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"Hot, Straight, and Normal?"

By Capt. Kris "Double K" Kelley

Sponsored by: American Rodsmiths

One thing about serious freshwater inundation is that it was like a ghost town around here over the busy holiday. Good for some, bad for others as area businesses suffer and struggle to deal with "angler opinion of the off color mess". I welcomed a group aboard on Thursday and the guys told me that a fishing buddy of theirs said "go anywhere but San Antonio Bay, too much freshwater". That was my first clue that people might be avoiding this area. Business has been good for me, and the fishing likewise. As we wrapped up the day I asked "are ya'll glad you came to San Antonio Bay with all the freshwater"? I'll give two guesses as to what the answer was! Over the holiday, there was a noticeable lack of pressure from Pringle Lake West to about Ayres Point. That would be my playground and there's nothing like having the sandbox to yourself over the July 4th holiday. The 2002 flood that hit us mid July taught me a lot of things. It's lessons resonate at an elevated level as this years flooding makes that years inconvenience look like a cake walk.

The 2002 flood was the first time I had been confronted with what I considered a cataclysmic event right in the middle of "prime time" booked to the max fishing season. A one day scouting trip was the beginning of unlocking the mysteries involved with catching fish through this event. It was July 11th, 2002 and I was fishing with Mr. Ed Lingo of International Truck in Houston. We were having a great day around the First Chain of Islands but something was different. We were catching larger Trout than I'd been seeing and most were "grey bellied". I knew that we were expecting a large flood from I believe TS Bertha which sat over San Antonio for days. While our water looked normal, the fish were anything but normal. We wrapped up the day and I was scheduled for a day off on the following Friday, July 12th, 2002. Sensing that things were about to change, I decided to scout on my day off ahead of a lengthy run of trips.

This scouting trip produced sights that I never imagined could occur right in the middle of "prime time". I'd seen flooding in the Spring, over the winter months etc. I had never envisioned anything like what I was about to get into. As I launched my boat at Charlies, I struggled to back out of the ramp due to all of the Lilly Pads that had been pushed down from the head of San Antonio Bay where the Guadalupe River enters. I ran across Espiritu Sanot Bay thinking that the back lakes were going to be loaded with fish pushed up into the saltier environs, wrong. The back lakes maintained their "mid summer" look of floating grass, skinny water, and nasty. I pushed through the back lakes and headed south. Crossing ESB as far as I could see toward POC were little islands of floating Lilly's. As I got to Panther looking north toward the ICW, the same thing, floating Lilly Pads and more freshwater. I pushed farther to Mesquite and made a few stops catching fish at will. Mesquite was my home for two weeks as the effects of the freshwater blast lessened. I watched the fish move 15 miles East and West of the First Chain of Islands.

As things began to normalize about a week after the blast, albeit at minimal levels, I witnessed the fish move to the Panther Point area around July 19th, 2002. This was short-lived, however, as the Panther area picked up another blast of freshwater. Between July 19th and August 24th, I found the fishing to be outstanding in a number of places including Shoalwater, Pringle Lake, S. Pass Lake, and the Surf. August 25th, 2002 was a meaningful date insofar as it was the first time the fish moved back to the First Chain of Islands and the fishing more or less "stabilized". This month and a half long siege of flooding and it's lingering after effects is more or less what I consider to be the "life cycle" of a single event flood.

What separates this year from that year is we are in a "multiple event" scenario. What came at us in terms of freshwater from TS Bertha has come at us about three times this year. With each event, I start the "life cycle" over again and expect fish movements accordingly. So far I've been right on and the catching has been good. Personally, I could do without the mind numbing challenges, but what the heck it has made things interesting to say the least. Witnessing the fish migration has been another experience like 2002 that I won't forget.

Catch & Release Spotlight

Catch and release is catching on but not without self sacrifice and some bumps in the road. Saturday's trip was a good example of the dilemma one can face in this business as we reflect changing values to our clients. With pretty good winds and gusting, I retreated to a slow mud/grass bite that I knew would produce a few fish while I waited for the conditions to moderate. I also knew this was ground zero for the potential to see some fish in the 26 to 30" class. Sure enough, one of my clients bowed up on a big fish. As I eased and settled her gently in the net, I estimated her length to be in the 26 to 28" range. With corner mouth hook placement, I recommended that the fish be released. Keeping the fish in the water, I gave the client an opportunity to view her briefly. I popped the hook out of her mouth and with little hesitance, I flipped the net and she bolted away in good condition. Another of my clients in the same party mentioned that it was hard to believe that I released that fish and there was some banter between us relative to what was going to happen if that fish were on her line. I explained the reasoning for releasing large Trout in that class without much understanding on the part of the client.

As luck would have it, a few minutes later she bowed up on a big Trout. Sure enough, it was another 26 to 30" fish with corner mouth hook placement. Again, I eased the fish into the net and she stabilized quickly. I popped the hook out of her mouth and the client made no bones about wanting to keep and retain the fish. Again, I flipped the net after a brief in the water viewing and the client was not happy. I have been fishing this particular client for about four years. When I flipped the net, I put my livelihood on the line and potentially risked losing the client. We did not see eye to eye on retention of this fish and there was not going to be any acquiescence. When it comes down to it, as I see it, I have the final say as to what I'm going to stick a knife into. If the fish isn't going to be retained for mounting purposes, butchering it is not an option as I see it. I also mentioned how we had two options in the location we were fishing. Option A is that we continue to box some of the better eating fish while releasing the larger Trout present or Option B, leave the area. I had never run into a situation where the client and I didn't see eye to eye on what should or should not be released. Most that I come in contact with are more than willing to let the big girls go. What could I have done differently, I'm not sure?

As it turned out, the day went well with a nice box of 15 to 18" fish perfect for the dining table and more than meeting the clients goal for a great day on the water. When I make the hard decisions and essentially overrule a client, I do it with the security that I've been around this game a long time. While I'm not in the business of losing clients, I can see that there is a lot of work ahead in re-establishing a new set of values. This work may involve financial sacrifice on my part from time to time. More satisfaction came when a very close recreational fisherman that I am friends with reported that they caught a large Trout on Sunday morning and released her. This likely would not have happened in the recent past.

This brings me to CPR which is "catch, photo, and release". I have already made up my mind that no fish is worth being sacrificed for the sake of a photo. Thus, I do not advocate CPR on large Trout. Handling large Trout is precarious at best and more often than not ends poorly. This is especially true if the fish come to hand quickly which is best for a good release but worst if the goal is to handle them for a photo. The only other option is to play the fish out further stressing it. This makes handling easier but releases are questionable. Consequently, there are few photos going on my web page and the digital camera is getting dusty. Shooting pictures of fish boxes has also gone by the wayside for me. While this may have a negative impact on my business initially, I think it will work itself out in the long run. Some have criticized that I will be back to hanging fish and shooting pictures but I doubt it.

Good luck, and take care out there.


Capt. Kris "Double K" Kelley
Coastal Waterfowl & Fishing Guide Services
e-mail: [email protected]
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