Seven Top Tips for Landing Large Seatrout

A big speck is not the same fish as a small one. Here’s what to know if you’re looking to land a trophy.
Large trout caught in Texas
Texas trout fishing is on fire, but most records are still held by Florida gators like this one. David McCleaf

Many cold Januarys ago, between Houston and Corpus Christi, I used my suitcase-size cellphone to call Capt. Cliff Webb, who’d invited me to fish Baffin Bay with him on a cold, wet afternoon. 

“I’m around Victoria,” he heard, “and it’s spitting rain. What do you think?” 

“I had a doctor out earlier; we caught a couple dozen over 8 (pounds), all on topwaters,” came the reply. “What do you think?” 

The gas-shortage speed limit then was an excruciatingly slow 55 mph, barely tolerable down roads leading to small keepers on shrimp under corks—but this was winter-fat trout on top. The statute of limitations on highway speeding in Texas is two years. I looked it up. That makes it easier to share that I made the back half of the drive in way better time than the front and slid ­sideways into the marina parking lot around 1 p.m. 

My feet barely touched the ground on the way to Webb’s boat—jump in, drop tackle and cameras, untie boat, push away, handshake. “Hey Cliff, how you doing?” 

And we were off. We throttled down, trolled into Baffin Bay almost an hour later, and managed barely three hours of fishing before flagging conditions and an early sunset forced us homeward. The whole time we were on this flat, those massive fish ate. 

In the excitement, we lost count of the number of fish we landed. Through a mix of cold rain and dense fog, we caught one after another—seatrout that averaged 28-plus inches and included five longer than 30. Our “spool ’em up” fish, with daylight fading and GPS in its infancy, taped between 32 and 33 inches.

Success that day had little to do with luck unless you count me not flying past a state trooper en route. Instead, this trip was the product of Webb’s experience, timing and singular wintertime focus. 

We talked recently about big trout, to this day the Holy Grail of Texas inshore fishing and high on the list everywhere they swim, and Webb shared key information about seatrout in that class. I also consulted Texas native and D.O.A. Lures founder Mark Nichols to help me generate some “guide lines”—that’s pretty good, actually—for anyone interested in catching a monster-gator-pig-hog-beast of a spotted seatrout. Here’s the meat of what they shared. 

Large trout on the line
Big trout, the Holy Grail of Texas inshore fishing. Dave Lear

1. Make a plan, and stick to it.

If your intention is to catch world-class trout, fish for them. A day, two days. A week. A season. Commit to what likely will be a departure from your keeper-getter norm. Take occasional breaks, if you must, to chase fish and feel a few pulls, but remember that every minute spent fighting a 2-pounder is a minute you’re not fishing for a 10-pounder.

The singular reason mega-­trout mingle with ­smaller trout is to eat them. Throwback trout often are found in the bellies of the beasts. More often, though, you’ll find those smaller trout where giant trout are not.

 2. Fish where the big fish are.

You’ll never catch any fish that’s not within a cast’s length of your rod tip, so choose your spots carefully. Season, wind, tide, temperature and pressure all play temporary roles in site selection, but consensus among successful pros is that giant trout are always moving between two places: where they hide and where they dine.

Sanctuary is depth, which provides insulation from extreme weather and low light to avoid larger predators. Every saltwater fish lives its entire life concerned with only two other fish: the one in front and the one behind.

The dinner table is shallower, a few feet at most and ­often less than a foot generally. Under the bright winter sun, for example, thin, warming water over dark mud or grass is attractive to all inshore makes and models of bait, which in turn tugs broad-backed trout from the depths.

Also worth noting, big trout—like deer—tend to follow regular routes between shelter and the grocery store. Study fishy areas closely to determine precisely where larger trout most likely ­travel ­between bed and breakfast.

3. Be quiet, then quieter.

Enter high-value target areas with the stealth of a big cat. If there’s shell bottom, navigate around it. If there’s mud, try not to make a ­ruckus loosening stuck boots. 

If there’s enough wind to generate hull slap, do something about that. Anything that alerts this class of fish can and will shut down the bite or scatter them a quarter-mile in all directions, never to return. They will come back, of course, but probably long after your patience wanes. Shhhh.

Read Next: How To Catch Big Seatrout on Fly Fishing Tackle

Map of Texas seatrout fishing
Looking for big Texas specks? These four spots are tops. Start at Matagorda and work your way south. Steve Sanford

4. Stand your ground.

Want to stay quiet in the water? Stay still. If you’ve settled into a good area, found active bait, and remained undetected, stay put long enough for the stars to align. 

Cast randomly in all directions, and watch for disturbances within casting ­distance. Tell yourself that every anomalous ripple was caused by a huge trout, then cast there. Twice. Then once more.

Webb and I were in his boat that fateful, windless day and used his trolling motor sparingly to change positions by no more than 30 yards at a time.

5. Big mouths to feed.

After that bite played out, Webb learned from a state biologist who examined fish among the one per day he ­allowed customers for taxidermy that those trout were absolute gluttons. One had ­eaten a foot-long mullet before it took the lure; another had a 14-inch seatrout not quite past its throat—and ate again.

Throwing foot-long lures would exhaust anyone, but do offer these fish substantial meals if for no other reason than to dissuade smaller time-wasters. Imitations of palm-size baitfish and eels all are legitimate offerings—the bigger, the better. 

Especially in Texas for the next several years, seatrout imitations should be quite effective; the deep freeze in February 2021 resulted in a tremendous number of bite-size trout hatched in bay systems, and trout are voraciously cannibalistic. Match the hatch.

Natural baits have their places as well, so long as you have the patience to stare at a motionless float while 4- and 5-pound trout ignore your 10-inch live mullet. And in a final “worthy note,” monster trout have proven suckers in many areas for hot-dog-size chunks of fresh ballyhoo.

6. Mind your tackle.

Oil reels, sharpen hooks, spool fresh line. Maintain your gear. You’re trying to hit a hole in one. Swing clean clubs at a new ball.

7. OMG, now what?

In the event you actually hook a huge trout, maintain enough pressure to wear the fish down relatively quickly. The longer it’s in the water, the more ways it will try to shake the hook and kill your dream.

Fight big trout like big bass, with a low rod tip to keep the fish out of the air. Bad things happen when big fish go airborne.

Never ever.

I also asked my guide friends what mistakes average anglers make that greatly reduce their shots at supersize seatrout. Here’s what they told me:

1. Beyond lacking the commitment to beat insurmountable odds, they mentioned steadying your nerves somehow to avoid becoming overwhelmed by a giant trout on your line.  Maybe pretend it’s a redfish? Panic leads to bad decisions, which can lead to slack line. If a cold beer helps, drink one. If it takes two, tell your friends not to judge you. Just let someone else drive the boat.

2. Set aside the ­history book and take advantage of modern technology. Too ­many fishermen gravitate too often to where their grandfather caught a big trout back when JFK was president. Instead, study contemporary resources and recommendations. Boat electronics are exceptional today, even phone apps help. The bottom line: You’re trying to win the lottery, and every cast is a new ticket. Put in the time.