Hotspots for Texas Trout

On the entire Texas Gulf Coast this summer, these may be the best half-dozen hotspots for taking speckled trout. (July 2006)

A veteran of more than 30 years spent stalking Gulf waters in search of speckled trout, the author knows a lot about the where, when and how of catching them.
Photo by Robert Sloan.

About this time of year, trout fishing along the Texas Gulf Coast is really good. And that statement applies to the entirety of the stretch starting at Sabine Pass on the Texas-Louisiana border and running all the way to the lower end of the Laguna Madre on the Texas-Mexico border.

But great as it is, that fishing's not without its problems. The biggest problem, curiously, lies not in finding numbers of trout, but rather in determining the whereabouts of the most rewarding action along that whole swath prime water.

That's what this article is all about: the top spots for finding and catching speckled trout in July. So here goes with our countdown to great trout fishing.

SABINE LAKE

When measured against Galveston and the Laguna Madre, this smallest of Texas bays -- about 14 miles long and seven miles wide, and covering some 60,000 acres -- suffers in the comparison. But Sabine Lake is big with potential, and not least when it comes to oversized trout.

I've been a regular at Sabine Lake for the past 15 years, and from the perspective of those years of experience, I can tell you for sure that there's no shortage of trout here -- a situation attributable to Sabine's layout. Indeed, if you were to design the perfect bay, it'd probably look a lot like this.

On the far upper end it's fed by two rivers, the Neches and Sabine. The marsh on the upper end is the epitome of marine estuaries; that's also true for the miles of marsh along the southern end of this bay. Then there's Sabine Pass, which links the bay to the Gulf, provides fantastic trout fishing opportunities. And as if that weren't enough, you've got the Sabine jetties. Lake, pass and jetties: Taken together, they afford you more great trout fishing opportunities than you can shake several sticks at.

Pressed to pick a place to fish in the Sabine Bay system during July, I'd be apt to opt for the jetties; more than likely, I'd fish along the east jetty, up above the boat cut. You can cover a lot of water along the rocks with a trolling motor.

At the east jetty I like to start out at the end right at daylight. What you don't want to do is get caught up in the rough water. I fish out of a 22-foot Pathfinder that's got an 80-pound thrust Minn Kota trolling motor on the bow. Once I get into position, I turn the big Yamaha off, and kick the trolling motor in and keep the boat just within casting distance of the rocks. Big silver spoons worked tight to the rocks are deadly on roving trout at dawn. Once the sun gets up, I switch to a jig. I've done best with a white/chartreuse Wedge Tail rigged on a white or red jighead. From about 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. you'll do best along the Sabine jetties by fishing deep with soft-plastic jigs.

Another very workable option along the Sabine jetties involves fishing Rat-L-Traps and topwater plugs at night under a full moon. Talk about wild adventure -- this is it!

July and August are two of the hottest months in Texas. For one sure way to beat the heat, fish the jetties at night under the light of the moon. You might be surprised at the size and number of trout you can catch with a glow/chartreuse 'Trap or a big, black Super Spook worked within a few feet of the big granite rocks

At Sabine Lake during July, wading the south shoreline is an agreeable option. Most anglers on the lake don't prefer to hunt for trout in this manner, but it's certainly a tactic that can lead to some solid fish. The area from Blue Buck Point and on up to Coffee Ground Cove offers several miles of classic wade-fishing potential. Here, Super Spooks and Top Dogs rule early and late. During the day you'll do well with jigs, but you can also fish live shrimp or mud minnows about 6 feet under a slip-cork over mud and shell.

The area around Sabine Lake took a major hit from Hurricane Rita, the town of Sabine being struck terribly hard. But most of the boat ramps were unaffected, and I expect that they'll all be reopened this summer. (Continued)

GALVESTON BAY

"Sprawling" scarcely captures the dimensions of the huge Galveston Bay complex. Covering some 350,000 acres, it's the second-largest bay system in Texas behind the Laguna Madre. And guess what? Because of its location, the venue's virtues as a fishing destination are no secret. In fact, Galveston feels fishing pressure about three times greater than that experienced by other bays along the Texas Gulf Coast. Nevertheless, East and West Galveston bays and Trinity Bay continue to give out speckled trout like a broken Coke machine.

