It was 11:00 in the morning and our spring time trout bite had died, and so had the wind. We had a good box of trout to accompany many good laughs and good smiles from that morning's trout fishing. The suncreen laced beads of sweat began to drip off of my forehead into my eyes and down my nose. Soon I was drenched in sweat and it seemed no amount of water could keep up with the steady flow off my skin. The sky and the water had now blended into one as every cloud was perfectly reflected off of God's own giant mirror. We then found ourselves fishing in an environment that was comparable to a sauna and a tanning bed. Every ray of light beamed down on us and reflected up from the water. With 90% humidity, heat index of 105, and south east wind at negative 5 mph I was forced to do something different.
"Guys are y'all as hot as I am right now or am I being a baby?" The client says, "yup your being a baby." Laughter erupts and then the client says, "I was hoping you would say something like that, I am downright miserable."
That was all I needed to hear. Being miserable and catching fish is tolerable but being miserable and not catching fish is...miserable. To continue fishing in this giant sauna we needed to be catching something to get our minds off of our misery. So I pulled the anchor, turned on my magical air conditioner and started cruising across the reflection of the sky. Instantly our saturated clothing became cool and the salty air began to dry our skin. In the distance somewhere between the sky and the water I noticed a white wall of watery explosions that disappeared as quickly as it first appeared. Somewhere between the mirage of sky and water was a school of fish exploding on the surface with such velocity and strength that the water looked as if it was boiling. I instantly knew what they were and realized what would occupy our time, test our tackle and take our minds off the tormenting conditions we were experiencing.
Despite the intense heat and sweat, everyone's discomforts where soon overwhelmed with adrenalin and drag screaming monster jack crevalle. Watching and catching these fish in conditions where sky and water met without a ripple on the water was truly a sublime experience to my clients. At times the explosive surface water bites actually came from beneath the reflection of a cloud in the water providing a super sensory explosion of sight and sound. We had enough trout for dinner, and then some. Why not test our fishing skills with some of the fastest and most powerful fish in the coastal bend? The answer for most people is that you can't eat them and that is true.
There are many species of overlooked fish along the Texas coast; some not good to eat but others that are delicious to eat. As a guide and a fisherman I understand the prestige and pride of catching a nice red, trout, or flounder. What if you can't catch them or what if you already caught them? What to do next? There are many answers out there for the accomplished or unaccomplished angler; many of them more difficult to catch than the red, trout or flounder. The jack crevalle is just one of many fish that would test any angler, whether fishing with bait, lure or fly.
To begin, the jack crevalle (aka jack fish) is a fast and powerful fish that generally travels in large schools. It is most frequently found in offshore to near shore waters, but also frequents the bays during warmer months. A typical jack fish can easily weigh in excess of 20 lbs. and is built for speed and power. This is what makes them so fun to catch. When schooling they are generally easy to spot with their explosive surface behavior. Simply look for large surface explosions in channels and passes leading to the Gulf. Top water lures, suspending lures and large live baits are best. The hardest part is getting in front of a fast moving school so the fish will intersect your bait. The rest will take care of itself. Just be prepared for a long hard battle that could potentially spool a reel with 200 plus yards of line if you are not prepared to follow the fish.
Another fish that tends to have explosive surface behavior is the Spanish mackerel. Similar to the jack fish, The Spanish mackerel will school toward the surface exhibiting intense surface strikes easy to spot. Look for the Spanish mackerel in similar areas as the jack fish. One big difference between the two is that the Spanish mackerel has extremely sharp teeth and a steel or copper leader is required. The most efficient way to catch them is finding a school and intercepting their fast movement with a silver spoon and steel leader. The Spanish mackerel is also good to eat.
If all else fails the skip jack or lady fish can provide constant action throughout the warmer months. The skip jack is not good to eat but fun to catch. You can think of the skip jack as "a key to open other doors." They make excellent shark baits whole and make excellent redfish baits cut. Simply look for surface explosions and throw just about any bait or lure at them. They are voracious feeders and can provide plenty of action for children and adults. In addition, many of my days have ended with a "double whammy" of trout plus redfish as a result of catching a single skip jack.
The mangrove snapper is a relatively new species to the middle Texas Coast. It is not an invasive species; it has simply expanded its range to the middle Texas coast. During my childhood they were not here. While excellent to eat and fun to catch you can literally fill the box with these little guys as there is no bag limit and a minimum size of only 10 inches. Look to deep harbors and structures near deep water. Try fishing close to pilings and piers with live shrimp. If looking for larger fish try using small live mullet or mud minnows.
If you are looking for a good time when there is nothing else to do think about sharks. A three to six foot shark is a great fight and the smaller ones are good to eat. The best method to catch sharks is drifting using large skip jack or horse mullet. Many different methods are available for rigging a live mullet or skip jack but the easiest is a "super king fish rig." Take two large circle hooks (six to eight sizes) and rig them about six inches apart on heavy steel or mono leader (3-4 hundred lbs.). Make sure that the leader is at least twice the length of the shark you are planning on catching (12 ft. should be fine for a six foot shark). Drift fish with the rigs about 50 yds. behind the boat. Focus on the edges of channels such as the intercostal waterway and key in on spoils. Bring heavy tackle (FYI).
There are several other species of fish that can occupy some down time: the sheep's head, pompano, and triple tail. All of these fish are in the bays and available to catch. The sheep's head is by far the most common. Simply look for hard structure using live shrimp and you will find them. The pompano and the triple tail are far more elusive and require luck and skill to target and catch them. I have yet to figure out a legitimate way to target pompano in the bay. I see them jumping all the time. As a matter of fact more pompano have actually jumped into my boat than I have caught (they have a tendency to jump a lot). They are delicious to eat and some consider them a delicacy. Triple tails are even more elusive but if looking to target them use small live shrimp with fluorocarbon leader. They tend to hang out around floating objects such as crab trap markers, boards, grass, buckets… you name it. I even saw one hanging out near a lost floating sombrero. The triple is delicious to eat and is considered a delicacy.
I have left the black drum as my final "other fish"; although it is truly not an "other fish". The black drum is not only a very close cousin to the redfish but also taste's similar if not the same…delicious. In recent years the black drum population has exploded. With that said this species is the go to fish when redfish and trout are unavailable or when we have already caught the so called "desired species". Many people consider them the "other fish" because they are not as prestigious and "pretty" as a redfish or trout. If you don't care about beauty, they are just as fun to catch and just as good to eat as red fish and trout. I actually have clients that request to fish for them. I am all in when this request comes in. The black drum loves shrimp under a cork and on the bottom. They can be found in all environments (shell, sand, grass, mud, jetties, piers, channels, and shorelines).
There are several other species of fish that I have not included; and I hope that they forgive me. The point is, other options are out there when you have caught a "limit" or have caught nothing. Look to these other options for some amazing action and some amazing table fare. When I was a child fishing with my grandfather we did not discriminate against what we caught. We had fun catching and eating many of the species mentioned above. Yes, times have changed and will continue to change. The redfish trout and flounder will always take center stage at the cleaning table. When the water turns to glass, when the sky meets the water, when the trout bite dies and a bead of sweat drips into your eyes and down your nose; think about the "other fish". They are there, waiting for both you and me. I believe that my grandfather is still fishing for the "other fish" in heaven; indiscriminate of what species it is and just happy to catch a fish.
Johan's Fishing Guide Service