It all started back in the early eighties. The oil boom was well under way in Houston Texas, and my job was in data processing working for a major corporation making huge thumps in the ocean and listening with an electronic ear. Each day while closed up in my office, overlooking a vacant field with the busy traffic in the foreground, I would pace incessantly contemplating where to do some fishing. Fishing of any kind would be more fun than staring out the smoke colored window into the apartment jungle in the distant skyline.
Brazes Bend State Park, a few minutes drive just west of Houston, had just reopened after having been closed to build up fish stocks for the last seven or eight years. I could just see a huge seven-pound bass hammer my top water Zara Spook frog lure as the sunsets low on the trees, and as night approaches and critters begin to stir.
That’s’ it! My mind is set to go. I phone my buddy, Mike, down the hall. I grew up with him in Deep South Texas along a river called the Arroyo Colorado. It’s near the lower coast of Texas, which is another story I won’t start now. Mike had already been to the Brazos Bend State Park however, and he is surprised to hear I want to go so late in the day. I inform Mike that the sun sets at about 8:30 tonight and we could get a couple of hours fishing in and still be home in time for dinner.
We rushed home, traded our monkey suites for wading gear, and headed out for the state park. The park is a beautiful swamp with old growth forest nestled along the Colorado River, and it is packed with wildlife. We arrived in good time and the park was nearly empty, except for a couple of well rounded old black women fishing for Sun Perch with cane poles, and doing a fine job of it. As I near the water, one of these sweet ladies warns me of the dangers in the water. "They is crocks out there and they looks mighty hungry”. True, as it was, there were many signs posted around the lakes, “No Wade Fishing – Beware of Alligators”. It was a hot day so I stripped down to just wadding shoes and shorts and began to work from the bank tossing my tasty lure to the edge of the water over tall cattails that were quit a nuisance.
Soon after I caught a couple of small bass and an alligator curious about, the activity of the fish splashing aroused a gator. This gator was only about four feet in length and posed little threat compared to the fourteen footers I had seen in other parts of the park. So I threw the top water lure out again and the gator turned for the kill. Having never fished around alligators before, I was intrigued as to whether he would strike my lure. Sure enough, he did. The fight was short as he rolled cut the light line on the reeds. I learned my first lesson: it would cost me about five dollars a fight if I were to continue letting gators get my frog.
We had several bass now for dinner and I wanted to catch some perch, as the sun was getting lower. Mike and I decided to move to another end of the lake where the park wardens couldn't see us. Mike had brought his camera and was getting shots of me fishing with an alligator fifty feet from where I was standing. Eventually the gator moved on and we kept on fishing.
the reeds were thicker here and we were forced to wade the waters edge to produce fish. I told Mike to wait there and fish while I moved closer to a slough about fifty yards away. I was now on the slough and evening was setting in. It was a rough walk to this spot with no shirt, and mosquito activity picking up. I had noticed a very large yellow jacket nest packed full of stinging creatures as I strained to make my way through the thick moss and lily pads outlining the small lakes. In spite of these few minor inconveniences, I did not have a care in the world. I was out of the office fishing and the sun was setting. What a way to end my day.
I had gotten all the way out near the edge and had forgotten my stringer. Being creative, I broke a thin branch down and started threading small perch on next to my leg.
I was still fishing, and having a wonderful time. By this time the sun was well below the treetops and darkness was rapidly setting in. Moments later I noticed a large water moccasin swimming along across the lake. Since I had much prior experience around snakes, this too, was a beautiful sight, and only added to my adventure. Bam, one more perch - a big one this time, dwarfing the others on the stick next to my leg. After unhooking it, I looked down to get the makeshift stringer, and to my surprise a three-foot water moccasin had half swallowed one of my fish! Now I began to panic.
I yelled to Mike, “I think its time to go”, as he sat safely on the shore. So, I picked up the stick and shook the snake back into the water. Big mistake!! Now I'm standing in water up to my knees; its dark; alligators are in the area; a snake around my legs; and I lose it. I tossed the perch stick into the lake and begin trying to run to distance myself from the snake. Yet another big mistake I strike the wasp branch containing the platoon of airborne poison injectors. Out of my mind with no shirt, screaming, holding on to my fishing pole, and running through green nasty muck, I tripped and went down head first into the water. Mike, alarmed by all this, is now on his feet in a panic tells himself the ultimate terror has occurred the fourteen foot gator ate Cliff what will I tell his folks and what about his boss. At that point I rise back up whooping and hollering as I got back to safety. Not a scratch, not a sting, just a little rattled. I say to Mike, "What a great spot, lets come back tomorrow night."