"It's true that we get a lot of fishing pressure," remarked East Bay fishing guide Jim West. "But over the years it's continually been right up at the top of go-to water for trout fishermen in the know."

The worst time to fish East Galveston Bay is on a Saturday or Sunday from about June through August -- the crowds will blow you away. On any given weekend in July you'll see more boats and wade-fishermen strung out along the south shoreline of East Bay than you might have believed existed. And they're all there for one very good reason: superb trout fishing.

"During July I'll wade the south shoreline early with topwater plugs and jigs," said West. "But once the sun gets up, I'll drift the reefs with jigs and live baits. There definitely isn't a shortage of shell reefs on East Bay. And if you know where they are you can stay on trout throughout the summer months."

Some of West's most profitable reefs are on the lower end of East Bay, almost into Trinity Bay. Here, you want to set up to drift over the reefs, or along the edges, while casting jigs.

Another very serviceable option: Anchor, and then fish live baits over the reefs under slip-corks. If you're unfamiliar with the use of slip-corks, learn, because employing them is the most effective way of catching suspended trout during July. In fact, when all else fails, this is the way to catch trout -- period!

First of all, buy a package of bobber-stoppers that slide onto your line. Next, thread the tag end of the line through the slip-cork and through a barrel weight, and tie the tag end to a black barrel swivel; take an 18-inch long section of leader material and tie one end to the swivel and the other to either a No. 4 treble hook or a No. 2 Kahle live-bait hook. You don't want to use an extremely thick w

ire hook, as that'll kill your live bait and, thus, the swimming action.

With a slip-cork you can adjust the depth to fish the bait; the bobber stopper on the line can be adjusted to any depth. Over reefs, for instance, adjust the depth so that the live shrimp, shad, mud minnow or finger mullet is set to drift a foot or so above the shell.

The Galveston jetties probably attract more angling traffic than does any other set of rocks along the Texas Coast. You can walk them or fish them from a boat. They offer an excellent opportunity for catching trout during July. And one of the very best ways to do that is with a slip-cork and kicking shrimp. You need to set the depth at about 6 to 8 feet deep. Cast it out far enough from the rocks so that it'll drift without getting hung up. This is a smart way to cover lots of water when the current's moving your bait just over the rocks.

SAN LUIS PASS

San Luis Pass, on the lower end of West Galveston Bay, is a wade-fisherman's dream come true. An area that doesn't require a boat, it has miles of flats to fish, not to mention the surf.

As a teenager I spent many a day and night fishing for trout at San Luis Pass. In the mornings we'd wade the surf if there was a green tide, but once the sun got up, we'd shift gears and head to the bay flats a couple of hundred yards off the surf. And at night we'd gear up to fish the famous San Luis Pass lighted pier (which has just recently been rebuilt).

Surf, bay and lighted pier combine to offer you trout-fishing options galore. If you don't have a boat, this is the place you need to be.

EAST AND WEST MATAGORDA BAYS

East and West Matagorda bays used to be the go-to place for trophy trout fishermen. The big trout potential of East Matagorda Bay has waned a bit -- but substantial numbers of trout are still there to be caught. Two of the top guides at both bays are Bill Putchovski and Charlie Paradoski, who've been fishing these bays for years.

"If I had to pick between the two bays I would go with East Bay," offered Paradoski. "It's got the best wade-fishing potential on a day-to-day basis. There are big and small shell reefs from end to end. What I like to do is look for baitfish and slicks along the reefs."

Another possibility: Drift-fish the deep guts between the reefs. "The drift-fishing technique is one that a lot of anglers don't take advantage of on East and West bays," said Putchovski. "This is a way to take numbers of 15- to 18-inch trout as the sun heats things up. I'll key on slicks, then move upwind for a drift."

For drift-fishing, you want to do one very important thing: Control your drift. A sea anchor rigged up properly will keep your boat from drifting too fast. Or use a trolling motor to keep you from accidentally running over a school of feeding fish.

