In the early days, for about 15 years, we walked our local coastal jetty wall — coated with algae, oysters and barnacles — far into the Gulf of Mexico. Around us swirled waters 30 feet deep and more, with the boulders and their marine growth hosting countless fish. While a few boats anchored nearby, our tactic was to abandon a perfectly good boat and walk the jetty for several hundred yards, searching for quality gamefish such as seatrout, redfish and Spanish mackerel. When we found them, our stringers grew heavy. That was in warmer weather. During winter, sheepshead and black drum supplied most of the action.
Boating anglers nearby could only watch, or pull anchor and creep closer. Back then, nobody had an electric motor in saltwater, which is common today.
It was difficult, leaving a boat with shifting winds and tidal current. Sometimes we had to swim to the jetty and then back to the boat. The rough marine growth on the wall offered good footing, but if you fell even once, your day was done. Three of us wound up in the hospital for stitches, and a fourth at the local Doc-in-the-Box. Most of us had no regrets, and I’ve wondered how many anglers would trade a few stitches for 10 years of great fishing. Countless two- to four-pound seatrout were dragged onto that jetty, often timed with a handy wave. Landing nets were excess baggage and we never used them.
|Bass Pro Shops Bait Cast Nets|
Our gear was fairly simple back then, and there are so many more choices to choose from today. When the water was green and clear enough, we mostly used gold spoons and always kept a Mirrolure bait handy. If the water was murky, we switched to orange, soft plastic fishing lures. Or used corks and live bait caught with a castnet like the Bass Pro Shops Bait Cast Nets. Or, we could bring live shrimp for the livewell or minnow bucket. Since our area had no live shrimp for about 60 miles, our gamefish were more apt to strike at artificials. Our same lures hardly worked at other venues where fishing pressure was more intense, especially at the Port Aransas and Galveston jetties, where live shrimp was available.
What fun we had, though. We left keeper fish all up and down the jetty wall during fast action, not boxing them until the feeding spree subsided. At least twice we had passing oil company crewboats roar by in the near distance, throwing a three-foot wake that washed perhaps 25 trout and Spanish mackerel off the wall into deep water. The mackerel sank like stones; but we swam after and retrieved some of the better trout that floated. We even lost a tacklebox to a rogue wave; that box held too many offshore lead weights and sank quickly. Another time we had 25 Spanish mackerel on the stringer. A friend couldn't handle the weight while transferring it to the boat, let it slip and the entire catch sank forever. I dove repeatedly in the rocks below, but came up empty-handed
|Happy angler with big jetty redfish caught during summer.|
Exploring our jetty year after year revealed certain spots that were better than others. You might see water roiling through an underwater gap from one side to the next, which often held fish. A low spot could washed disoriented baitfish across. The channel and its current held fish on some days, or the outside wall with greener water might be better. Generally, if you could see two or three feet down, that was a good day; the gamefish could spot your artificial baits and attack them. A light, southeast wind brought green tides, while a pervasive west wind muddied the water. However, a long jetty can shield water from wind and waves, and you could often find a fishable pocket of water that was not as murky. Every day was different and there was no way to predict. Even calm weather might see murky water. This was in Texas, which has the most and longest jetties of any state, though the water simply isn't as clear as Florida on most days. But walking around and casting while a mile offshore, that’s something few anglers have done.
Anchoring Around a Jetty
|Bass Pro Shops Fluke Anchors|
Anchoring next to unyielding granite in wind and current requires a steady hand on the throttle, and isn't for rookies — unless they anchor beyond casting distance from the rocks. Even then, a stalled motor and lost anchor can quickly spell trouble. Anchoring 20 feet from rocks and feeling perfectly comfortable in waves is a talent that many anglers and some guides just never acquire. You really have to stay alert and not panic, if the anchor slips. Back in the day, we often used aluminum boats and didn't care if they bumped a rock on occasion.
