This year’s Saltwater Outing was, finally, FISHY! About 20 TWFF members made the trek to Port Aransas this year in search of saltwater species. All of us caught fish! And many members caught LOTS of fish. We all learned lots about the saltwater environment, honed our skills, stripped the skin raw on our line fingers, and added many new species to our “life list” of fish caught. But, I’m getting ahead of myself; the main reason for our success really started Thursday night….
A good handful of TWFF’ers were able to start the outing early. Roz Orr, Frances Estes and Vicki Andrews arrived mid week. They had hit the jetties and piers and caught fish galore. Pat and Don Carlson arrived on Thursday to have a nature paddle with Jennifer Thomas, Slowride Guide Service on Friday. Jan Bates, Joyce Davis, Mary Kain and Linda Love were set to kayak fish with Dean Thomas early on Friday morning. Dawn Dorsett and I just wanted to get our lines wet and catch fish. We were all snug as bugs (Frances was dreaming of catching a baby tarpon) in our various motel rooms, tents, RVs, campsites. A powerful thunderstorm with a cold front was working way towards the Coast and brewing on ‘the mainland’. At about 10 pm Thursday night, the power went out from the storm for a couple hours for all of us on Mustang Island.
The frontal passage caused winds to shift from the typical southeast direction, an onshore breeze, to a north wind, an offshore blow. Paddling kayaks and sight casting to redfish would be a challenge in this wind situation. We turned our attention away from the marshes and bays, and instead focused on the surf and beach. We learned a style of fly fishing that none of our members had yet to experience. And, boy, did we have fun!
On Friday morning those TWFF’ers not heading on kayak trips with Slowride, met up with Austin Orr, a member of the Laguna Madre Fly Fishers and his friend. We piled into a few high clearance vehicles, and headed to the beach. Austin helped us get our fly rods rigged for surf casting. The fish we were to hoping to catch were aggressive and we needed heavy monofilament and large weighted clouser-style flies. Off went the 0x leader and top water flies. Instead we installed straight 10# fluorocarbon mono for the leader and tippet and we tied on the heaviest, flashiest white clousers in our boxes. Austin showed us the “Tarpon Knot”, a loop connection that worked with the stiff larger diameter leader material and big flies.
Austin shared his knowledge of finding fish in the surf. The fish cycle is relatively simple; anglers need to be at the right place to catch fish. Along the Coast, waves crest at sandbars and the waves break into surf. Between the sandbars are larger deep pockets of water running parallel to the beach called guts. Austin looked for irregularities in the sandbar/gut configuration, such as a point or waves breaking at an angle to the shoreline, which would causes an interruption to the gut/sandbar system. The interruption can cause bait fish to concentrate in the gut. Incoming and outgoing tides also capture baitfish in guts. The concentration of small bait fish then attracts larger predator fish, their activities then attract birds, we see the birds and nervous water, then cast our clousers to catch the larger fish.
With our fly rods rigged, a basic understanding of the surf environment and how fish move in the water, we started our drive along the beach “looking for fish”. After a few stops, we found a great location with plenty of bird activity, shallow system of bars and guts that made wading in the surf easy, and we started to see fish in the surf. We waded about knee deep into the surf along the sandbar and cast into the deeper gut. With quick deliberate strips, we began catching fish. Strong fish that pulled our fly line off our reels. We could see schools of fish following our flies. The fish really attacked the fly and tore away from us on a run. We tuned our casts and adjusted the drag on our reels. This activity was extremely exhilarating! And, of course, catching these aggressive fish was lots of fun. By noontime Friday, our group had caught bunches of Lady Fish (aka Skip Jacks), small powerful Jack Crevalles (they croak as you release them!), some sea trout and a couple of reds. Austin and his friend bid us adieu and we just kept on catching.
Now the key to the success of the weekend was the offshore wind and the tidal change. Because the wind was from the North, the wind was at our backs. It was much easier easy for us to cast those big heavy flies with the wind, deep into the gut, where the larger fish were cruising. The tide variation was strong and the outgoing tide caught bait fish in the shallow guts close to the beach, within the reach of our casts. A recipe for success!
We tracked down those who went with Slowride and had them join us on the beach. Jan Bates, Linda Love, Don and Pat Carlson began to catch fish, too. Sheila and Robert Anderson arrived from Austin, they got the technique. By about 4 pm, we were in the surf, catching fish, and having a blast. We ended up postponing the Mullet Mixer until dusk, so that we could stay longer to fish. Just before sunset with the falling tide, a full blown “blitz” occurred right at our fishing spot. Birds were circling and diving, larger fish were crashing into the bait fish, the water churned from activity. What a sight!
With our arms aching from casting, warm tamales and other treats for sharing, and fingers stripped of flesh from bringing in Lady Fish, we joined up at the Executive Keys for Friday night’s Mullet Mixer. With our success that day, we figured we would have as much fun on Saturday at the surfline, than to try and kayak and fish in the bay with the strong north winds. Flexibility is needed to fish the coast and great trait of our club. So word was sent to participants, who hadn’t yet arrived, surf fishing again on Saturday! Another trait of our club, is when the fishing is good, keep fishing! Jan, Linda, Cindy, Dawn and others headed out to the Jetties after the Mixer and found fish under the lights on the pier. They caught more fish there! What a fun day. We all went to sleep dreaming of catching baby tarpons!
Saturday’s conditions were the same as Friday. With the north winds, we focused our attention to the beach. Our larger group spread out along with Mustang Island shore and some went to the jetties on St. Joe’s Island. Heavy fluorocarbon on our lines, flashy white clousers tied on, we caught and caught and caught. Smiling faces, stripper fingers sore, salty and wet from hanging out in the surf line- a fabulous way to spend a fall Saturday at the Coast!
At dusk we gathered for shrimp boil at Executive Keys. Good food, friendship and stories of the day were shared. Trophies and tiaras were given to out the anglers. I think all of us had a trophy weekend, a good time to think about, smile and remember now in these dreary winter days.