Thus, I was well on my way to becoming a professional fishing guide. See you out on the Flats,
Capt. Cliff Fleming
It was a cool fall morning and the wind is light as the sun peeks just above the horizon radiating a pink hue through the dawn clouds spawning offshore South Padre Island. Halloween is near and I already have some ghosts on my boat. Black and gold topwater ghosts to be exact. I know everyone is pushing the new topdogs and superspooks but remember your roots and how those new lures came about. Since most new topwaters come with rattles now you can't really go wrong if the fish are hungry and your in the right place at the right time.
This was the setting on a recent fishing trip that I was fortunate enough to go on with a client and good friend. We will call him Chuck to protect the innocent. It was a Saturday morning and many boats were scattered around us on the gaswell flats of the Lower Laguna Madre. Chuck is always ribbing me about not limiting out on redfish but today was going to be quite different. The first cast was not too exciting but Chuck is a patient person and he loves to rattle a topwater across the seemingly serene clear shallow waters. I began using a glow cocahoe with few promising results. About the third cast Chucks' ghost exploded as a very aggressive redfish nailed his spunky topwater. Chuck immediately set the hook and took the topwater away from the near-sighted fish. I immediately asked Chuck why he took it away from the fish. He responded, " Well isn't that what your supposed to do, set the hook"? As a team we don't often use topwaters and some alternative coaching was in order. I explained to Chuck tht when the topwater disappears then it is time to rear back on the rod. It wasn't long, maybe two more casts and bang, another huge redfish hammered his lure and again he jerked the lure away. Of course this time Chuck was coaching himself as he said "Cliff I can't stop myself". I get too excited and my instincts take over". The next redfish did take the lure under and Chuck landed a dandy 25-inch redfish. I couldn't stand it any longer so I grabbed a topwater and frantically tied it on to try my hand at landing a red.
I went on to tell Chuck that usually when a fish strikes he hits and turns away from the bait. If the lure moves too far from the fish he could lose sight of the topwater. I had a chance to show Chuck what I like to do when the fish misses on the first attempt. I normally will pause for a second giving the fish a moment to turn and relocate the lure, then start slowly moving and immediately return to my normal rattling cadence. This proved deadly that morning, as my hookups were very consistent. If you pause too long the fish will lose interest so there is a fine line between acting like a stunned baitfish or a fake baitfish. As the morning went on Chuck started using my technique and he was unstoppable. We had several double hook ups some fish in the 27 inch class goading our lures up two feet out of the water. About 830 am we had our limits and had caught 20 keeper redfish and the fish were still biting. I asked Chuck if he was ready to catch a big trout.
It's about time good numbers of flounders have returned back to the Lower Laguna Madre. Yes, you probably sense a little elation and gratefulness in my attitude concerning the bottom dwelling tasty critters that they are.
Flounder are back in good numbers on most any channel edge or normal flounder loitering areas. Someone finally took down that NO FLOUNDER LOITERING sign and flounder have come back to play. Almost everyone wants to or, gets a sly little grin when the Flounder word is mentioned. My wife personally can be in a happy mood for days if a fresh flounder knocks on the door. I have known of similar remarks to be made by many a fisherman. A big flat-daddy is always welcome to the hot skillet party.
We really have missed consistent flat-daddy fishing on the lower coast but times are changing for the better. One great and debatable facet of flounder fishing is what to use for bait. Everything from A to Z can be used for baits. I have heard of but don't tell everyone that Mud minnows are the flounder's favorite meal. I suppose someone took a poll to find that out that little tidbit. Nevertheless, lately I have strayed off the beaten path and located and cast netted some boisterous mud minnows, and the flounders have answered readily with a hungry crunch. I like any Cocahoe with vertical strips because it seems to simulate in part pinfish or mud minnows. Some floundermen have bagged as many as 17 Flattys on pearl bass assassins and many more have been breaking the 10 flounder barrier with regularity. Whatever your favorite choice of methods might be I am sure they will entice some of these camouflaged creatures of the bottom.
This time of year the tide levels are super low and everyone including the fishermen are tending to concentrate in areas. Very nice trout are also being taken while using live mud minnows or mullet and plastics as well. Just writing about a good mess of flounders makes my belly roar for some smothered flounder.
In retrospect to the Lower Laguna Madre it seems the return of the flounder bodes well of the total health of bay system overall. Lets hope the big flounder run in the fall turns out to be a time for every fisherman to get that little sly grin as he grabs for the dip net and reaps the rewards a big Flat-Daddy flounder can bring. Remember to delay before you set the hook when the big one locates your bait.
Capt. Cliff Fleming