|Fishing West Bay??|
Fishing Galveston's West Bay
Capt. Greg Francis
I started out many years ago in West Bay not having a clue. I have spent many hours and days trying to learn this bay system and believe me, I have hit the bottom many many times out there. First of all West Bay in my opinion is the hardest bay of the big 3 in the Galveston Bay Complex to learn. The reason? Its the shallowest of the 3. But, its by far my favorite because it offers everything I like to do. You can wade the many many miles of shorelines, drift the open bay, drift oyster bars, or when in season there are plenty of birds to chase all over West Bay. But in fishing West Bay, navigation can be a pain. There are tons of shell reefs in the upper part of the bay that can end a day in a hurry. Areas around North Deer, South Deer, Confederate Reef, and areas around the ICW are loaded up with these shell pads. In the winter time you best know where you are going. The middle of the bay from lets say Greens Cut to the water tower near the San Luis Pass is the easiest part of the bay to run as long as you don't run to close to the shorelines. The only thing I really keep my eye on is Carranchua Reef, Shell Island Reef, Snake Island Reef, Tire Reef, and the Sunken Shrimp boat near the pass. These are all areas that can cause damage if not aware of.
Now! How to fish West Bay?
I'm no master of West Bay, NOT YET! But I do know almost every inch of this bay. I have figured it out enough where I consider myself successful on most outings. Over the next few post I will break the areas down I like to fish and I will break them down by season.
Alright! Lets start off with the winter time bite.
Winter Time Bite
Winter time can be a difficult time to fish and is by far the toughest time to run this bay. As I said before there are many exposed reefs here on the upper end of this bay. This is not a bad thing though, as winter time can be the best time of year to explore and learn structure that may not be seen in the warmer months. Makes notes of reefs, guts ,and other structure types that fish relate too. I promise you they will hold fish later on.
Areas I like to fish in the winter.
If you don't have a West Bay map you may need to get one. A lot of the areas I mention will be on a good map. The Hook-N-Line map is a good one to use.
Looking at a map, draw an imaginary line from Green's Cut south towards Dana Cove. I pretty much fish everything east of this imaginary line up to the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) where it runs between Tiki Island and North Deer.The average depth out in the open water between December and early March is 4 to 6'. Around the shorelines, around North and South Deer Island, and Confederate it gets shallow and shallow quick. BE CAREFUL IN THESE AREAS.
During mid December and the first part of March it will be strictly artificial baits. I'm not going to mention trophy Trout fishing here. I'm strictly talking about catching numbers of Trout. Drift fishing is the key here this time of year.
Since bait is not as abundant as the warmer months the signs of fish are more difficult to spot. My first goal is to try and locate dirty water. You will notice in West Bay during the winter time the bay gets too clear. I personally hate clear water and don't very well in it. Normally we are looking for the "mud streaks" as we call them. These streak are caused by tides and for the most part are easy to spot. Overcast day they may be a bit more difficult as they tend to blend in. Trout use these streaks to hide and ambush bait. If you can find these streaks you more than likely have found some fish. These streaks very in size but can be 10 to 50 yards wide and hundreds of yards long. Bait of choice here for me are soft plastic baits rigged on 1/8 or 1/16 ounce lead heads WORKED SLOWLY. Trout get real lethargic in the winter and aren't going to spend a great deal of energy to give chase to a bait. Later on in the warmer day they may get a bit more aggressive but most of the time it has to be right in front of them. Colors I like are the plum/chartreuse tail, black/char tail, red shad, and limetreuse. These colors work great for me. And I personally like the Saltwater or Bass Assassins. In my opinion there is not another bait that matches the Assassins wounded bait action. They are a little soft but they work. Other baits that work in these streaks are Mirrolures, Catch 2000's, Corky's, and any other soft plastic bait that drops to the bottom.
A mud streak is a great starting point to look for Trout. Find a mud streak with jumping mullet and your chances just doubled. Also, don't forget about birds. Diving Pelicans and Loons are a for sure sign of bait in the area and deserve a look over. Loons have put me on schools of Trout many many times.
