An interesting article from the (nearly) forgotten archives of the Shoreboundangler
Fishing from jetties is a popular activity enjoyed by many types of anglers. The variety of fish available along beach front jetties is amazing. Prized game fish like speckled trout and redfish are year round residents at big jetties like those in Port Aransas . The newly opened Packery Channel jetties on Padre Island are already gaining a reputation for kingfish, snook, and tarpon. Smaller jetties like those at Fish Pass offer easy access and the chance to catch the fish of a lifetime.
Jetties offer cover, current, and bait; all of which attract game fish. Most have reasonable surfaces for walking and offer access to deep water and the larger fish that inhabit it. The problem with fishing a large jetty like those in Port Aransas is figuring out where to fish. Sure, you can just drop a bait somewhere and hope for the best. That’s not the best way to put fish in your cooler though.
As with fishing from a pier, every jetty walker should pay attention to the other people fishing on the rocks. Do you see anyone catching fish? Are they fishing the surf or the channel side? Are they fishing on bottom or with a float? Live bait or dead? Again, you can usually figure all of this out by quietly observing those catching fish. If you don’t see anyone catching fish, take a methodical approach to picking your spot. Often times the elements will affect your decision. If the surf is high and breakers are crashing against the rocks, the channel side may be the only spot you can comfortably fish. If a strong wind is blowing, there may be protected water adjacent to the rocks on one side. Current can also play a large role in selecting your location, as can the level of the tide. Evaluate all of these conditions and select a location that suits the type of fishing you plan to do.
It is important when fishing a jetty to understand how jetties are built. A cross section of a jetty looks like a pyramid. A relatively wide base of rocks is stacked with progressively smaller tiers of rocks until it finishes with those rocks visible on the surface. The resulting structure has only a small portion exposed. The majority of the material used to construct the jetty is submerged. This provides lots of nooks and crannies for small organisms to hide, which in turn draws in fish of all types.
Effectively fishing a jetty with so much cover to decipher can be a challenge. A few simple rules can help you eliminate unproductive locations and focus on those spots where you are likely to catch fish. Resist the urge to hike all the way to the end of the jetty. Though the ends of the jetty often access deeper or clearer water, you may pass up the best spots on your way out. An exception to this rule might be if you see a water clarity change farther out that you want to try. Travel as light as possible so you can move around and change spots if necessary. Start fishing near the base of the jetty and work your way out until you find fish. Stay observant as a condition change may alter your plan.
A productive and often overlooked spot at many jetties is the deep gut that forms near the base of the rocks on the surf side. Wave action sends water onto the beach. As the water recedes along the jetty it often forms a trench or gut with deep moving water right at the base of the rocks near the beach front. The constant flow of deep water through this gut often brings large fish in close to the rocks to chase schools of bait fish moving in the current. Speckled trout, snook, flounder, and redfish can be caught here, often within casting distance of the beach. Free lined live bait can be killer here. Cast across the current and let your offering swing towards the rocks as it moves with the current. Move around making multiple casts until you locate fish. Fresh dead shrimp or cut bait fished on the bottom of the gut tight to the rocks is deadly for small redfish and gray snapper. Clear water in this gut begs for a small jig or mullet imitating topwater.
As you make your way out the jetty look for irregularities that may form an ambush point for hungry fish. Any large rocks that are displaced from the jetty are worth a cast, as are any right angle corners formed by changes in the construction of the jetty. On the surf side of the rocks, note where the waves are breaking. The waves will break on sand bars that are separated by deeper water called guts. The outermost edge of the breakers is always a good place to try, as are the sandbars themselves. Surf running fish like whiting and pompano are often found right in the breaking waves very close to the beach. Try peeled fresh dead shrimp in the surf for the whiting or pompano. Deep guts between the sandbars often hold schools of mullet or shad, which in turn attracts game fish. Live shrimp or mullet cast to the guts between the bars is a good bet for speckled trout or redfish.
Always keep your eyes open for baitfish on the surface, or for diving birds which may indicate bait just below the surface. Any school of mullet or flock of diving birds should be fished thoroughly. Fishing the surf side is often easier because the structure of the jetty gives way to a very regular sandy bottom away from the rocks making retrieval of your rig less prone to snagging rocks. A bottom finder rig with enough weight to keep your bait on the bottom is a good choice when fishing dead bait. Try a fishfinder rig with a short section of heavy leader material when offering larger live baits like mullet or small fin fish. When using any type of bottom fishing rig, it is important to hold your rod tip high and reel in quickly when retrieving to avoid snagging on the rocks. This is true when landing fish as well as when reeling in to check your bait.
Fishing the channel side of a jetty often presents different challenges than fishing the surf side. At the Port A. jetty, the rocks extend a long way out towards the channel. The water in the middle of the channel is very deep. As a result, a long cast can end up very close to or on the rocks after your weight reaches the bottom. Current can be a big factor on the channel side, which means you’ll need a larger weight to keep your bait on the bottom. A bottom rig that is moving along with the current is very likely to get snagged. A sandgrabber weight is a good option for fishing the deep water in the channel. Try fishing with a float if your presenting live bait like shrimp or mullet. Let the bait flow with the current. Keep it close to the rocks, and recast to make repeated drifts. Adjust the depth on your float until you locate fish.
Most of all, don't be afraid to fish close to the rocks, or even in the rocks. Sure, you will lose some tackle. But, you will also catch more fish than the guy who safely puts his bait beyond the edge of the rocks just to save tackle. A little lost lead is a small price to pay for a cooler full of fish.