Those willing to brave the winter chill are rewarded by encounters with large spotted seatrout in Texas. Some of the biggest fish of the year come when temperatures dip.
While big-trout enthusiasts often head south for the winter, East Matagorda Bay sits tranquil, serene and crawling with some of the heaviest gator trout Texas has to offer. I know, Baffin Bay is one of a trio of trophy trout haunts in the U.S. And though not as sexy as the Laguna Madre, East Matagorda remains a milieu for heavy, hungry, wintertime speckled trout. Here are five terrain types that produce them.
It’s not just a wading thing. You can catch heavy specks over miles of shell lumps, humps, towheads and undulations found throughout the middle of the bay without ever getting wet.
“You have to find some streaky water,” says veteran guide Charlie Paradoski. “The trout aren’t in the clear stuff because the bait isn’t there.” Paradoski regularly catches two-foot-or-better specks by working four to five feet of water with Bass Assassins and MirrOlures.
“Mullet are key in the winter,” he says. “When you see mullet jumping or flipping, there will be big trout in the area. This bay is famous for it.” In his 40-year career, Paradoski says he has seen many changes, especially in fishing tactics.
Making long drifts over rafts of mullet with rattling corks armed with Bass Assassins and Gulp! has been a boon for boaters. “I never owned a popping cork until about three years ago,” says Paradoski. “Now I don’t leave the dock without one.”
Guide Lee Warmke wades the south shoreline for large trout in the afternoon. With numerous 30-inchers (the big leagues for big-trout chasers) under his belt, Warmke releases dozens of sevens, eights and way too many five-pounders to count.
“Most days I will throw plugs for big fish,” says Warmke. “But there have been other days when I am not getting many bites, so I switch to a soft plastic and start catching big ones.”
Boiler Bayou, Kain Cove, Oyster Farm and Hog Island hold solid trout since these muddy bottoms retain the sun’s warmth a bit longer throughout the day. Super Spooks, She Pups, SkitterWalks, Corkies, Maniac Mullets, Catch 5s and your favorite soft plastics get the job done.
Intracoastal Waterway Reefs
Locales receiving the most tidal flow often hold the majority of big schools. That means reefs and mud adjacent to the Intracoastal Waterway on the north shoreline of East Bay. Chinquapin Reefs, Bird Island Reef, Boggy Reef and Half Moon Reef are all proven winter spots holding healthy specks.
By mid- to late December, most of the white shrimp have left the bays and speckled trout adapt their diet to finfish. That’s when slow-sinking mullet imitating plugs like Catch 5s, Catch 2000s, MirrOlure 51Ms, 52Ms and Corkies go to work.
East Matagorda Bay receives most of its tidal flow from the ICW, since there are no direct inlets from the Gulf of Mexico, aside from Mitchell’s Cut on the far east end of the bay.
The beauty of fishing in proximity to the ICW is that big trout hang out there for a few obvious reasons. The deep water is warmer in the winter, and when traditional winter low tides persist, specks slide to the greater depths until new water covers the shell.
“Even when the wind blows, those reefs on the north shoreline can hold clear water,” says Paradoski. “The entire bay could be blown out with muddy water, but the water clears in the ICW on the incoming tide, making those reefs fishable when nothing else is.”