If mud streaks, bait, or birds are not seen be patient. The tides play a critical role in getting things turned on. I have spent many times here fishing for hours with no fish then all of a sudden the tide starts moving or turns and then we end up with a great day. If no signs are found try and key in on water where the bottom can't be seen or you can barely make out the bottom structure. If the water is gin clear you are wasting your time in this location. Move on!
This area of West Bay is all mud with lots and lots of scattered shell. You will experience many break offs fishing this area so take plenty of lead heads. But this is the structure they like so we must deal with it.
This is my pattern for drift fishing upper West Bay. It will take time to learn to read the water and notice the signs to lead you in the right direction but it will come. The more time spent here the more knowledge to gain. You will find out West bay is an awesome place to fish in the winter. When the weather gets cold West Bay is hot!
Lower West Bay:
If someone said that I could only fish one area the rest of my life , which area what I choose? It would be lower West Bay! The reason is simple, its home to the San Luis Pass. And also some beach bum guy named John Turner . The San Luis Pass is by far my favorite place to fish in the whole Galveston Bay Complex. If you look at a map, draw an imaginary line from Alligator Point to Terramar Beach. Everything to the West I consider lower West Bay. I do fish a lot of Chocolate Bay, Christmas Bay, and Bastrop Bay but for now I'm only talking West Bay.
Navigation all around the lower part of this bay is pretty easy until you get to the San Luis Pass area. If running the open Bay two areas of concern would be Tire Reef which is a deep reef that is to deep to hit with boat or lower until but it marked by two big black poles on each end. Tire Reef sits about a half mile southeast of the entrance to Chocolate Bay. The poles can be a hazard if running at night. In the daylight hours they are easily visible. They stick out of the water about 10'. The other hazard is the sunken shrimp boat northeast of Bird Island about a half mile. This sunken boat is easily seen during the day light. The black mast is the only thing that can be seen. At night its almost impossible to see. If you find these two areas mark them on your GPS. Both of these are marked on mine for night time navigational purposes. The San Luis Pass area is a very tricky area to navigate. Unlike upper West Bay where there are lots of shell pads, this area contains lots of sand bars. I would recommend running very slow in this area. If you look at the map you can see the that the bars are running Behind the pass on the Galveston side, along Mud Island, and directly behind Bird Island. They are a pain to navigate and more than likely you will find some of them the hard way. I know I still do. Keep in mind that the current are very strong here and the currents are always changing the layouts of the pass. But with that said, the fish love the numerous guts and sand bars around here. The guts are like highways for the fish. Fish back off in the deeper guts on slack or warmer periods of the day and move up to the sand flats or edges of the sand bars to feed. Always remember if wading, some of the guts are very deep. One second you are in 12" of water and the next step you will be over your head. And with a hard incoming or outgoing tide this can be dangerous. I would recommend a PFD until you are comfortable wading the pass area.
When I fish the pass area I wade 99.9% of the time. Here are the areas I like to fish here. The south shoreline on the Galveston side. If you are looking at the toll booth on the San Luis Pass bridge I wade everything to the east of there. I will not wade past the toll booth. Currents are too strong for me going past the toll booth. I catch plenty of Trout and Reds between the toll booth and the water tower located down the shoreline towards Galveston. This is a safe wade here. There are really no deep guts here. There is one gut off the shoreline that runs down the shoreline about 75 yards off the bank but its only about a 2 to 2 1/2' gut. You can wade about 150 to 200 yards off the bank. Another area is what I like to call the Oyster Lake shoreline. This area is from Mud Cut and everything north of that to the ICW. This is pretty much a hard sand bottom with very little shell. There is 1 reef located in the middle of the shoreline between Mud Cut and the ICW. This is a great place to fish early in the morning or the late afternoon. My favorite place to fish is behind Bird Island. If you are looking at the Hook-n-line map you will see some red just north of Bird Island. This is my favorite place to wade. There are some deep guts off to the west and 1 deep one off to the southeast. Be careful here!
