keyed-in to larger meals like mullet. If you only get bumps and short strikes on a 3-inch bait, move up to a 5-inch bait. What may seem like a minuscule alteration to you can make all the difference to a finicky inshore predator.
about the author
Texan Jason Bryant has written about fresh and saltwater fishing for more than a decade. When he's not chasing redfish in his poling skiff, you'll find him dodging pirates and looking for mean Mexico largemouths at Lake Falcon.