If you are catching flounder, redfish and speckled trout on the rocks, you must be fishing Baffin Bay. Here's why.
By Robert Sloan
Three of us had been fishing for about two hours on Baffin Bay and had caught a few small trout and a couple of reds. As I was wading along the shoreline I couldn't help but notice a guy reeling in trout after trout, each one in the 3- to 5-pound class — all solid fish.
Come to find out it was Diego Sanchez, a veteran angler on this South Texas bay. I had met him at the boat ramp early that morning. He was launching a 23-foot Haynie, a boat that I run, and one that is very popular along the Middle and Lower Texas Coast. We got to talking about the boats and then headed out.
Later that morning when I saw him on the water he waved me over and lifted his stringer. He had four solid trout and a limit of redfish — a dream stringer for a wader.
"This is what they're hitting," he said, showing me his lure with a grin. "It's a Sea Shad Assassin in plum with a chartreuse tail. A little earlier I was using the same lure but in a Cajun Croaker color pattern. That's what has been hot so far today."
We eased down that one shoreline and caught several trout up to about 4 pounds. Knowing Sanchez has been fishing Baffin for about 23 years, I asked him what his favorite lures are day in and day out.
"These swimbaits are tough to beat," he advised, "but if you're just looking to catch one or two big trout, I'd recommend tying on a pink and silver Super Spook Jr. The Assassins will catch more trout and reds, but the Spook will catch more quality fish. The key is to find mullet.
"Right now we're fishing along the edge of a group of rocks. As you can see, there are lots of mullet here. The combination of rocks and mullet just about guarantees big trout on Baffin."
One of the most unusual places I've ever fished is Baffin Bay, located on the upper end of the Laguna Madre, just south of Corpus Christi Bay. This particular bay's claim to fame is the number of 8- to 12-pound trout it produces each year. It's probably the No. 1 trophy trout producer along the entire Gulf Coast. And it's no secret where those big trout can be caught — around rocks, big and small.
Baffin Bay's rocks are far from normal. These reefs, or rocks, were formed from the calcareous tubes of serpulid worms. Formation of the reefs began about 3,000 years ago and ended about 300 years ago. They are like fish magnets.
To say this bay is strange is an understatement. Here's why: Baffin is a hypersaline estuary, and has no direct access to the Gulf. Because of that there are no tides and the water level is determined by the wind. It offers some of the strangest fishing I've encountered along the entire Texas Coast. But two guides have figured it out. They are the husband-and-wife team of Capt. Aubrey Black and Capt. Sally Black. They have a beautiful lodge called Baffin Bay Rod and Gun. It's centrally located on Baffin, and about a mile from the nearest boat ramp.
On one particular morning we trailered Aubrey's boat to the ramp and within an hour we had fished one little group of rocks and caught trout, reds and flounder — a Texas slam. It was like magic — quick-hit fishing at its finest.
"We do both, boat drift-fishing and wading," said Aubrey, as we worked a shallow flat just off a line of rocks. "Finding big trout on this bay is not all that difficult. It's mainly fishing around the rock formations with lures that trout want to eat."
Drifting is one way to catch trout on Baffin. But wading is by far the ticket to success. It's how the state-record trout was caught. And it's the way big numbers of trout, reds and flounder are caught each year on this South Texas bay.
Ever since Jim Wallace set the hook on a state-record speckled trout weighing 13 pounds, 11 ounces, the rush for wall-class trout has been phenomenal.
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.
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 is higher than it has 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. The number of specks continues to rise.
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.
Sidebar: Catch more Baffin Bay Flounder
One surefire way to catch more flounder in Baffin Bay is to use finger mullet along the edge of a drop where the flats fall off into a gut of some sort. With live bait, the preferred method is to use a Carolina rig with a 1/4-ounce weight fished above a 2-foot leader tied to a 1/0 live bait hook. You can cast it out and slowly work the bait along. Once you feel a bite, count to three, then set the hook. If you immediately set the hook you'll more than likely yank the bait out of the flounder's mouth.
