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             Trophy Trout Time

            in Texas

            by Robert Sloan

             

             

            Ever since Houston, Texas angler Jim Wallace set the hook on a new state record speckled trout weighing 13 pounds, 11 ounces the rush for wall-class trout has been phenomenal. And from right about now through March your chances of catching the trout of a lifetime are as real as they have ever been on the Texas Gulf Coast.

            Right now the trophy trout potential along the Lone Star coast is great, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department gill net surveys.

            Rock solid support of gill net data is Wallace's 13-11 state record that ate a slow sinking Corky with a chartreuse/sparkle body. To further accent the success of TPWD's fisheries coastal management for speckled trout, Wallace's buddies landed trout that same day weighing 11 pounds and 12-1/4 pounds. Those are three career trout that most of us would die for.

            Fact is, trophy trout fishing from one end of the Texas coast to the other is great and getting better, thanks to restrictive regulations and the banning of all nets.

            Larry McEachron, TPWD's Science Director of the Coastal Fish Division in Rockport, says the number of 7-year-old plus specks are higher than they've been since 1984.

            "We're not just seeing these fish in certain areas," says McEachron. "They're showing up in our surveys from Sabine Pass to the Laguna Madre."

            Gill net surveys from last year turned up more trout in the 25 to 28 inch range than have been seen in a long, long time. Consider that in 1984 we had roughly 7 million specks along the Texas coast. That number had increased to 14 million by 1994. Their numbers continue to rise. If you're one of the many thousands of die-hard coastal fishermen yearning for a prestigious wall trout, the time is right for you to gear up and get serious.

            Trophy trout time in Texas is January through April. McEachron says that trout are at their heaviest in April during the spawn. That's when they can put on 1 to 2 pounds. And that's when the bulk of Lone Star sows are caught. March and especially April are the prime months for searching out trophies. That's not to say heavy specks can't be caught during February. The state record proves that big time.

            It's possible that Wallace's record catch could have weighed more than 15 pounds in April. Everyone of the marine biologists that I've talked to believe that Texas' trophy trout potential is primed and ready to go.

            There's no question about when a trout becomes wall class. A 7-pounder is close, but not quite. An honest 8-pounder is a trophy. Nine's and 10's will take your breath away. And fat sows like Mike Blackwood's old state record 13-9 trout (March 16, 1975) and Wallace's 13-11 are outright Boone & Crocketts of the speck world.

            A world record speck is a heart stopper, as Florida angler Craig Carson found out when he landed an IGFA world record speck while fishing out of Fort Pierce, Florida May 11, 1995. His catch weighed 17 pounds, 7 ounces. Believe it or not, he ate that fish.

            Most trophy trout contests in Texas are won with 8-pound-plus fish. These tourneys give us a good idea of what size trout are roaming Texas bays and surf. As an example of what I'm talking about the 1996 GCCA/STAR tourney was won with an upper coast trout weighing 9 pounds, 8 ounces, middle coast 8-13 and lower coast 10-15.

            The length of a trout is a good way to determine a specks weight. According to TPWD numbers, a 24 inch speck will weigh about 5 pounds, a 28-incher 7-1/2 pounds and a 30-incher is roughly 9 to 9-1/2 pounds. Blackwood's record trout measured 33-3/4 inches. Wallace's was 33-1/8 inches. And the world record was 39-1/2 inches. Its girth was 18-7/8 inches. So, if you catch a trout measuring 29 or more inches long you've got a trophy.

            During the past decade, trophy trout potential has been, at best, elusive. It still is, but our chances of setting a hook into a big-time "wall-hawg" is as real as it's been in many years. So now we're left with two key questions. Where to go for trophies and how to catch 'em.

            Well, obviously you want to start in proven water. And naturally that's where the state records have been showing up. And that place is Baffin Bay south of Corpus Christi. Baffin Bay is located on the upper end of the Laguna Madre. It's a massive body of water that is not fisherman friendly. There are scattered underwater rocks to contend with. And they will wreck a boat and motor. Worse yet, they're just under the surface. Very hazardous structure. Wallace lost two lower units last year.

            Your best bet on Baffin is to hire a guide to show you around.

            Another hotspot is the Lower Laguna Madre from Port Mansfield to Port Isabel. That's roughly 50 miles of water. And it's user friendly, provided you have a flats boat that can run the shallows.

            Two of the top guides on the lower Laguna are Terry Neal (210-944-2629) and Eric Glass (210-761-2878).

            I especially enjoy fishing the Laguna flats and usually on hard bottom in shallow water. Quite often you can see a whopper trout before you cast. Most of the big trout will hold over the light sand spots, as opposed to the grass. Conversely, a lot of the top wading areas in Baffin are over soft mud, mixed with grass.

            Other top trophy trout waters can be found on the upper coast around Galveston and on up to Sabine Lake. One of the best trophy trout guides I've fished with on the Galveston Bay system is Capt. Dwayne Lowery. When it's time to hook up with big sows you can usually find Lowery wading the lower end of Trinity Bay and all over East Bay.

            The north shoreline of East Galveston Bay is about as popular as Baffin Bay, when it comes time to catching big specks. The many shell reefs scattered along the north and south East Bay shorelines attract fat specks during January through April.

            Up on Sabine Lake trophy trout expert Capt. Jerry Norris is the man listen to. He's been fishing this low key trout mecca all his life.

            "I caught some of my heaviest trout, ever, last year," says Norris. "Most of the time I'll be fishing the lower end of the lake on the hard bottomed flats. Usually I'll be casting a one ounce SpoonDog in chartreuse or gold. It allows me to cover lots of water. Other top lures are big 1/2 ounce Rebel broken backs in silver/blue or gold/black. On really slick days the Rebel is a great lure for catching big trout."

            And, let me add this, about 100 percent of the wall trout caught in Texas are by waders. Big trout are just too skittish to approach while drifting in a boat.

            Chest waders will generally be a must this time of year. Wade quietly and keep a sharp lookout for big fish. Many are seen on the flats long before a lure is sent flying in their direction.

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