This is a special time for fishing.
Saturday morning we eased the boat into the water about 4:00 AM and started fishing the green lights along the shores of San Leon and we could tell from the immediate hookups it was going to be a great morning. We cruised back to the dock and picked up Steve, our fishing buddy and headed out for a great morning on the water. As soon as the sun broke we started seeing a few small pods of birds starting to work the surface. This phenomenon occurs at certain times of the year when the shrimp are in the bay(the water temperature has to be right)
Shannon Tompkins from the Chronicles tells it pretty well here-
Most anglers call it “fishing the birds,” because the circling, hovering, diving seagulls, terns and even pelicans are the signature visual element of this natural phenomenon. But those birds are just a part of the life-in-the-food-chain mechanism at work.
Each autumn, usually beginning in October when the first pulses of cool air make it to the Texas coast, white shrimp that have grown from tiny larvae to near-adult size while living in the estuaries rimming the bays begin a mass migration to the Gulf, where they will grow to adulthood, spawn and spend the rest of their lives.
Cooling water temperature is the main trigger for the migration. But other factors — high tides from the autumnal equinox followed by rapid emptying of the marshes caused by north winds behind cold fronts — are thought to play roles in compelling the shrimp to begin their exodus.
Similarly, juvenile menhaden — mostly Gulf menhaden but some finescale menhaden, too — that have spent their early lives in the estuaries begin their move from bay to Gulf, where they, too, will mature.
These mass movements of “teenage” white shrimp and menhaden are at the center of the free-for-all that follows.
Following the safety-in-numbers behavior of prey species, shrimp and menhaden (“pogies” to many anglers, “shad” to others) gather in large groups to make their way through the bays and toward the passes that lead to the Gulf.
The masses of shrimp and menhaden are slow-moving and exposed, making them easy targets for marine predator species such as speckled trout and sand trout. Those predators are driven by their own biological imperative. Winter’s coming, and with it a reduction in available food and an increase in physical stresses. Those fish need to pack away as much food and build as much nutritional reserve as possible before hard times hit.
So schools of trout — sandies and specks — along with the occasional pack of redfish and, in Galveston Bay and Sabine Lake, even a few striped bass roam the open water of bays along the upper coast, hunting for shoals of shrimp or masses of menhaden.
When they find them, it’s a bloodbath.
As the fish tear into the shrimp or pogies, they push some toward the surface, where they are pinned and easier to catch.
From their elevated perspective, sharp-eyed gulls and terns, always on the lookout for a meal, can sometimes spot the packed masses of bait and the shadowing predators and follow them, waiting for the inevitable slaughter.
The forage is caught in a meat grinder. If they stay in the water, a trout grabs them. If they try avoiding the fanged-toothed trout by jumping from the water and skittering away, they risk ending up in a gull’s greedy beak.
For anglers, the sight of gulls hovering and diving over a piece of featureless bay is like a quail hunter seeing an English pointer locked up in front of a patch of bunchgrass in a huge pasture. The gulls have done the hard work of finding feeding fish; all the anglers have to do is get close enough to the action to take advantage of it.
“Bird” fishing has been very good for the past few weeks along the upper Texas coast — hot spots have been Sabine Lake, East Galveston Bay, Trinity Bay and East and West Matagorda bays.
November is arguably the best autumn month to find working birds in those bays. But the action can continue into December, especially if the coast avoids any seriously cold weather.
Birds “work” best on calm, clear, cool days — the kind of weather we see one or two days after a cool front pushes through. But almost any November and early December day when the wind is light enough that wave action doesn’t prevent gulls from spotting the surface activity that signals feeding fish can be good. And, sometimes, the best “bird” action occurs late in the afternoon, when boating traffic is lightest.
Anglers who find themselves on the bay on such a day — when wind is light and cool, the water green, and they can see a half-dozen or more groups of gulls hovering and diving over feeding trout — know something about Thanksgiving.
O K, now if you are ready to get in on some of this action, I suggest you give my friend, Chuck Glass a call. He is a local guide and knows the area well. He is an authority on fishing the birds as well as sight casting for big reds and trout. Chuck has guided fly fishing trips from Florida and south Texas to Central and South America and can show you a great time fly fishing for redfish right here close to home. Being with someone that knows an area like the back of their hand is a big plus and he will point out not only great spots for catching fish, but also will share some history with you about the different reefs and estuaries that have been changed by the Hurricanes that have ravaged the area over the years. Chuck’s number is 713-882-6272, book him for a trip and enjoy a great time on the water!
To prepare some of the fish you catch, always remember our dry rubs, blackening seasoning, and awesome grilling sauces. The Lemon Rosemary Habanero Grilling Sauce is a perfect complement when grilling up some fresh redfish with vegetables.