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June 15, 2011

Drifting for Specks

A new age of Texas anglers chooses drifting over wading for speckled trout.

My home state of Texas, known for its miles of hard, sandy shoal-grass flats, allows shorebound anglers vast terrain to search out the state’s number-one species — speckled trout. Indeed, wade-fishing was popular enough in the Lone Star State that I wrote Saltwater Strategies: Where, When and How to Wadefish Texas, an entire book devoted to this specialty. But times are changing. Wading, once the backbone of my charter business, is now a summer-month thing, occupying only 30 percent of my fishing effort.

The last decade has seen a decided shift from wading to drifting. Blame it on sharks, blame it on stingrays, blame it on fear of the flesh-eating Vibrio vulnificus, or maybe just blame it on laziness. Whatever the reason, more and more anglers are opting to stay in the boat.
My 22-foot Pathfinder, perfect for crossing choppy water to get to a placid shoreline and wade, has been replaced by the more robust 24-foot model, giving another caster an extra 2 feet of elbow room to search out angry specks from the boat.

Yes, times they are a-changin’ in Texas, and my book sales prove it.

Attitude Adjustment
Eight hours of drifting in a boat can drive a guy crazy, especially when lead bullets attached to hooks sing across the brim of his cap on multiple casts, but first-rate captains adapt.

One of the best in the business for wading, or drifting for that matter, is Capt. James Plaag of Silver King Adventures in Galveston. As a Texas captain, he has seen his business change, but he says it is all about reading the water.

“Most of my clients are getting older and just want to stay in the boat,” says Plaag. “It’s still fishing: Find the bait, and work the tides.”

Lower Galveston Bay is a frequent haunt of Plaag’s because it has all the amenities a speckled trout could want: food, flowing water and structure. The food is shrimp, shad and mullet, mostly mullet when a trout grows to above 22 inches. The bay’s proximity to the Galveston Jetty, where the teeth of Hurricane Ike came ashore in 2008, provides a thoroughfare for baitfish and tide-running trout. The structure, humps and clumps of oyster shell surrounded by mud, provides plenty of ambush points for greedy specks.

It doesn’t have to be Galveston Bay. His approach works anywhere with the aforementioned ingredients.

“I hit mark after mark, anchoring on the spot, then work the entire reef or towhead,” says Plaag. “Sometimes we bump from one reef to the next, but many times, when conditions are right, we make one stop and are done.”

Depths range from four to nine feet, and Plaag likes using 3/8-ounce jig heads with Bass Assassins when the tides are really cranking.

“We catch them on Chicken on a Chain, red shad, plum and 10W/40 on the heavy jigs,” he says. “You have to use a heavy lead-head to get the bait on the bottom when the tide is flowing.”