Light sleet plops into the water around me. We are wading in that magic 45 minutes of pre-front conditions, when the wind hasn’t switched out of the north but still swells the air with a warm, humid south wind. At any moment, a few minutes of stasis will occur, that time when the south wind and the north wind reach a truce and both come to a standstill. That interlude, when the fish seem to sense this will be their last meal for a few days and feed voraciously, is my favorite time to fish. Here in Texas, that interval is referred to as trout fever – and it drives anglers crazy.
Fronts can take a day or two to cover the length of the 300-odd miles of Texas Gulf coastline. They start along the Louisiana border over Lake Sabine and work their way south toward Capt. Paul Marcaccio, in the urbanized confines of Texas’ Galveston Bay, and onto Capt. Sally Moffett’s Texas-flair artists’ colony at Rockport and then Capt. Mitch Richmond’s Tex-Mex-flavored world of deep South Texas.
Each region offers something different for trout anglers, and all produce monster trout – greater in number the farther south you travel.
**Upper Coast | Sabine to Matagorda Bay
Galveston Bay guide Capt. Paul Marcaccio is an ex-Marine, and he exudes the confidence and air of efficiency bred in the Corps, things that seem to ingrain themselves into individuals as they get older.
“Galveston Bay has the ability to reward anglers with that memory of a lifetime if you can find the time when there is little pressure,” Marcaccio says.
Wading, as along the rest of the Texas coast, is the best means to target the larger fish. In the massive Galveston Bay complex, the hot spots are north, near Robinson Bayou, in East Bay; Pig Pens; Trinity; Jack’s Pocket; Trinity River flats; and Spillway flats.
“We look for deepwater access and drainages to find ambush points, plus mud and sand pockets,” he says, “but tidal movement is essential. Either ebbing or flowing will work: You just have to find the ambush sites and work the edges.”
In the deepwater access points, popping corks with 5-inch Saltwater Bass Assassin jerkbaits or paddle-tails in plum, pumpkinseed or pearl under them are deadly.
“The popping sound of the cork gets the fish’s head up,” says Marcaccio. “We guess they think the sound is from other fish feeding.
“We usually use the hard-plastic baits in shallow when the fish are working our shallower shorelines or flats.”
The best colors in the muddy industrial waters of the Galveston Bay complex are chromeand chartreuse.
Midcoast | Matagorda Bay to Baffin Bay
Capt. Sally Moffett laughs when I ask her about her favorite spots. “Where do I start?” she says. “Allyn’s Bight for its deepwater grass during the spawning season, Mud Island shoreline for its shallow water and the tons of bait it holds and its quick access for fish to deep water and drainages, and the expansive flats system of Estes Flats between the Intracoastal Canal and Traylor Island. There are just so many, and they each offer us a different type of fishing style.”
Moffett is one of the most accomplished guides on the coast for kayaking – her preferred method of stalking trophy trout.
“You can just get up on the fish so much more quietly,” she says.
The fishing midcoast is a mix of the upper and lower coasts. One day you can find yourself poling the flats with Moffett, the next deep-dropping around the jetties, and the next fishing around submerged oyster reefs. The midcoast, as she says, “offers a bit of everything.”
In the warm months of summer, working a MirrOlure She Pup or Heddon Spook Jr. over grass, sand pockets and gravel will always turn up a few fish. When you’re working the flats, presentation and stealth are key. Stealth is critical, and presentation can be tricky. It depends upon the fish, especially with topwaters. Sometimes fish want the fast side-to-side motion of a walking dog; other days they want an erratic stop-and-go retrieve; and other days dead-sticking, where you simply stop the retrieve and let the lure sit, following with a quick, short tap. You have to find what the fish want.
When you’re fishing the flats with soft-plastics, it’s best to just “tick” the tops of the grass along the edges of some type of structure. When working the downwind edges of either grass pockets or oyster reefs, try to work the edge from shallow to deep. Trout, stereotypical ambushers, will lie in wait for a baitfish to blow over.
**Lower Coast | Laguna Madre **
As the front stalls, I’m in Gladys’ Hole, on the north end of the famed King Ranch shoreline. Beside me, somewhere through the fog and sleet, is Capt. Mitch Richmond. The north wind has broken the truce it had with the south, and Richmond is shouting over the coming tempest.
“I really like the King Ranch shoreline and Gladys’,” I hear him yelling. “But in the summer and fall, the potholes and grass flats of the Saucers and Targets are highly productive.”
“Structure,” he says, “can be anything as simple as a change from turtle to shoal grass.”
The fish lie in ambush on the downwind side. In the Lower Laguna Madre, a change of a half-inch or less is considered structure.
“We stage our approach to the wind, unlike on the upper coast, where they rely on currents,” he says. “It’s almost essential. When there’s no wind, we look for the lighter shades of gravel and sand in the grass flats and work the edges. We also look for raised shorelines and drainages where fish will often lie in wait.”
South Texas is big, like its trout. And the travel south is well worth it. The area’s remoteness gives anglers a taste of what it used to be like back in the old times. In the Lower Laguna Madre, you can fish for days without seeing another boat – not the case in Galveston or along the rest of the coast.
As Richmond and I cast through the growing north wind, the bite slows and we work our way back to the boat, shuffling to spook the odd stingray so we don’t get stuck, as the saying goes. But even as we wade back and even though I know we’ll be on the water tomorrow, my contagion grows deeper. There’s just something about addiction to the Texas coast and its trout that can’t be cured.
Prime time for Texas trophy trout is also a lean time for live bait. Common trophy-trout live baits are piggy perch (grunts), mullet and shrimp; however, artificials prove more successful than live bait when targeting spring sows.
Rods: 6- to 71/2-foot light-action spinning or casting rod.
Reels: 14- to 20-pound-class bait caster or spinning reel sized to rod.
Lines: 8- to 20-pound monofilament, fluorocarbon or braid.
Leaders: When fishing around jetties or submerged reefs, 1 foot of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. On grass flats or sand pockets, no leader is needed.
Lures: Topwaters, diving plugs and soft-plastics.
What: Texas trophy trout.
When: Mid-December to mid-March.
Where: Sabine Lake to the Lower Laguna Madre.
Who: It pays to enlist a local expert to get started on a trophy-trout quest.
**Capt. Paul Marcaccio
**Capt. Sally Moffett
**Capt. Aubrey Black
**LOWER LAGUNA MADRE
**Capt. Bruce Shuler