There’s a Silver-Sided Lining to Every Storm

As I write this, the eye of Hurricane Gustav is making landfall only a few miles from Cocodrie, a tiny little fishing community near Terrebone and Vermillion Bays in southeast Louisiana. I used to fish there several times a year, until my friend Tom Holliday passed away and his lodge changed ownership.
The fishing was incredible.
I’ve been invited back, and hope to fish there again, assuming there is still a lodge standing on the shores of the narrow spit of land and sand after Gustav has diminished and dispersed. That is a dubious prospect at best. Then again, Louisiana is made up of some very stubborn and resilient individuals, and they may well surprise us all.
Meanwhile, our prayers are with them.Boater Shadow and Rainbow
It’s difficult to construe anything positive from something that causes so much outright misery for so many people. Yet, hurricanes are essential components of Mother Nature’s plan, and despite their inflicted damages they nonetheless do indeed contribute to the health of saltwater bays and estuaries.
The topic came up Saturday, when I was called by Santa Barbara, California outdoor talk show host John Henigin of Fish Talk Radio to participate in an interview (www.fishtalkradio). The show is webcast, and you can, if you like, go to the archives to find and listen to programs that you didn’t catch live. Henigin and crew wanted to know if tropical storms and hurricanes had much of an effect on coastal fishing.
I assured them that they do.
In negative scenarios, saltwater storm surge flows can back up over deep-inland nurseries and estuaries and stay there long enough to deprive the area’s vegetation of oxygen. The result is a devastating fish-killer colloquially known as “black water.” It is yet to be seen if Gustav will have that effect.
What is certain, though, is that the hurricane will in effect “flush out the bays.” When significant storms pass over bay systems, their powerful surges essentially “clean up” the locales, washing out accumulated silt and significantly deepening channels, and accordingly, increasing the intensity of currents and tidal flows.
The same holds true for the surf. Although siltation does not tend to be a major issue inside surf guts (the tide-carved trenches between sand bars), the passage of a storm usually creates “cuts.” Sand bars and guts run parallel to the beachfront. Cuts are just what they imply, shortcut passageways that slice through sand bars and make it much easier for surf-run fish to move both in and out as they travel down the beachfront.
With an experienced eye, based on variances in the surf’s incoming breakers an angler can detect the presence of cuts fairly easily. Any bait cast close to such a perpendicular cut-out is prone to get hit, as it is in the line of travel for migrating fish … particularly bull redfish that frequent the surf in big numbers at this time of year.
When you find such a thoroughfare, it’s a good idea to log it via GPS. I keep a handheld Magellan Triton 500 specifically for this purpose.
Labor Day heralds the onset of the beachfront bull redfish run. If you have never caught a 25- to 35-pound redfish in the 40-inch-and-up class from the shore, with your heels planted deeply in the sand while a raging bull rips line from a mono-filled spinning reel, it’s something you need to do at least once.
Every year, with photographer Mark Hall of, sporting artist Mark Mantell of Friendswood ( and videographer and editor son James I head down to the surf near Rollover Pass to enjoy what is arguably the most elementally-exciting form of saltwater fishing in Texas. We fish XL-size Black Salty live baitfish, and we rig them on shock leaders (see previous story about the process on this site, and check under “The Black Salty” to get a detailed illustration and explanation of shock leader rigging).
In October, our redfish quest will veer toward East Galveston and Trinity Bays, and come the cold of winter, we will focus on West Galveston Bay and East Matagorda Bay. All of these sites are a long way from Gustav at this point, but they are nonetheless close enough to have benefitted just a bit from the storm system’s inherent clean-up program.
Way down south, action for tailing redfish traditionally is at its best in September and October. Hall and I will investigate the possibility firsthand in a week or so with a trip to Port Mansfield, where we will fish the flats with fly fishing virtuoso Capt. Terry Neal and make an offshore Black Salty live baitfish field-test run with Capt. Randle Hall of Geaux Deep Charters. (Check the guide links for more information on these veteran skippers.)
Port Mansfield was seriously impacted by the recent passage of Hurricane Dolly, although not as severely as South Padre Island and Port Isabel. My friend Capt. Danno Wise of Port Isabel told me last week that the Tip-of-Texas action is cranking up big-time … a silver-sided lining in the form of speckled trout, and even big snook, down near the Mexican border. That, in at least some fashion, is attributable to Dolly’s aftereffects. (A link to Capt. Wise’s website is included here as well.)
High winds have kept bay fishing pressure relatively light throughout the summer. I know this from sad experience, having been blown out around 70 percent of the time since Memorial Day weekend.
Diminished angling pressure only means that there should be more fish out there than ever, waiting to be taken by the opportunistic angler who waits his turn in-between weather systems.
We have a lot of catching up … and hopefully, plain old “catching” to do.
Here’s hoping you can make the time to do some of the same. The collective bad news of summer ’08, hopefully, will translate to better-than-average autumn angling throughout the entire Texas Coast.
Hurricane season is a long way from over. A week from now, even a few days from now, we could well be staring down the wicked eye of yet another approaching storm.
While we have a break, though, we’re all well-advised to make the most of it.
Successful saltwater fishing always revolves around the weather, and when possible, using it to our advantage.
Difficult as it is to conceive, and as guilty as we may feel about benefitting from an occurrence that destroys the property and adversely impacts the lives of so many people, we have to take advantage of what breaks we manage to get.
Soon as the ancillary rain from Gustav disappears, and barring the unanticipated formation of yet another storm, we could do far worse than avail ourselves of the silver lining every disturbance brings to shore.
Storm currents or not, always wear a PFD when wading the surf. Be safe out there.
And while you are at it, catch one for me.
The way it looks now, there should be more than enough fish to go around for all of us.

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