In China, 1996 is the year of the rat. Along the Texas Coast, perhaps even the Louisiana Coast, 1996 may become the year of the speckled trout - big speckled trout.
The entire Gulf Coast enjoyed a reasonably mild winter and escaped any sudden and severe enough freezes to cause fish losses. Consequently, the coast got through the winter just past with stable and in some cases increasing fish populations. The population increases have been mainly in speckled trout and redfish. The special redfish tag that allows an angler to keep one oversize redfish in Texas waters and then receive a bonus tag for a second try has certainly boomed the interest in fishing for bull redfish. Beachfront pier operators reported their business up 3 to 10 percent during the period when large redfish roam in the surf.
And now there is a boom in fishing for speckled trout, especially trophy size fish. That boom was triggered back in early February when a new state record speckled trout went into the books. One big fish can create a lot of excitement. The one day trip total for the JIm Wallace (who caught the record fish) and his two fishing buddies was 40 specks. The catch included specks that went 10.0, 10.6 and 12.2, plus the record that weighed in at 13.11 pounds and 33-1/8 inch. Incidentally, one of the three anglers kept a speckled trout limit that totaled over 100 pounds.
All of the big speckled trout were caught wading and on Bay, an offshoot from the Laguna Madre on the lower coast. None of these facts should come as a surprise to dedicated speckled those seeking trophy size fish.
Baffin Bay is loaded with structure: guts, reefs, flats and grass stands. Even more important there is relatively little fishing pressure in this body of water because it is so remote from the so-called beaten path. One native of the area put it to me this way: "There are many days when you won't even see a single boat out on the bay. It takes a lot of traveling to get to Baffin Bay and bait, tackle and camping facilities in the area are very limited at best."
But the news has gotten out about what Baffin Bay holds and since the new record speck was made public, I've been plagued with calls seeking information as to exactly where to fish that area. Sorry, I can't be of help because my experience in Baffin Bay has been very limited. It's just too many miles from home base, for most anglers. Furthermore, it requires a lot of physical effort.
One marine biologist told me it was no surprise that body of water produced such, and so many, big speckled trout. He said it is one of the best "natural trout hatcheries on the entire Gulf Coast."
The record catch, plus the fact that so many big specks were taken on the same trip points up some truisms that a lot of trout anglers overlook. If you're going to seriously fish for speckled trout, you better learn the following for rules:
First, the catches forcefully underscore that speckled trout are basically shallow water fish. I keep running into people who think the best fishing is out in the middle of a bay.
Second, specks as they grow larger tend to feed more on finfish rather than live shrimp.
Third, artificial lures in the hands of experts can be made to imitate small finfish.
Finally, trophy specks very frequently make their presence known by creating swirls in the water as they pursue their meals. A ton of copy has been written about "tailing" redfish and how to fish for them. The big difference is in the way redfish and speckled trout feed in shallow, wading depth water. The redfish make their presence known by nosing and rooting the bottom and sticking their tails out of the water.
Speckled trout, on the other hand, slash into schools of finfish and usually make a half-roll as the fish slurps in its food. The result is a swirl on the surface of the water. The school of small finfish scatters, then regroups and again swims in a rather tight, compact school. The frantically swimming school will create ripples on the surface to make the so called "nervous water" the guides and trout experts seek. You cast into the "nervous water" and try to make your finfish bait or artificial lure act like a crippled creature easy to catch.
There is no question Baffin Bay and adjacent waters are going to get heavy play from the fellows after trophy specks. But this particular body of water isn't the only area capable of producing big trout. In the last two years speckled trout over 12 pounds have been caught from bays the length of the Texas coast, and with ever increasing fishing tournaments offering considerable value in prizes more and more anglers will be venturing forth seeking trophy specks. Bays particularly worth trying include Trinity, East and West Bays on the upper Texas coast. East Matagorda Bay and Espiritu Santo Bay on the middle coast, and, of course, the whole of the Laguna Madre in the lower coast region.
One point must be considered if you do catch a trophy speck, especially one that could challenge the state record, or take top money in a contest, keep that fish alive as long as possible. This is because as soon as the fish dies it begins to dehydrate and lose weight. According to studies, fish in the 12 to 15 pound range can lose weight at a rate of an ounce an hour.
If I ever catch a fish that "boat weight" would be a record for its species or a likely contest winner, I would quit fishing in a New York minute and race for the scales. Records are usually caught just once in a lifetime.
There is just one other point that must be brought up. All of the big
trophy specks are females. If too much pressure is put on the breeding stock,
we may at some future time see a limit placed on the number of trophy trout
that can be kept in a day.