PORT O'CONNOR

Though well off the beaten path, Port O'Connor ranks among the finest fishing areas along the entire Texas Gulf Coast. It's got a little bit of everything, from air-clear flats to deep-water jetties, and miles upon miles of blue-green water in the bays surrounding the many islands.

During July, you'll meet with the most consistent trout fishing at the jetties. The POC jetties are deep, and can be confusing at first. The slip-cork rig rules here; I've used it to catch hundreds of trout at this set of granite rocks. Some of my best catches are taken about midway along the west jetty, where you can find gaps in the rocks sitting in 8 to 14 feet of water. I anchor upcurrent of the spot I want to fish and let a slip-cork float a live shrimp over the gaps in the underwater rocks.

I've spent many a night fishing the Sabine and POC jetties with lights -- and if you're trying to beat the heat and the crowds, this is the ticket. At the Sabine jetties you want to set up on the Gulf side of the west jetty, about 100 yards from the end. It's tough to fish the channel side of the Sabine jetties because of all the ships and crew boats coming and going. At the POC jetties, very little ship traffic disturbs the fishery, and not many crew boats run out at night. At the POC jetties you'll do best on the channel side of the west jetty. Or you might want to try fishing at the little jetties leading into the big rocks.

LAGUNA MADRE

Trout fishing at the Laguna Madre hits a peak right about now -- and the place to be is Port Mansfield.

"Our trout fishing out of Port Mansfield is tough to beat during July and August," asserted guide and lodge owner Bruce Shuler, who runs trips with multiple guide boats out of Get Away Adventures Lodge. "Wading the cuts between the spoil banks is my favorite way to catch trout on the middle Laguna during July. I like to wade about waist-deep and fish soft plastics."

On the opposite end of the wading spectrum is guide Teddy Springer, who also works out of Get Away Adventures Lodge. "I like to keep my wading shallow, along the flats just off the Intracoastal Canal," he offered. "The trout will move up on the shallow flats early and late in the day. That's when I'll be fishing a Super Spook Jr. in black/white, bone or chrome. The trout will move up on the flats and feed shallow early, then move out into the guts as the sun gets up and heats up the water.

"What I like to do is run the channel until I see baitfish. That's when I'll pull over, anchor and wade. If the trout aren't in one area, I'll move until I find them. Once you find them, they will usually be feeding in the same area for a couple of days."

Last July I was fishing on the Laguna with Springer. (Shuler was off working the deep cuts alongside Mark Davis, senior manager of advertising and public relations with Shakespeare and Pflueger.) We headed to a shallow flat off the deep channel; there, the surface of the clear, green water was carpeted with mullet. Springer idled up on the flat and slipped the anchor over.

"We've got too much bait in the water for the trout not to be here," he said. "Let's spread out and see what happens."

I was fishing next to Hank Kirkland, a product engineer with Shakespeare, Pflueger and All Star -- definitely good company on the flats. We were in about thigh-deep water, and both of us had tied on Super Spook Jr. plugs -- Kirkland's a chrome/blue model, mine a bone/ chartreuse.

On about my third cast I had a blowup and a tight line on a huge trout that got off within a few seconds. I looked over to see Kirkland doing battle with a rod-bending trout that was making washtub-sized swirls on the surface. Having expertly worn the big trout down, he reached out to get a grip on her and held her up in the morning sunlight.

"What do you think?" he asked behind a big smile.

"That's every bit of 6 pounds," I said, wading over with a camera. We took a few photos and released her to fight another day.

After releasing that beautiful trout, we looked around to see Springer hooked up with yet another ro

d-bender. We ended up wading that one flat and had a big time catching and releasing fat trout.

That's the type of action that the middle Laguna Madre is known for. When it comes to catching and releasing numbers of big trout, the Laguna has few if any equals. As for catching numbers of trout in the 2- to 4-pound class, you'll more than likely do best while fishing the Sabine and Port O'Connor jetties. If you like wading the wide-open flats and don't have a boat, head to San Luis Pass.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

For details on fishing with Texas guides anywhere along the Texas coast, e-mail sloan288@aol.com, or go to www.fishtexas.com. I talk with plenty of guides and know where the action is at just about any given time, and will be pleased to steer you in the right direction.

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