By Danno Wise
For most inshore anglers, spring means sow specks. But, the warming weather of April also ushers in outstanding redfish action. There is one caveat to spring redfish action, however. That is, changing conditions due to spring winds, tides and constantly changing temperatures means that fishing for reds can change from day to day – or even several times within the same day – during spring.
The constantly changing conditions is somewhat of a good news/bad news scenario. On the one hand, virtually every angler is assured of being able to fish for reds in their favorite manner -- whether that be sight casting, soaking bait on the bottom or anything in between -- at some point during the spring. The downside is just the opposite of that -- at some point during the spring season, pretty much every inshore angler will be presented with conditions that rules out their favorite way of fishing for reds. Anglers can see this as a cup half full or a cup half empty. For the optimistic angler, they will embrace the opportunity to fish in a variety of ways over the next few weeks. The pessimistic fisherman, on the other hand, will bemoan the conditions which prevent them from employing their beloved techniques. But, by being adaptable, fishermen can find consistent success while fishing for redfish during spring.
One thing that will impact every type of fishing over the next few weeks is the warming temperatures of spring. 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. When power fishing for reds, one lure comes to mind – the weedless spoon. Spoons can be used to cover water quickly and will draw fish from a great distance, especially with decent visibility and sunlight. When the water is too stained for using spoons, paddle-tail plastics, either fished straight-lined or under a popping cork, will produce good results.
Although spring is notorious for strong winds, there will be times when the winds lay down, the water clears and sight casting is a very real possibility in mid- to late-spring. Clear, calm conditions and plenty of active fish on the flats equates to excellent sight-casting. Whether wading, drifting or poling, if they are fishing over shallow flats inshore anglers can expect plenty of sight-casting opportunities for both speckled trout and redfish over the next month. Both conventional tackle anglers and fly fishermen can get in on the sight-casting action when the conditions are right during April and May.
As is always the case when sight-casting, using smaller, soft landing lures and flies is the best bet. But, since fish are quite a bit more active and will swim a greater distance to attack a bait, anglers don’t need to be near as precise with their casting. In fact, when fish are active, it is often better to cast beyond the sighted fish are reel back in front of them to prevent them from spooking. Spoons are outstanding for this type of duty, while anglers using the traditional sight-casting approach of placing a lure close to a feeding fish will do well with DOA Shrimp or 3 1/2 inch soft-plastics on 1/16 ounce jig heads.
When fish aren't regularly being sighted, anglers can cast into sand pockets or "potholes" on grass flats. By selectively sight-casting at these fish holding structures, anglers can often pull fish off the flat even when they haven’t been seen.
When the wind or tides kick up, as is inevitable during spring, or when huge amounts of water move in and out of the bay by spring tides, the water often turns dirty. However, even when the water on shallow flats turns dirty, anglers can still experience good fishing by adjusting their lure choices and techniques.
Most often, anglers fishing dirty water for the first time resort to live bait, believing artificials won't produce in such conditions. While live shrimp, croaker and mullet will catch plenty of specks in off-color water, so will plugs and plastics. The key is choosing the right colors - usually darks and brights work best - and the right action - a paddle tail plastic will give more vibration than a straight-tail bait. Also, since visibility is reduced, baits - natural or artificial - should be retrieved fairly slow to allow fish to hone in on them. With plastics and live baits, a cork can aid anglers with a slow retrieve and also induces fish attracting sound. With plugs, patience is the key - work the lure as slowly as possible and practical.
Full buffet, but fishermen still need to match the preferred menu item
Spring generally means a varied diet for redfish. Recent hatches of a variety of prey items means fish will be feeding on a wide variety of baitfish and crustaceans, such as shrimp, finger mullet, pinfish, shad, marine worms, sand eels, crabs and glass minnows. The key to finding success on many days is figuring out the preferred meal of the day. Although it may seem as if fish are enjoying a never-ending smorgasbord during late spring and gorging on anything that swims, 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 dominate bait source at that moment. During late spring, that can vary widely and change often. Fishermen should make observations of active bait from day to day and even from area to area within the same bay.
Flood tides can spread fish thin
More often than not, tides determine when, where and how inshore anglers fish. But, there is no other season which sees tidal flow has as much impact as spring. As a rule, spring tides have higher highs and lower lows. With such water level extremes, anglers must remain flexible in order to find fish.
When a huge flood tide rolls into the bay, areas that had been too shallow - or, in some cases, high and dry - during low tide, will be in play. Fish will take advantage of this new real estate and spread out over the newly flooded bars and flats. Often times, these fresh patches of water also benefit anglers in that they are in areas that are somewhat protected by the wind, giving fishermen more options when the wind is really howling. Conversely, some of the mid-depth and deeper areas of the bay will become too deep - and at times too rough - to fish on high tide.
A big influx of water also impacts the back bays and marshes, often filling these areas to fishable levels. But, with all of this “new” water that arrives with an incoming spring tide comes complications, as fish simple have more areas to spread out over. So, it is essential for fishermen looking to locate fish during high water periods to key in on active bait and other signs to help pinpoint productive water.
Too much tidal flow can hinder fishing
Stronger current doesn't always mean better fishing. In fact, some areas close to major passes may become unfishable during periods of peak tide movement as the current may be rushing through too fast. Those areas are better fish as the tide first begins moving or as it slows right after peak movement. But, some of the back bay areas that rarely see a noticeable tidal flow will often benefit from a strong, sustained flow during spring. So, when the water is really flowing, anglers simply need to pick the right location to take advantage of the water movement.
When the tide turns and begins dropping, the water from the back lakes and marshes comes flooding back into the bay. The channels that drain these back water areas can be very productive when tides flush out, washing out hordes of prey items such as shrimp, finger mullet, crabs and marsh minnows. Redfish will often congregate in front of these drains taking advantage of an easy meal as these prey items wash out of the bay. Anglers can position themselves to cast into the drain and allow their lures and baits to wash out naturally with the tide. When the happens, the action can often be fast and furious.
Low tides lead to concentrations of fish
Just as spring “bull tides” can flood previously dry areas, super low spring tides can also drain bays as fast as they fill them. When the water level bottoms out, channels and holes on flats can serve as hangouts for concentrations of redfish. In fact, low tide fishing during spring can be reminiscent of fishing low tides during winter, after a north wind has blown all the water out of the bay. Often when a pod of reds is found in one of these areas, there is little reason to move. Instead, anglers can anchor, stake out or simply stand in place if wading and catch good numbers of reds from a single location.
In short, redfishing during spring can be extremely productive. But, as has been detailed above, there are a number of factors that can affect when, where and how fishermen should fish in order to be consistently productive during the latter stages of spring.
Visit Capt. Danno Wise at www.lonestarsalt.com