Spring Saltwater Fishing Means Dealing With High Winds and High Water
Spring is known as a season of transition on the inshore water of the Lone Star State. Weather is warming. The bay is becoming flooded with newly hatched, rapidly growing baitfish, shrimp and crab. Fish are in between their deep water winter pattern and shallow water summer haunts. At times, it seems the only constant during spring is constant change. But, there are a couple other things that remain constant during spring - high wind and high water.
Wind and water level are two major considerations on any coastal fishing trip. During spring, they become all the more important.
When it comes to wind, it may be strong, but at least it's consistent. Although there is an occasional calm day during spring, most days during March and April see at least 15 mile per hour winds and, quite often, sustained winds are over 20 with gusts approaching (or exceeding) 30. And, unlike other seasons, the wind doesn't necessarily die down overnight. So, the wind issues confronting anglers during spring are two-fold. The obvious first issue is dealing with wind while on the water fishing. The second issue is how the non-stop blow affects water quality.
Since many a spring day on the water follows hours of strong overnight winds, anglers can more often than not expect to find dirty water - lots and lots of dirty water. Far too often anglers spend the majority of their time running around and looking for "good water." However, not only is this not necessary, it is often counterproductive. Some of the spring fishing occurs smack dab in the middle of some of the muddiest water. So, rather than avoiding dirty water, anglers should learn how to fish in it.
The most common tact when fishermen are confronted with dirty water is to put away the artificial lures and throw live bait. Make no mistake about it, live bait will produce plenty of spring specks in off-color water. But, so will artificial lures. 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.
And, on the subject of sound, as the water gets rougher and dirtier, it's almost impossible to make too much noise. Loud popping corks such as the Bomber Paradise Popper, Texas Rattlin' Rig and Alameda Rattler are good choices in dark, rough water. When fishing lures and baits under a popping cork during spring, it is also helpful to add an inline rattle, like the ones marketed by Texas Rattlin' Rig and TTF, about 6 to 8 inches above the bait. Fishermen throwing surface plugs need to used models with high pitch rattles like the MirrOlure She Dogs and Bomber Badonk-A-Donk HP or prop baits like the Smithwick Devil's Horse or MirrOlure MirrOprop. The best soft-plastic tails to throw under these conditions are those with oversize paddle tails like the Egret Lures Wedgetail Mullet and the TTF Big Minnow.
Beyond what to throw when the wind blows, anglers need to make sure they are able to deliver the payload and, when a fish strikes, set the hook with authority. High winds inevitably mean more slack is introduced into the line during the retrieve. To help combat this issue it is helpful to switch to longer rods and faster speed reels for spring fishing. A 7'6" rod will pick up far more line when swept back for a hookset than a 6'6" or even 7'0" model will. At times, the rod length alone will be enough to offset the slack and allow for good hook penetration on the set. However, these rods are even more responsive when paired with a high retrieve ratio reel, such as a 7.1:1 or higher.
When casting, it is also helpful to make a few adjustments. Rather than fighting the wind, anglers should use it to their advantage. Always position yourself to be able to cast downwind. Then, rather than making a low, hard cast, make a high lob, allowing the lure to arc upwards when the wind can catch it and carry it forward.
A final consideration for fishermen working in a stiff breeze is the speed when covering the water. Since the water is often off-color, it is necessary to work slowly and methodically over an area. Of course, stiff spring breezes tend to push drifting boats too quickly to allow for this. The best way to offset the impact of a strong wind on a drifting boat is by using a drift sock. Drift socks not only slow the drift rate of boat but also serve to stabilize the boat. If the wind is really howling, it may be necessary to "upsize" the drift sock and use on designed for a larger boat.
Of course, the best way to control the speed you move across a flat is to get out of the boat. When the wind really picks up, assuming the water is shallow enough, wading is usually a better option than drifting.
On the issue of water level, most anglers associate spring with extremely high tides. While it is true the spring months see unusually high tides, that is only half the story. Spring also sees some extreme low tides. In fact, 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.
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. Those flats that held schools of fish on high tide are often dry or too shallow to fish on low tide. But, although a extremely low tide may eliminate some shallow water areas, it also serves to concentrate fish in channels, holes and around mid-bay structures. Additionally, some mid-bay structure is easier and more productive to fish on a low tide.
The other factor, which is often overlooked, dealing with spring tides is the velocity of current during periods of tidal movement. It only stands to reason that when more water is moving in and out of the bay, the current will be stronger and, often, longer. Stronger current doesn't always mean better fishing. In fact, some areas close to major passes may be 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.
Spring tides have a couple other impacts on the bay. Large amounts of water moving in and out of bay often cause the water to be murky, especially in areas with heavy current flow. Coupled with the previously mentioned effects of the high wind on water clarity, anglers can certainly expect at least portions of the bay to be "off-color" more often than not. But, again, as noted above, anglers need not fret fishing in murky water. Instead, they just need to be prepared for it and make good choices in regards to lure selection and retrieve.
Finally, when strong currents and strong winds are moving in opposite directions, a clashing occurs that causes waves get big fast. When this happens, conditions can get rough, and often dangerous, in a hurry. Anglers should keep this in mind as it applies not only to where they are fishing, but the water that lies between their fishing spot and the boat ramp. Crossing an open bay or deep channel under these conditions can be perilous. Fishermen should pay attention as conditions change throughout the day and adjust the time they fish or the route they take in order to avoid any extremely rough conditions.