East Matagorda Bay Seatrout
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.”
The beauty of East Matty is the hidden reefs smack dab in the middle of the bay. They are not really hidden anymore. Maps and GPS coordinates make them available to everyone. Long Reef, Three Beacon Reef and Drull’s Lump are big trout magnets but fished effectively only by wading.
“The tides get low, and all those big trout go to the middle of the bay,” says 2012 Guide’s Cup Champion Tommy Alexander. “The mullet go to the middle and the trout follow.”
East Matagorda Bay oysters have long been cherished for their sweet, salty savor. Watch for oyster boats dredging shell; harvested reefs are especially good the next day when waters settle after being overturned by the raking.
“Most of the time, the best trout will be off the edge of the reef,” says Alexander. “Wade as far as you can without filling up your waders, cast to the deep water, and work the lure slowly along the mud and shell.”
Alexander says braided line is the difference between feeling a subtle winter bite and thinking the bait is hung on shell. “It’s winter, it’s cold, you are bundled up, and the fish don’t always thump it like they do during summer.”
East Bay’s greatest depths are a little more than five feet at the highest of high tides. Since winter normally sees the lowest tides of the year, most of the bay runs three to four feet deep in December and January.
The biggest of big-trout catchers are waders. There is no substitute for stalking a muddy bayou with a mullet imitation and a sensitive graphite rod. Mud bottoms on the east end of the bay are my favorite winter hangouts for trophy specks. Boggy spots like Brown Cedar Flats, Catch-All Basin and the Duck Blind test your cardiovascular stamina but reward you with breathtaking, arm-length trout.
North winds, gray skies and low tides typify a Texas winter. For those willing to brave the chill and deal with red earlobes and chapped lips, plenty of big speckled trout roam the fertile waters of East Matagorda Bay.
Rods: 6- to 7-foot Waterloo HP Slam Mag, Salinity, or equivalent
Reels: Shimano baitcasters: Core, Chronarch or Curado
Lines: 20-pound braid
Leaders: 25-pound fluorocarbon
Lures: Corkies, Maniac Mullets, MirrOlure Catch 5s, Bass Assassin Sea Shad and Gulp! Jerk Shad
Note: The daily bag limit for speckled trout in Texas is 10 fish, 15-inch minimum, with only one allowed more than 25 inches. Conservation-minded anglers release fish that are five pounds and larger.
Plan A Trip
It doesn’t happen every year, but in two out of the past three winters, the birds have worked in East Matagorda Bay through the middle of December. Look for laughing gulls spinning over trout pushing shrimp to the surface. Never discount a gull sitting on water either. Many times the birds can see the fish and are waiting for them to push the shrimp to the surface.
When the wind really blows, the nearby Colorado River saves the day. Low tides drain the delta at the mouth of the Diversion Channel and funnel all fish into the deep channel. Anglers drift across the channel with plum, black or glow soft plastics or troll with DOA TerrorEyz. Nighttime is even better under lighted piers as fish seek the warmth of the deeper river.
What: Big winter speckled trout
When: December, January, February
Where: East Matagorda Bay
Who: East Matagorda Bay is easily accessed by numerous ramps if you choose to fish it on your own. For a complete listing, go to stxmaps.com.
To learn the lay of the land, and get a leg up on local knowledge and practices, go with an expert the first time or two:
Capt. Charlie Paradoski
Capt. Lee Warmke
Capt. Tommy Alexander