This is the much-anticipated revision of our original bestselling Saltwater Strategies. this work provides an in-depth look at the details that transform the sport of coastal fishing into an art. If you want to be able to identify where the fish are and how to get them on the end of your line, this is the book for you.
A distinctly Texas drawl melts into the squelch of a VHF marine radio as it echoes across the bay, “Are you gettin’ ‘em?” It is a haunting question, resounding for all Texas anglers to answer. From the short rigs off Sabine Pass to the sprawling grass flats of Rockport, we can all answer the question. It is the point of evaluation for our angling skill. But the answer is not always pretty nor what we would like to reply.
We measure ourselves by this cruel question. Job success, financial worth, and moral strength melt away in light of this inquisition. It is not just among tournament anglers and professional fishing guides. If you “got ‘em,” you are a boat dock hero. You find yourself lingering around the cleaning table, repeatedly going into the marina to get a soda and asking, “How did you do today?” to anyone within earshot.
It is funny how different the scene is on a slow day. There is always a lot of talk of bad wind and no tidal movement. We tend to get very analytical about the factors that influence our fishing when things are going wrong. We all launch our boat, wade away from the shoreline, or walk out onto the jetty with great hope, but very few return with the results desired.
The No-Nonsense Guide to Coastal Fishing is a no-nonsense approach to
improving your angling skills along the Texas Coast. It contains details necessary to put together the many pieces of the puzzle for successful fishing. It is never just one thing that makes a great angler. It is a combination of skills and experiences.
Going to the right spot or having a certain bait is rarely enough. You have to time your arrival, know what to look for when you get there, and select the right technique for the circumstances. You must study your surroundings and be open to new ideas, new approaches. This is part of the appeal of fishing: You are never done, never the complete angler. It requires more than simply plugging numbers into an equation that yields the right answer. It is more akin to a mystic martial art. You study, learn, and improve your art. Great fishermen take it that seriously, gathering information from every conceivable source. They study fishing.
A great deal can be learned by studying the habits of great fishermen. As in any art, you start by studying “the masters.” Do you suspect Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have studied every recorded moment of Mickey Mantle at the plate? I do. The thing to remember is that one of the fishing greats could be your best friend. He may only “get ‘em” one day a year, but for that day, he is the legend. Study him. Many people spend their entire fishing life at one or two general spots and employ one or two techniques. And you know what? That is great. Fishing is many things to many people, but those who are consistently successful and produce results put no boundaries on their fishing.
Most Texas coastal anglers marvel at fishing guides. It is hard not to. The best guides seem to produce results in the face of incredible odds. As a child, I theorized about how guides spent their evenings: reading charts and reviewing old fishing texts. The reality is that they are on the phone, returning client calls and mentally sifting through the wheat and chaff of fishing reports. The fishing guide’s true edge comes from fishing every day and from focus. The men and women who succeed simply try harder and want it more. Just like success in anything, it is a matter of dedication. The average angler does not have the luxury of being in touch with the day-to-day changes in the bay, but focus and
desire can make up for a lot.
As a Galveston Bay fishing guide in the 1990s, I witnessed the expansion of Texas coastal angling’s scope and range. This period marked the advent of modern Texas bay angling. In the early ‘90s, the majority of anglers—and for that matter, many guides—restricted their fishing scope to one or two local bays. You were a Trinity Bay guy or a Matagorda guy. Then freezes, floods, and crowds began to move guides and anglers alike.
In the early-to-mid ‘90s, murmuring of East Matagorda Bay started sending anglers and some Galveston-based fishing guides to this alleged land of milk and honey. Stories of five-pound trout under staggeringly large flocks of birds and consistent limits were simply too good to be true. Surprisingly, they were not. An onslaught of guiding and fishing pressure came to this incredibly productive bay, and the eyes of the Texas angler were opened. Somehow, everyone had developed the idea it was absurd to trailer a boat for an hour or more to fish. This was no longer the case, and the Texas coast opened up.
Guides began traveling and bringing hordes of anglers with them. Sabine and Calcasuieu lakes, East and West Matagorda, Rockport and Baffin Bay were now everyday destinations. A guide’s business card that once noted a bay of specialization now listed the entire coast as a range. These events ushered in the current age of great anglers. In the past, there were very few prominent anglers who received celebrity status in Texas fishing circles. There were a few guides and insiders who seemed to always catch fish, and everyone knew their names. Not surprisingly, more often than not, these guys were travelers. Anglers like Rudy Grigar and Pete Tanner were not just fishing San Luis Pass. They were traveling from Port Mansfield to the Chandeleur Islands, and every place they went, they learned. They learned to fish over the grass of South Texas as easily as the sand and shell of Galveston. A technique or bait discovered in the marshes of Louisiana helped improve their approach on a grass flat in Port O’ Connor. Fishing is fishing. All bays are connected, and all information is worthy. If you never stop studying, you never stop improving.
In preparing this book of techniques, maps, hints, and philosophies, I took into account the uncertainties inherent to the art of bay fishing. There are no guarantees. Galveston guide James Plaag put it best when asked by a client if he would guarantee a limit of trout: “I can’t guarantee you that my engine is going to start tomorrow. How am I going to guarantee you a limit of trout?” Like I said, no guarantees. The rise and set of the sun is all you can count on. Tide movement, fish feeding, and wind are just a few of the uncertainties that must be dealt with each and every time your line touches the bay.
Writing this book was not unlike writing a manual on how to get struck by lightning. All you can do is run into the storm, hold your hands above your head, stand on high ground, and really want it. You can get better storm-tracking maps, better electronics to find bigger storms, and even a better lightning rod to improve your odds. But when the storm is raging, it is still unpredictable chance that gets you struck. Fishing is no different. You hone your skill, refine your focus, and increase the odds of getting struck. When it all falls apart and you are racked with frustration, remember that you are tracking a cold-blooded animal that is expending every resource it has to elude you. This is when fishing becomes art. No longer does the modern Texas angler walk to the bank and sling out a cheese ball in hopes of a bite. The successful angler pursues his quarry, putting everything he has got into the effort. Even as I type these words, I am studying, searching for a better lightning rod.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Pat Murray is CCA's National Communications Director and a veteran professional fishing guide.