April 26, 2012
The month of May marks the beginning of fishing fun in the sun. This is the time when numbers of speckled trout, redfish and flounder can be caught on any given day on the Texas Gulf Coast. But the looming question remains: where to go and how to catch them.
Keep reading and you'll find out.
Let's start with speckled trout. My No. 1 pick for trout — big trout and lots of them — is out of Port Mansfield in the middle of Laguna Madre. One reason that is my top spot is based on my last three trips to this Lower Coast destination. Since the daily limits on trout there were reduced from 10 to 5, the fishing has rebounded like nothing you have ever seen.
About this time last year I found myself at Port Mansfield and I was fishing with Capt. Bruce Schuler of Get-A-Way Adventures Lodge. The evening prior to our first day of fishing, Schuler held up a few photos of big trout — fish in the 7- to 10-pound class.
"This is what we're catching now," said Schuler. "The limits were cut in half and the fishing has rebounded big time. You'll see what I mean tomorrow."
The next morning Ken Chaumont and I loaded our gear onto Schuler's boat and idled out of the harbor. The first stop was along the King Ranch shoreline. The water was emerald green and loaded with mullet. Chaumont, who is the lure designer for Egret Baits, was tying on his latest creation.
"Tie one of these on and let me know what you think," said Chaumont. "This is a Kick-A Mullet. It's got a wedged tail with a big thump when reeled on a slow retrieve. You can fish it on the surface, swim it or let it sink and work it back at various depths."
I latched onto a chartreuse/white Kick-A, tied it on and slipped into the water. Three of us fished that one little area and caught and released 4- to 7-pound trout for the better part of two hours.
"Right spot, right time, right lure," yelled Schuler. "Trout fishing doesn't get any better than this."
My second go-to trout location is on Sabine Lake where Texas and Louisiana meet. For numbers of trout both big and small, Sabine is tough to beat. Wading is the name of the game on the Laguna. On Sabine it's almost all drift-fishing from a boat while chunking soft plastics, topwater plugs and swim baits. May is the month of double-digit trout on Sabine.
One of the most successful anglers there is Dr. Kelly Rising. A Beaumont resident who grew up fishing Sabine Lake, this is the guy who caught the lake-record speckled trout, which weighed 11 pounds, 12 ounces. He used a chartreuse-colored Top Dog to catch the longstanding record.
There are three very good places to fish for big trout on Sabine. One is in Lighthouse Cove in Sabine Pass. Another is along the north revetment wall. And third is at the jetties. The heaviest trout I ever landed was at Lighthouse Cove. She weighed just over 10 pounds and slurped a chartreuse/black Top Dog in 3 feet of water.
May is the month when the Sabine Jetties begin to load up with trout. One way to catch them is with soft plastics like an Egret Wedgtail in black/chartreuse or limetreuse. Right at daylight you'll do best by fishing topwater plugs close to the rocks. As the sun gets up, switch to a jig or live baits like shrimp, finger mullet or mud minnows.
If you like a combination trip of drifting and wading, you can't go wrong by fishing on East Galveston Bay. This is speckled trout central for Houston anglers. One of the most popular shorelines to wade-fish along the entire Texas Coast is the south shoreline of East Bay. It's got a combination of sand and mud flats with shell. When it comes to catching big trout and numbers of trout, the shell pads along the south shoreline are tough to beat. Best lures will be swim baits early, along with topwater plugs. After about 9 a.m. you'll want to tie on a 1/4-ounce jighead and rig it up with something like a Bayou Chub, or a rat-tailed soft plastic in red/white, bone or LSU. Work the shell pads in 4 to 5 feet of water when the sun is high and hot.
The reefs in the open water of East Bay attract and hold lots of 15- to 18-inch specks on any given day from about now through next October. One of the most consistent is Hanna's Reef. But there are many other productive reefs from one end of the bay to the next. You can fish them with jigs, or for guaranteed action tie on a live croaker below a couple of split shot weights and hang on. Remember this: When all else fails, fish with a croaker.
"A shrimp is good, but a croaker is awesome when free-lined over shell in 6 to 9 feet of water on East Bay," says Galveston guide Jimmy Trahan. "From May through September the trout bite over mid-bay reefs is excellent, especially when you're soaking live croaker on bottom."
Fishing jigs under rattle floats is big time popular at Sabine, Galveston and East Matagorda bays. Capt. Charlie Paradoski has been putting fishermen on numbers of specks at East Matagorda Bay for years, or make that decades. And one of best rigs is a soft plastic under a rattle float.
"We do a lot of wading here for big trout with topwater plugs and slow sinkers," says Paradoski. "But when my customers want to fill a cooler with trout I rig 'em up with rattle floats and jigs. What I like to do is set up a drift along shell and fish the floats along the edge. We'll drift with the wind and trolling motor. It's a good way to cover lots of water and catch plenty of trout."
Fishing a rattle float and jig will also catch big trout. I was fishing with Paradoski last May. The wind was honking and we were catching lots of 15- to 8-inch trout. But mixed in with the smaller trout was one that looked to weigh about 8 or 9 pounds. She jumped off right at the boat.
I don't know a single angler along the Texas Coast who doesn't love to catch redfish. They are abundant and can be caught 24/7 just about anywhere you can find enough water to cover a wading boot.
Port O'Connor, located on the Middle Texas Coast, is redfish central. I've been fishing there for more than four decades. The place just can't be beat if you're looking to tangle with reds in a variety of situations. POC is where you'll find some of the clearest water on the entire Texas Coast. Port O'Connor is flanked by West Matagorda Bay and Espuritu Santo Bay that leads into San Antonio Bay. The best wade-fishing can be found along the many islands between West Matagorda and Espuritu Santo bays. Along the islands are miles upon miles of clearwater flats.