Another good option is to fish soft plastics along bottom where you see plenty of mullet. The trick is to fish the jigs slowly. The best thing to do is rig up with a 1/8- or 1/32-ounce jighead. That allows you to fish a tail slowly around rocks and along bottom, allowing flounder to slurp them up easily. — Robert Sloan
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. Nines and 10s will take your breath away. And fat sows like Mike Blackwood's old state-record 13-9 trout (caught March 16, 1975) and Wallace's 13-11 are outright Boone and Crockett-class examples of the speck world.
The length of a trout is a good way to determine the speck's 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. 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.
Your best bet on Baffin is to hire a guide to show you around. There are rocks all over the bay and they have wrecked big numbers of lower units over the years. Hiring a guide is a good way to make some GPS trails, not to mention how to catch fish on this South Texas bay.
A lot of the top wading areas in Baffin are over soft mud, mixed with grass. And of course, there are the rocks. A variety of lures will catch trout, reds and flounder on Baffin. But there are a few that are special and proven producers.
One of Aubrey's go-to lures is a chartreuse Gulp! 4-inch twirl tail mullet. Rather than using the standard 1/8- or 1/16-ounce jighead, Aubrey and Sally designed their own. It's a 1/32-ounce screw-lock jighead on a 1/0 Gamakatsu hook. It's called Black's Magic.
"We catch a lot of the trophy trout here on topwater lures," says Sally. "A couple of our favorites include the Yozuri 3DB and a One-Knocker Spook. But there are days when the big girls want a slow-sinking jig around the rocks. That's why we use the 1/32-ounce jighead. It keeps the tail in front of the fish longer and draws more strikes. Some of my favorite soft plastics are the Saltwater Assassin 4-inch Sea Shad paddle tails in mighty white and sugar-and-spice colors."
As of the first of June last year, Sally told me that their guides and clients had caught 167 trout measuring more than 25 inches long, and 14 in the 29- to 31-inch class. Needless to say, that is impressive fishing.
"You never know what a fish is going to eat on any given day," says Sally. "But over the years we've found there are certain lures that work really well here on Baffin Bay. Most of our go-to lures will work year 'round here."
Something that you definitely don't want to leave at the house when you're heading to Baffin is a good selection of topwater lures. Much of the fishing on this bay is relatively shallow, when compared to other bays. Most of the time you'll be fishing in 1 to 4 feet of water on Baffin.
"There are a lot of topwater lures you can fish, but there are a few that have proved their worth time and time again on Baffin Bay, especially when you're looking to catch big trout," says Sally.
"My go-to topwater lures include a One-Knocker Spook, Super Spook Jr., Yozuri 3DB and a Skitterwalk. These lures will catch big trout on any given day. I usually start with them early and then switch over to a soft plastic as the sun warms things up.
"With the One-Knocker Spook my favorite colors are pink/gold/chrome, bone/chrome, and pink/silver/chrome. My top colors with a Super Spook Jr. are bone, bone/chrome, clown and pink/chrome.
"With a Skitterwalk (full size or baby) I like a pink/chrome, chartreuse/chrome, white/redhead/bone, and a pearl. The Yozuri is good in any color."
So when do you know what color to use? Sally told me to let the fish decide which color is best in any situation. But she also recommends starting with the color pattern that you feel confident using. If it doesn't produce within 15 to 20 minutes, switch to another color.
"All of the topwater lures that we use produce a different sound," says Sally. "Some have more rattles than others. You never know what's going to work from one hour to the next. The one thing you don't want to do is get lazy and use a lure that's not producing strikes. If you keep switching lures, sooner or later you'll find one that the fish want to eat."
When using soft-plastic tails, Sally says it's tough to beat a 4-inch Saltwater Assassin Sea Shad with a paddle tail. Her favorite colors are mighty white, sugar-and-spice, chicken on a chain, space guppy, and chartreuse/glow.
"I'll work the Assassin jigs along bottom in a swimming action or just over the grass," says Sally. "In deeper water I'll work the jig up and down along and near the bottom or anywhere in the column the fish are feeding. Also, since we're normally fishing shallow, I'll rig an Assassin on a Black's Magic 1/32-ounce jighead. It allows all soft plastics to work more naturally."
For more information on fishing Baffin Bay, go to baffinbayrodandgun.com. Or give Capt. Aubrey and Capt. Sally a call at 361-557-0090.