Anatomy of a Cove
By Captain Steve Soule’
Wow, I wish the 15th of the month would quit sneaking up on me so fast, I feel sure that 30 days took a lot longer to pass ten years ago. It’s time for an article again, and I thought I would try to give up some useful information about Galveston’s West Bay. Let me start by saying that although West Bay is on the smallest bays in the Galveston complex it may well be the most diverse in terms of the types of terrain that can be found, and there’s no question that the bay can be a top-notch producer throughout the year. There are numerous features within this little bay; shallow flats, deep guts and reefs, miles of shoreline, and a major gulf pass. Of all the features of this bay, I would have to rank the coves of the south shoreline among the best and most diverse available to Upper Coast anglers. I’m going to attempt to describe what type of features can be found within these coves and how fish relate to them.
I’ll start with the outside or front of the coves, where they open to the bay. The first noticeable feature is visible when passing from mid-bay; it is the point of land that defines the cove. These points are usually covered with grass, with a mud and clay mixture as the shoreline gives way to the bay. The immediate point area is often tricky to wade especially around the western point on the side facing back to the north and east. It’s a small area but is very slick and often uneven and requires a little effort to wade without falling. The opposite point (westward facing) is the one that I find greater interest in. It is off of this point that you will find the natural barrier that protects the cove. This barrier is visible along some coves. Dana and Carranchua coves are perfect examples, in front of both you can still see a group of small grass islands. Other coves such as Hoeckers and Bird Island are protected by a submerged sandbar. This sandbar is visible on low tides or when the water is very clear. In front of Jumbile and Maggie’s coves you will find some scattered shell. Whatever the makeup of the point, they can all be “fishy” at times, especially on the backside of the barrier where it drops off into the cove. In this area, the water is often dirtier that the surrounding areas and almost always hold some bait. Worth this area with a top-water plug and if that doesn’t produce try dragging a B&L Sea Slug or Bass Assassin through the dirty water, if you don’t find a trout you’re almost sure to find a flounder. One more spot at the front of the coves not to overlook would have to be the “mouth” as it drops out into the bay. This deserves special attention in the spring during the later stages of the outgoing tides when large schools of bait are often stacked up here.
As you work your way back into the cove you’ll find the western shoreline to be fairly firm, though not completely smooth. If you walk out away from the shore near the point you’ll eventually find the feeder gut that “fills and drains” the cove. In some of the smaller coves this gut is fairly noticeable and well defined. In some of the larger coves, like Dana and Bird Island for example, the gut widens rapidly as it enters the cove and may just appear to be a small drop that follows the shoreline on one side and the barrier or sandbar on the other. This is a feature of the coves that can easily be followed, and that’s exactly what the trout and reds do. On an incoming tide start wading from the back of the cove and walk the edge of the gun or drop-off out towards the mouth. Typically this is where the bigger concentrations of bait will be found and the big trout won’t be far behind.
Now I said I’d work my way out from the shallow back end of the cove, but the truth is that if I’m after redfish or flounder I usually won’t leave the back end of a cove at all. For most of us were limited by where our boats will take us or how “wade-able” an area is, if these are your limits you may never realized some of the most intense and exciting visually involved fishing that the Upper Coast has to offer. The backs of the coves, where they blend into the marsh, can absolutely load up with fish. What you’ll find back here is marsh shoreline, shallow flats that seasonally cover up with grass and numerous sloughs and drains that funnel water and creatures in and out with the tides. Basically ever cove in West Bay has marsh to some degree, the extent of which can’t be easily seen until you make the effort to enter and explore it. The back ends of the coves, by around May, will fill with small bait-fish, crabs and shrimp. They will stay bait rich all through the summer months and into the fall on a normal year. It is no coincidence that this is when the fishing will be most consistent. Though typically I don’t expect to find Big Trout in these shallows marshes they do show up at times. I normally work these areas for redfish and flounder, which frequent the shallows. Due to the fact that these marsh flats are so shallow and protected I’ll work them in a very slow and methodical manner. It never fails that when you get in a hurry you will spook the fish that right in front of you. I will fish the marshes with a soft plastic on a 1/8th ounce jig head; sometimes I’ll go lighter or even go to a weed-less rigged Bass Assassin when the fish get really spooky. Though I prefer to sight-cast, I certainly won’t walk an area without casting when I’m not seeing fish.
As you move around, some things to key in on are the little sloughs through the marsh and any point of land. These are structures that both bait and fish must move through or around. I have found that flounder have a strong tendency towards holding in these areas, waiting to ambush any unsuspecting creature that swims to close. Fish these back marsh areas on the incoming tide and you’ll notice that fishing get better as the tide rises. The rising tides flood the flats with forage for the predators. As the tide peaks the reds will often remain in the shallows until the water begins to fall back out. When the tide begins to fall I will do just like the flounder and take up station at the mouth of a slough or a narrow point here the marsh flows back out to the bay. Doing this allows me to intercept the fish as they move back to the deeper water. If this doesn’t prove fruitful, I’ll move out a little deeper and fish the drop into the gut in the main cove, often I’ll find trout waiting here to feast on the bait coming out of the marsh. This area out in front of the drains is great for going back to a top-water plug which may reward you with a few crashing guests.
Learning a cove from front to back can be a diverse and rewarding experience, where gaining this knowledge can often result in catching that elusive “bay slam”. As a matter of fact, it can be a fairly regular occurrence to catch trout, reds and flounder in one cove during the course of the day. If you’re interested in learning more about the coves of West Galveston or the opportunity to catch a “bay slam” visit me online at www.theshallowist.com.