Port Aransas, Texas
On The Fly Saltwater
By Polly Dean
Featured photo by Jimmy Jacobs
Headquartered off the Texas coast in Port Aransas on Mustang Island, we planned a couple of days of targeting redfish. But, the first day high winds were most definitely a deterrent for our fishing. Whistling up to of 40 miles per hour, our plan to venture out on our own for some do-it-yourself wading action was blown out.
On the following day the wind died and we fished with Captain Jeff Johnson. The captain took a round about route to end up on the Lone Star coast. He grew up in Washington State, started guiding in Montana in 1997 and moved to Rockport in 2008.
From that central location on the Texas coast, Jeff’s guide service – Fly Fish Rockport – is convenient to many of the state’s coastal fisheries. The town of Rockport was just north of us on the mainland coast, with Corpus Christi Bay just to our south.
The area boasts crystal clear waters and year-round populations of redfish, speckled trout and black drum, along with other species such as tarpon and jack crevalle. Since we were staying in Port Aransas, the captain picked us up at the docks within walking distance of our hotel. He knows the area waters well and we didn’t have far to run to target redfish.
He also has these winter fish patterned. “The redfish spend the night in deep holes, then move up on the black mud flats,” Capt. Johnson said. “They just lie there and don’t move.” This makes them harder to spot. When on the move, they are super stealthy, not making a wake as fishermen often look for in other regions when hunting for redfish. The only time we saw a wake, was when a red spooked and left the area in a hurry.
Unlike the fish in neighboring Louisiana, Texas redfish are often thought to be much tougher to catch. As we found out, that was true. These Lone Star reds were not dumb. Because of the shallow, clear water, the fish can see anything around them, often before we see them.
Jeff knows a stealthy approach is necessary. As we moved around slowly, hunting our target, the captain instructed whomever was on deck to keep their rod low, with about a rod’s length of fly-line out and ready to cast. We held the line just a few inches above our fly, having it ready and less likely to tangle. As fly fishers learn, especially when in the salt and wind, line management is key.
Once we had a redfish in sight, the captain reminded us that these fish tend to be spooky, so no false casting or unnecessary movement of any kind. We learned that we needed to cast quickly, and at the same time we needed to make that first cast count. It needed to be on the mark, which was just a couple feet beyond and in front of the fish’s nose. These fish don’t often allow a second cast.
Seeing the fish and what direction it was facing, in combination with casting quickly and accurately, can be a bit challenging, but our captain was good at providing instruction as needed to make the most of the opportunities we did have.
Fortunately, virtually all of the casts were short ones. We did not need to cast 50 or 60 feet of line. In fact, two fish hooked that by On The Fly South editor Jimmy Jacobs took the fly less than 15 feet from the boat!
The captain had us throwing black-and-purple Clouser Minnows. He said that the redfish like that color pattern, so that is his primary go-to fly. The color combo was easy to see and it was definitely easier to see when it was eaten. To Capt. Johnson, it was most important that the angler be able to see the fly and where it is in relation to his target.
Due to stealth and extreme wariness of these fish, Capt. Jeff is super passionate about targeting the species. He excitedly points to how aggressive they can be when attacking their prey, especially favoring crabs over other food sources. When temperatures warm a bit, they will attack the fly with a vengeance!
When dealing with winter reds, weather can be key to success. On one facet of that point, Jeff has a contrarian view. “Some books say fishing is no good just after a cold front,” he said, then noted, “That’s not true. The first day after a front may not be good, but the second day the fish can really start eating everything they see.”
In addition to Cap. Jeff, Fly Fish Rockport has other capable guides that know the area waters and the service can even accommodate larger parties. They also provide any gear that is needed. All levels of saltwater anglers are welcome and the guides can provide any extra coaching that may be needed.