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Targeting Texas' Speckled Trout in the Baffin Bay Badlands

From late February and on into early May, spring offers a superb opportunity for saltwater fly rodders to target speckled (gator) trout pushing the 30-inch mark in the fabled waters of the Baffin Bay region to the south of Corpus Christi

Targeting Texas' Speckled Trout in the Baffin Bay Badlands
Targeting Texas' Speckled Trout in the Baffin Bay Badlands

Perusing a few of my favorite fishing social media accounts, it would seem that springtime is the time for saltwater fishing.

As winter comes to an end and southerly winds increase a bit with each passing day, there’s a steady uptick of smiling anglers hoisting up big spotted sea trout (speckled trout) and red drum (redfish) from the Texas Gulf Coast.

A few of those images are of anglers holding up big old specks (gator trout as many Lone Star State anglers call them), fish pushing upwards toward the 30-inch mark, a real giant of a speck at the end of any kind of fishing rod.

One of those social media pages is from the Baffin Bay Rod and Gun Club (www.baffinbayrodandgun.com; (361) 557-0090), a Riviera, Texas fishing and hunting operation owned by Capt. Aubrey Black and his wife Capt. Sally Ann Black.

Let's just say I'm a bit jealous of the photos on the BBR&G Facebook page. Some of those photos were of Mark Davis of Big Water Adventures, the saltwater television fishing show that airs on WFN's sister network, Outdoor Channel.

It's not surprising Davis has been there since Baffin Bay is a preferred hotspot for springtime coastal anglers in Texas, a reputation enjoyed thanks to legendary fishing action for gator trout like the 33.13-inch long, 13.69-pound former state record speck James Wallace landed there back in February 1996.

While not many speckled trout ever push into the double digits, Baffin Bay is something of a saltwater shrine for such big fish, a place where anglers come to sling big plugs and flies each spring in the hopes of landing the gator trout of their dreams.

The voluminous bay south of Corpus Christi grows such big specks thanks in part to its remote nature, a hard to get to spot that is surrounded by the Wild Horse Desert and the nearby King Ranch.

A treacherous stretch of saltwater flats to navigate, it's even more so during the paint peeling gales that can blow during the spring months ranging from late February and on into early May.

Captain Aubrey Trout
As this huge gator-size speckled trout caught by Capt. Aubrey Black shows, spring is a terrific time to head for the Baffin Bay region of the Texas Gulf Coast. (Photo courtesy of Capt. Aubrey Black / Baffin Bay Rod and Gun)

Add in Baffin Bay's ever present worm-hole rocks – hull punching formations that send shivers down the spines of boat captains and inspire names on coastal maps like “The Badlands" – and you've got a readymade nursery for some of the state's best saltwater fishing.

In short, there are few better places along the Gulf Coast to cast a fly line in spring season if you enjoy chasing trout and redfish on saltwater flats.

But as good as Baffin Bay can be, there are also other spots that are fishing well this spring in Texas, a state that enjoys some 367 miles of Gulf of Mexico coastline.

While that's an impressive number in and of itself, that figure dramatically increases to 3,359 miles when you add in all of the tidal shorelines consisting of marshes, estuaries and back bays found from Port Arthur to Matagorda Island to Rockport to Padre Island National Seashore and on down to the Brownsville Ship Channel.

Whatever Lone Star State coastal hamlet an angler chooses to wade fish or patrol from a flat's skiff this spring, all along the coast the season of Creation's annual rebirth is bringing good fishing as speckled trout and redfish wake up from a long winter's nap.

Living several hours north of the brine, I'll be the first to admit that my knowledge of saltwater fishing is a bit limited, a fact that causes me to quickly turn to seasoned veterans like Ed Hegen.

Hegen, who retired from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Coastal Fisheries Division, was kind enough to grant me an interview a while back that helped augment my limited knowledge of spring's saltwater fishing opportunities.

"The increasing tides stir things up," Hegen told me. "By April, things are blooming and anglers are able to change tactics. In winter, they were fishing in deeper water where fish are holed up. But now, (the fish are) starting to move."

Bill Harvey – another retired biologist from TPWD – has spent a number of years enjoying the fishing opportunities that exist along the Texas Gulf Coast, particularly during the springtime months.

As long as it is comfortable enough for him to slip from a Wilderness Systems sit-on-top kayak, that is, wading comfortably on a favored knee-deep saltwater flat.

"A rule of thumb I have is that it (the fishing activity) starts to get good when it's comfortable for you to be out wading in the water in shorts and a windbreaker," Harvey told me. "If it's not comfortable (to do so), it's a little too early."

Fly Fishing Sea Trout
When it's comfortable enough in the springtime to wet wade a saltwater flat, some of the year's best fly rod action for speckled trout and redfish is close at hand. (Lynn Burkhead photo)

Why? Well, like with most fishing activity during the spring, everything is pretty well governed by the water temperature, even in the salt.

And as the water temperature begins to warm up earnestly from the upper to the lower Texas coast – or just about anywhere else along the U.S. Gulf Coast, for that matter – the entire food and reproductive life cycle on the saltwater flats begins to pick up.

That includes the production of sea grasses to the increase in windblown phytoplankton to the burgeoning shrimp populations, all of which helps to fuel surging metabolism rates and the increasing springtime hunger of redfish and speckled trout.

"It's that normal sort of spring pulse and energy," said Harvey, also a prolific natural history writer and photographer. "There's higher water and decent tidal flow most days and the fish are getting more and more active as the water temp rises.

"There are a lot of things going on."

Harvey, who introduced me to kayak fishing and taught me a good portion of the little that I know about fly fishing coastal flats, notes that there are a variety of fly patterns that can work for an angler targeting springtime speckled trout and reds.

"They are so opportunistic," said Harvey. "They'll eat whatever is around and at certain times of the year, that tends to be more shrimp. But they'll eat whatever is easiest for them to get.

"When you start to see shrimp skittering along the surface, that's when I start to think shrimp patterns," he added.

When I pressed Harvey during our interview about specific fly patterns, his response centered around five flies: a small topwater popper (known as East Cut poppers to many fly anglers along the Texas coast); a chartreuse and white Clouser Minnow; a Voodoo Child (a Harvey inspired Seaducer pattern that incorporates UV material into the pattern); a small baitfish imitation like a Hot Flash Minnow; and a small epoxy fly that looks similar to a gold spoon.

As spring deepens and waters continue to warm, the fish will increasingly look up and take topwater poppers and lures.

Harvey, like most other anglers out there, loves to fish this way whenever possible. But while some anglers get a bit particular with a particular style of popper (or lure) or a specific color selection, the retired fisheries biologist does not.

"I don’t think color is that big a deal when they’re hitting topwaters," said Harvey. "I think they’re attracted by the low frequency vibration of that bait and the splash of it.”

Captain Sally Trout
With increasing water temperatures, spring is a great time for coastal anglers like Capt. Sally Black to target big speckled trout with topwater plugs and flies. (Photo courtesy of Capt. Sally Black / Baffin Bay Rod and Gun)

Thanks to their lateral lines, Harvey reminded me reds and specks can actually "feel it (a fly or lure) before they see it."

"The fish feels it, starts to move towards it and when they see it, they attack it," explained Harvey.

“My dad was the greatest topwater fisherman that (ever lived). He would only fish with two colors, bone or black. His favorite was a Top Pup and man, those things (would) just blow up on it."

But whether a fly angler is using a #2-size East Cut popper (red and gold are popular topwater fly colors) or a Harvey inspired Voodoo Child pattern, there is little doubt spring is a terrific time to get out and wade the Texas brine.

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