Texas Trout Drift
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My 22-foot Pathfinder, perfect for crossing choppy water to get to a placid shoreline and wade, has been replaced by the more robust 24-foot model, giving another caster an extra 2 feet of elbow room to search out angry specks from the boat.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.
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.”
The Real Thing
Another aspect of fishing I admit is new to me is live-baiting. I had always been a plugger, choosing to toss topwaters or soft-plastics nearly 100 percent of the time. However, change in angler attitude has also resulted in a change in angler aptitude.
In the good ol’ days, fishers wanted to catch a big trout and didn’t mind wading for hours for the big bite. Now time is more precious. The texting generation has distorted patience. It’s more, “We just want to catch fish.”
Texas enjoys an estimated 2,000 new anglers a month on the brine. That’s 24,000 rookies a year, and this past year it seemed like 10,000 of them boarded my boat. Taking a page out of a good friend’s book, I made another change. Last summer, Capt. Kirk Stansel of Hackberry Rod and Gun asked me, “Hey, you want to do something different?”
My family and I cross the border to fish with him a couple of days a year. Normally, when it is just him and me, we toss Super Spooks and She Dogs in search of a “picture fish.” But with mercury readings exceeding the century mark on this day, live bait was a better option.
Stansel dropped his trolling motor and began working a stretch of shoreline teeming with finger mullet. With a dozen tosses of the cast net, we had all the trout candy we needed.
With a single Kahle hook, Stansel Carolina-rigged a couple of pinch weights and threaded a spirited 4-inch mullet through the lips. With the boat anchored within a cast of an old set of jetty rocks, he tossed the mullet toward the granite. Less than a minute after the bait hit the water, energy surged through my braided line. A 3-pound speck had found the candy store.
“In the heat of the summer, when tides are weak and water temperatures are near 90 degrees, you can still catch trout on plastics, but you can do so much better with live bait,” says Stansel. “We use live shrimp too, but better-quality trout eat mullet.”
The first five years I owned my boat, I never knew if my livewell even worked. Now, in my home waters of Matagorda, especially during the summer, I never leave the dock without a least a quart of live shrimp ready to be rigged under a popping cork. When working the jetty, I mirror Stansel’s tactics.
When you’re jigging for deepwater speckled trout, Bass Assassins, Texas Tackle Factory Killer Flats Minnows and Norton Sand Eels still work, but my clients get bites at a ratio of 10-to-1 when using live bait versus lures.
The Power of the Pole**
I too was reluctant. I can do a heck of a lot of anchoring for the $1,500 plus the labor it takes to install a Power-Pole, but I finally succumbed.
Man, has it changed the way I fish for trout!
My favorite method of fishing from the boat for trout is drifting. Pick a piece of scattered shell, start upwind, and then gingerly work the area as anglers fan-cast in every direction. When we hit a fish, I mark it. When we hit another fish, I stab the Power-Pole down and work the area more soundly.
Rarely do we draw a blank when the Power-Pole goes down. Most of the time we put another half-dozen trout on ice. When the action slows, I pull the pole and keep drifting until we mark another school.
It is precision drifting at its best. Sure, we caught plenty of fish when all we had was an anchor, but now our back and shoulder muscles are not as sore.
Change is often a hard pill to swallow, but it’s worth it.