Like I said early my main choice is wading here. When wading top waters will be my first choice. She Dogs, Top dogs, Super Spooks, Super Spook Jr's, and Skitterwalks are all in my arsenal. All of these baits are deadly. Colors I like are solid Black, black/char head, char/pearl/char She Dog. Both of those baits are good for low light conditions. When the sun is out I like anything with flash. Baits like the blue/chrome back, solid chrome, or silver/pearl/char are good baits. Also, soft plastics work great along with Mirrolures, slow sink baits, and rattle traps.
When drift fishing all of these artificials baits will work too. If throwing live bait. I like drift fishing the edges of the guts with shrimp or mullet under popping corks. Also, free lined shrimp or mullet can be deadly. But you need a good current to help get the baits drifting down the edges of the guts.
The pass is a great place to fish but like everything else the tides play a major role when the fish feed. Personally I like the incoming tide the best but will take an outgoing tide as long as I have water movement.
When fishing these areas I listed above I'm keying in on a number of signs.
Trout slicks are the #1 sign I look for. This is a given sign that there are feeding fish in the area. Look for signs of jumping Mullet. Where there is bait you can bet predators aren't far behind. Pelicans, Gulls, and Terns are more signs of bait activity.
To me, the ideal water temp here is from 65 to 80 degrees. I will normally start hitting the pass hard in late March all the way until late June. July, August, and September I'm usually somewhere else. Then I generally come back towards the end of September. October and November are two great months to fish these areas too. The water temps are dropping and the Trout tend to stay up on the flats a lot longer and are real aggressive towards a surface plug. During the heat of the summer the pass can be hit or miss for me. Its just to inconsistent for me. I will not see the numbers or quality like I see in the spring and fall.
Middle West Bay:
Now lets talk about the middle section of West Bay. I call the middle section of West Bay from Green's Cut to Alligator Point. There is a lot of great fishing in this section of the bay but doesn't get as much pressure as lower and upper West Bay.
First of all this part of the bay is not that hard to navigate. You have one major reef in Carranchua Reef that is locate right dead center of West Bay. This reef basically runs almost from the north shoreline to the south shoreline. It can be waded (my preference) or it can be fished drifting. I prefer wading it during the spring and fall throwing soft plastics or top water baits. And I prefer the northern end of it. On a normal tide this highest point of the reef sits about 6" below the surface. There is also Shell Island Reef, Shell Island Reef #1, and Shell Island Reef #2, and Snake Island. All of these reefs produce good catches of Trout with a few Reds. Shell Island and Snake Island are the two reefs that are navigational hazards. These reefs can be excellent spring through the fall. Watch for nervous bait, slicks, and bird activity.
The north shoreline can be a good place to fish all year long. Areas around Alligator Point back east are good wading. Especially areas where there are cuts in the spoils that head back into the ICW. About a 1/2 mile back east from Alligator Points there are a series of these cuts that have shell bottoms in the cuts. The bay is on one side then deep water access of the ICW is on the other. These are awesome places to fish. Again, I'm keying in on bait, slicks, and bird activity. Winter time I'm keying in on mainly bait. A small warming trend in the winter time between fronts will allow bait to move on these flats. Trout and good sized Trout will not be far behind.
Now lets talk about the south shoreline and the many many coves that are located here.
I feel like the coves for me produce the best and most consistently in the spring and fall. They do produce in the summer months but to me not as good. The best bite in the summer months will come early and late. I catch more Reds in the hotter parts of summer than Trout. The winter time in coves are only visited in periods of warm weather windows where I am only after trophy sized Trout. The same can apply to the north shoreline. Gets a few days of rising temperatures and Trout will follow bait up into the shallows. Coves that have deeper guts that run into them are usually the best for winter time fishing. I wade just about all the coves I fish and will more than likely be throwing top water baits or Corky's. Bass Assassin lures are thrown often as well. Drift fishing is a good choice in coves like Dana's, Starvation, Snake Island Cove, and Carranchua Cove too. Drift fishing with top waters, soft plastics, and live shrimp under popping corks are all effective methods. When wading coves be careful. Some of these areas get pretty soft and there are deeper guts that run through these coves.
I hope this helps you get an idea of fishing the West Bay area. I would say its a great spring, fall, and winter bay. To me the toughest part of the year is the summer months. Just not that consistent for me. I can catch a lot of fish there but I really half to work hard for them.