There is nothing better than sight-casting to reds on gin-clear flats. May is one of the premier months to be catching reds anywhere along the Texas Coast. And there is no better time than now to be stalking reds along Blueberry Island at POC. This particular stretch of water is miles long and offers white-sand flats with a mix of shell and grassy pockets of water that hold crabs and mullet — the top two culinary delights of reds.
When fishing the many islands at POC you have the option of easing along with a trolling motor, poling or wading. Usually the bigger reds will be holding in 2 to 3 feet of water. That's when you'll do best with a trolling motor. Your best option is to move along in deeper water while working lures up on the shallow flats.
The best lure I ever used in that situation is a 5-inch Wedgetail Mullet rigged weedless on a 6/0 hook. This particular lure has only been available for just over a year. I first used one about this time last year. The first time I used a Wedgetail Mullet at POC was along Blueberry Island. It didn't take long to find out the lure is a killer. It's completely weedless, looks like a mullet and has a big tail that thumps and pulsates on a slow and steady retrieve. Reds are not shy about whacking that type of lure. In fact, they charge it like a bass hammering a topwater plug.
Fly-fishing the many miles of clearwater flats is also a great way to catch reds at POC. In fact, it is one of the top destinations for fly-fishermen looking to roam the flats for tailing reds. The many islands and backwater estuary lakes present some of the world's best action on tailing reds. The key is to have a boat that'll float in only about 7 inches of water. Tailing reds love skinny-water flats. There is nothing quite like moving up on a flat and seeing a dozen or so redfish tails waggling along. Better yet, putting a fly on the lead fish and seeing it inhale the tiny offering is among the best angling experiences you can have.
When fly fishing for reds, you'll do best with a 6- to 7-weight rod that's about 9 feet long. My favorite is a 6-weight TFO rod and reel. You don't normally need a 9-weight rod unless you're fishing with big poppers and streamers. The best fly is a No. 4 bend-back tied with copper and yellow material. It's weedless and, when worked along bottom, looks like a tiny crab. Reds love them.
If you're in the hunt for big reds, like fish in the 15- to 25-pound class, head to the Port O'Connor, Galveston, Sabine or Port Mansfield jetties. On practically any given day the jetties along the Texas coast will be holding big reds.
There are two ways to fish the rocks for reds. One is to move along them with the use of a trolling motor. In this situation you want to tie on a 1/4-ounce jighead and some sort of plastic tail. I prefer a rat-tail jig along the jetties. It has more zip and attracts the attention of big reds. If the water is a little off-color, go with a paddle-tail jig like a Bayou Chub. Best colors are gold, bone, chartreuse or red/white. Another good lure along the jetties is a silver or gold spoon with a yellow, white or pink teaser on the tail.
Anchoring along the jetties and fishing live or dead baits is a proven tactic for taking reds in just about any situation. The best live baits are cracked blue crab or cut mullet — the fresher the better. Good live baits are fiddler crabs, croaker and finger mullet. You can fish them on bottom or under a float.
San Luis Pass, located between Galveston and Freeport, is a redfish highway. You can fish it from a boat or from the bank. What you don't want to do is try to wade fish here. The strong currents are very dangerous. Best bait here is a fresh mullet that's been cut in half. Fish them on bottom and hang on.
Trout and redfish are fun to catch and eat. But when it comes to flavor, you can't beat a fresh-caught flounder. And there are many places to catch them along the Texas Coast. Some of the best spots I've fished include the Louisiana shoreline of Sabine Lake, Rollover Pass on Bolivar Peninsula, the marsh on the south shoreline of East Galveston Bay, Pass Cavallo at Port O'Connor and the deep-water guts on the Lower Laguna Madre.
The No. 1 spot for flounder fishing from the bank, along the entire Texas Coast, is Rollover Pass. It's a cut that connects the Gulf of Mexico to East Galveston Bay. This particular pass is a bank-fisherman's dream. You can back your vehicle up to the wall, set up a couple of lawn chairs, bait up two or three rods, and then sit back and wait for the flounder bite to begin. There are two very good times to fish Rollover: One is May and the other is October. Those are the two months when flounder are moving to the Gulf or migrating back into the bays. The best way to catch Rollover flounder is to soak live finger mullet or fresh-caught shad on bottom.
On the Upper Texas Coast, East Bay and Sabine Lake consistently produce big numbers of flounder. On each one, the best place to fish is along the south shoreline. The very best place to set up for a flounder bite at either location is at the mouth of a bayou feeding into the bay on a falling tide. With a falling tide, flounder set up at the mouths of bayous and feed on shrimp, shad, mullet and mud minnows moving with the current.
I especially like fishing the deep holes and cuts on the Laguna Madre for flounder. One of the go-to spots for most guides working out of Port Mansfield is the Gladys Hole. It's a pretty good run from Mansfield, but worth the effort when the flounder are there. It's basically a bowl-shaped basin of water that's 3 to 6 feet deep over soft mud. For some reason big flounder love that particular spot. Best lures will be Bayou Chubs and 3-inch Wedgetails bumped along bottom. Top colors are LSU, bone, or fire tiger.
As you can see, it's tough to beat the fishing potential of May from one end of the Texas Coast to the other. It's a fishing bonanza for reds, trout and flounder.
* * *
Capt. Robert Sloan runs fishing charters on Sabine Lake and at Port O'Connor. For more information, call him at (409) 782-6796, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or go online to www.hightailangler.com.