While on the subject, bring a Bass Pro Shops Fluke anchor and a spare when fishing from a boat. A very short chain helps prevent wave action from sawing your anchor rope in half. Be prepared to lose anchors, and bring a spare. Avoid using expensive boat anchors, such as the Fortress boat anchors, in rocks, although these are really good anchors. (I had a lucky one that lasted for years around the jetties, so maybe aluminum is the way to go around the rocks.)
|Angler and daughter with big redfish, while anchored near a Texas jetty.|
All jetties are different, of course. Many are impossible to walk on, completely jumbled and jagged, almost submerged at high tide. (These would include Jacksonville and Fernandina in Florida). The best jetties are well above tide and carry a paved flat top for pedestrian traffic, such as Jupiter or Fort Pierce, Florida. All Texas jetties (except Sabine) are flat enough to walk, fortunately.
Neatly-stacked granite boulders are certainly negotiable; I've watched an adventuresome 90-year old retiree from Iowa working his cane pole for sheepshead at the Port Aransas jetty during several winters, and he often climbed right down near the water. There were dozens of other retirees nearby. Some people are just not accident-prone, or have better balance. I know that group was hard on the sheepshead.
A fishing buddy named Bud Reynolds still works the Texas jetty where we spent so many summers boxing quality fish. We still fish there a trip or two every summer. He says that since our glory days, walking the rocks has fallen from fashion, so to speak, probably because a lot of people got hurt. That and today's fine bay boats usually carry an electric boat trolling motor on the bow, ideal for fishing up and down the wall without risk of injury.
|Galveston jetties are perhaps the longest in the nation, providing miles of flat granite rocks for boaters and rock-walking anglers.|
Reynolds says there is only one local group that sets up on the rocks. They actually bring a folding table to keep their tackle above water and rocks, fishing the inside channel side with small hooks and shrimp for croakers and pinfish, and then casting the live baits outside under corks. They tie their minnow buckets to a leg of the table. He's seen them do well with this system, especially later in the day when the morning bite has slowed.
Reynolds says the boat crowd now cruises slowly up and down on electric motors, casting at the rocks from the safety of their boats. Unfortunately, "All it takes is one boat to anchor and the progression down the jetties is brought to a screeching halt," Reynolds says. "After one boat anchors, there's a mad dash to get in a good spot and drop anchor. Weekend mornings are almost a waste of time, unless one has live bait."
Most jetties have a finite number of honeyholes, as I learned while guiding many jetty trips at the Port O'Connor rocks in Texas.
"My best trips have been weekday afternoons with less boat traffic and a good tide. A falling tide with light winds is best. On summer weekends, you can count on someone being anchored over your spot within 30 minutes after daylight," Bud says. "We've found other places to fish, though. There are some spots where the high tide comes through or over the rocks and others where there may be a deep hole. Even fishing a ways off the jetty has been good on calm days, early in the morning before the water heats up.”
Reynolds was referring to warm-weather fishing, from April through October. Winter is different of course, with the fish perhaps 20 feet down, and sheepshead the dominant species, though prowling rocks up close to the surface on calm days. Compared to a shallow, wind-swept bay in cold weather, the jetties are packed with fish.
|Author lands a keeper seatrout while walking the rocks.|
Seatrout: Spawning at the Texas jetties in June. From our vantage point atop the rocks we often watched big female trout accompanied by up to a half dozen small male trout.
Tip: Fish with spoons, jigs, plugs and live bait.
Redfish: Present all year long.
Tip: Fishing with live bait is best; gold spoons are good.
Spanish mackerel: Any time the water was 70 degrees or warmer.
Tip: Fishing with flashy spoons are best.
Pompano: More common in South Texas, again fish in 70 degree water temperatures or warmer.
Tip: Fish with small jigs and spoons or live shrimp.
Jack crevalle: These big devils, up to 24 pounds, are very hard on fishing lures, and you're generally lucky to get a lure back when they strike. One friend, chasing a jack down the jetty, did a belly flop and ruined his casting hand for the entire summer. A big oyster was the culprit.
Tip: Fishing with almost any bay-type artificial bait will work at catching Jacks
Sheepshead: Swarm the jetties all year, but 99 percent are taken from January through April.
Tip: Catch them on shrimp or small fiddler crabs.
Tarpon: Present during fall and summer at Florida jetties and in Texas, mostly at Mansfield and South Padre Island.
Black drum: Big spawner arrive from February through April in the deeper holes.
Tip: Fish with half a blue crab for bait.