Today is March 3, 2019. I write this without haste because an unusually strong cold front hit earlier today and I’m not in any rush to get out on the water. I’m perfectly content within the shelter of my home. I’m getting older, 35 years and some change. I’ve spent my fair share of days over the past years stomping around in mud, slinging baits and lures in sloppy wet frigid conditions. I know that those who brave the extreme elements can potentially reap the rewards for their efforts. I’m fortunate enough to know this based on experience; sometimes my reward is the ability to write about it. Today I write.
Dynamic: Constant change and activity within a system. This is the best word that I can use to describe a spring fishing pattern along the middle Texas coast. One day high temperatures in the mid-80’s and the next day mid-50’s. One day high tide, next day low. One day north wind, next day south. One day dense fog, next day bright and sunny, not a cloud in sight. If you also take into account solar/lunar phases, barometric pressure, fishing pressure and most importantly water temperature you are faced with the same equation that plagues my professional existence as a fishing guide. If an easy solution existed, I wouldn’t have a job.
In terms of spring patterns one must first consider the overall comfort of the fish with regards to environment, physiology and psychology. Laugh if you want, fish do think and feel, therefore fish psychology does exist. We do not need to be specific in terms of species. I am speaking on behalf of all fish species and humans alike when I say this: We all seek comfort on many different levels based on our environment and circumstances. When we are cold we seek warmth. When we are hungry we eat. When we are tired we sleep. When we see opportunity we take advantage of it. This all might seem vague and non-specific but it is not without reason. Fish and humans are much alike.
Take for example: A span of several days with lower than average temperatures and little to no daytime sunlight. Water temperatures will be cold and will remain cold with little sunlight to warm the shallows. The fish will retreat to depths or bury themselves in the mud and slow their metabolism to a crawl. The energy needed for survival barely exceeds the amount of energy consumed while lying in a dormant state. Lethargy is survival for fish faced with cold, but at the first sight of sun after a long few days, attitudes begin to change. Have you ever noticed more people in the park than usual on a warm sunny afternoon after a long stretch of dark and cold? Both fish, humans and all creatures alike exhibit a need for comfort.
The feeling of comfort can mean many things, not just being warm vs. cold. Sometimes in order to achieve comfort one must not be hungry. Both you, I and the fish feel this primordial urge to eat, and the feeling is hard to ignore. For a fish; even during times of lethargy and laziness, if the perfect food is placed perfectly in front of it the fish, it might consider eating. Just as you and I might. Never have I refused breakfast in bed, especially on a cold dreary morning when someone is kind enough to place it in my lap. If I was hungry enough, I would have crawled out of bed and moved to the kitchen long before the generous offer but I was content. We don’t always get breakfast, especially in bed and sometimes we have to search for it. Both fish and fisherman alike.
After a cold span of time with energy reserves dwindling, a fish begins to feel discontent. My breakfast in bed has not arrived and the primordial itch of hunger scratches at my stomach and mind. The sun has warmed dark surfaces, rocks, mud and shell almost to the point of comfort. Why not venture out into the park? There should be a hot dog stand along the way. Sometimes opportunity arises for the fish but long after most fisherman have given up. I can’t tell you the number of days in early spring that I have personally departed, in my opinion, too early. After poking holes in the water for hours with no results I eventually realized my mistake late in the day when the fish became suicidal and the pattern repeated itself; for years.
There are exceptions of course and always will be. Unlike humans, a major influence in behavior and feeding for the fish is the solar and lunar phases. This information is most easily accessed by fishing and hunting apps that combine the position of the sun and the moon to predict major and minor feeding times. I find this information most useful during colder months but is a good reference during the entire year. The actual fishing and hunting forecast does not take into account some of the most important factors involved in fish behavior such as water temperature, wind speed, wind direction, barometric pressure and so much more. Take it with a grain of salt on its own but combine the fishing forecast with all of your observations and you can systematically pick off times to avoid, leaving you with times of reward.
Take for example: The same example as before, except… You notice that a major feed or prime time occurs early in the day and not so much for the remainder of the day. Despite the unusually cold temperatures, some fish that have exhausted energy reserves will take the opportunity to feed when Mother Nature tells them and not when we as humans would expect. A good friend of mine recently proved this concept to me on a day that I would have bet against him despite his abilities. Water temperatures were in the upper 40’s low 50’s after a front, colder in the morning without a doubt, yet he pulled out close to a dozen slot reds during the first hours of light and not much to show for during the warmer parts of the day. It pays to take note of feeding times but combining them with the exact conditions can yield unexpected and exciting results sometimes.
I was having lunch at a local sandwich shop in Rockport, Texas (must have been my feeding time) and couldn’t help but to hear two old timers having a rather loud discussion. I watched them adjust their hearing aids up but it didn’t seem to manipulate the level of their voice. One spoke or yelled of being a musician while the other spoke or yelled of knowing musicians. We all sat, listened and enjoyed our lunch with hints of smiles at the two old strangers that became friends, unknowingly in public. Two things caught my attention during their conversation. One old man mentioned a singer song writer named Guy Clark. The other mentioned the weather changing and his left leg was hurting because of it. I happen to love Guy Clark but just as intrigued with the old man’s leg hurting I wondered over for a brief conversation.
I never asked about his leg, but we spoke of Mr. Clark and the weather. The weather did change that day. It is the cold front that I spoke of at the beginning of this article. I never doubted that the old man’s leg didn’t hurt, I simply wondered if it was because of the weather. Just as fishing, life is a collection of delicate patterns. I think back to many old men including stories of my grandfather, my father and now myself where we all stubbornly limped for a time. I think tonight about why my back aches. It’s probably from pulling up a stubborn anchor from what I call death mud; mud so deep, dense and thick that you could use it to make a pot. I’m also getting older, maybe the old man is beginning to show in me. I can’t help but to think why a big old fish with an aching pectoral fin would venture out into this weather if it didn’t have to. Fish and humans are much alike. Tomorrow the sun will rise, waters will warm and with any luck both the fish and I will be back to our usual game of hide and seek despite any unusual pain.
-Capt. Johan Coombs
“I hear this song and I think: Man, this is… great! This is the best I ever heard. I forget I’m the one singing.”