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Sabine's Super Specks

by Robert Sloan

Big trout have cocked the eyebrows of plenty of anglers on Sabine Lake during the past few months, and for good reasons, too - double digit trout up to 11 pounds, 8 ounces have been caught from this fish-rich bay located on the Texas/Louisiana border.
It all got started on February 7. That's when Jay Wester of Groves caught a 10.3 pound trout, while fishing a topwater plug in 5 feet of water. That fish established a new water body record for the Sabine Lake system, which includes Sabine Pass, up to where the tide line meets the jetties. Wester says he used a gold and orange Super Spook to catch that hefty trout while fishing in about 5 feet of water.
Wester's catch didn't last long at the top of the records list. On March 28, veteran Sabine Lake angler Dr. Kelly Rising used a chartreuse colored TopDog to catch a whopper of a trout weighing 11 pounds, 8 ounces. Since 1996, trout fishing on Sabine Lake has been outstanding and seems to be getting better every day. That's the year gill nets were outlawed. The results of the net ban are quite evident in the form of big trout, lots of them.
Jerry Mambretti, the Sabine Lake Ecosystem Leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, says there's a good possibility that 13 to 14 pound trout are in Sabine Lake.
"Our fall netting surveys showed a record number of trout in the Sabine Lake system," says Mambretti.
He says the combination of mild winter weather and lots of bait in the water has created an excellent trout fishing situation in Sabine Lake. The really good news is that it should have set the stage for a good spawn.
Right now Sabine Lake is knocking on the state record door, when it comes to huge speckled trout. As of May, the State mark was a Baffin Bay bruiser weighing 13 pounds, 11 ounces. The trout Rising stuck is not that far off the mark. And it wasn't a fluke catch either.
Rising, who grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, which is located adjacent to Sabine Lake, has been fishing the area the better part of 25 years. Although he now lives in Beaumont, Texas and delivers babies for a living, Rising manages to squeeze in a few hours of fishing when he can break away from his practice and his family. He's got some pretty good tips for all you anglers in pursuit of wall-class speckled trout.
When he hooked up with the 11-8 trout, Rising was fishing a shallow reef. Up until that day, he had been fishing that same area of the lake for three weeks. During that time he was catching heavy trout in the 28 to 30 inch class. In fact, throughout March he had caught and released Sabine trout weighing from 8 pounds and on up to the 11-8 mark. Among those trout four weighed 8, 8-1/2, 9 and 10.1 pounds. Those were just a few of the fish he caught. Anglers in his boat caught a few more in that elite class.
On the day he caught the 11-8, he, his dad and another fishing buddy caught trout in the 6-pound class, along with two in the 8-1/2 pound range. And they were all caught on topwater plugs. That's about as good as trout fishing gets on the entire Gulf Coast.
Rising isn't the only angler that's been catching numbers of big specks on Sabine Lake. Capt. Jerry Norris, who owns and operates Sabine Lake Guide Service, had been telling me about huge trout he had been catching over shallow reefs in the lake, prior to Risings catch. But Norris, not wanting to attract too much attention to his prime trout water, kept the news of his big trout kind of quiet. Meanwhile, his customers were having a ball doing battle with trout they would later put on the wall.
Norris laughs when he tells the story of a customer that hired him for one reason.
"He wanted to a catch the biggest trout of his life," says Norris. "But that fish had to weigh at least 7 pounds. And the guy said there was a $50 tip in it if I delivered."
Well, not long into the day, Norris slipped the net under a big speck. And as he was weighing it in the boat, the customer questioned the mark. Norris replied, "Looks to be to be about $50 worth of trout."
If I had to pick the two best producers of big trout on the Sabine Lake system it would be Norris and Rising. The big difference between these two fishermen is that Rising will more than likely be drift fishing from a boat. Norris prefers to wade for big trout. But one thing these two experts agree on is when you're after big trout, you'd best be fishing an oyster reef.
"We have oyster reefs all over the lake," says Norris. Some are big. Some are small. And some consistently produce bigger trout than others. The key is to know where the most productive reefs are located, and when to fish them. For example, I've got one reef at the mouth of a cove that's not very big. It's about the size of a double garage. When the tide is falling, that particular reef loads up with big trout. Best water depth over that reef is about 4 feet. I'll generally begin fishing it with a topwater plug such as a TopDog or Jumpin' Minnow. But if that doesn't work I'll switch to Assassins. When the tide is going out at that reef, and I've been catching trout in the area, I know the fish will be on that shell. It's just a matter of getting them to bite."
Norris has one "pet" reef that produced some huge trout this past winter and spring. He took one party to that reef when the timing was right. They caught six trout that weighed 8 pounds or better. That's what I call an incredible day of fishing. They were wading. And those fish were caught on red Assassins.
Norris likes to fish Assassins on 3/16 ounce jig heads with 1 2-pound test line.
While watching Norris catch and release a couple of big trout this past spring, I noticed he was using a pretty fast twitching retrieve with the Assassins. Even though the water was murky, the fast-paced lure was still easily located by hungry trout.
Like Norris, Rising takes his trophy trout fishing seriously. A big part of his fish catching skills center on being quiet. For example, he'll shut off the big engine about 150 yards from the flat that supports the reef. he'll move in with the trolling motor. And when he's in position he'll turn that one off and drift.
"I've learned that big trout are very spooky," says Rising. "Once I'm in position, I'll drift. Preferably without any hull splashing, too. Being quiet is important."
Rising says he caught his Sabine record trout on 15-pound-test line, a Shimano Chronarch reel and a 7-1/2 foot All Star rod. That extra 6 inches of rod tip adds distance to each cast, which he says is very important.
Rising fishes topwaters lures whenever possible. And one of his favorites is the TopDog. What he does is replace the factory hooks with VMC No. 2 trebles. And he uses a Palomar knot to connect the lure to line. No split ring is used. He likes the Palomar because it's quick to tie and among the strongest knots you can use.
On the retrieve Rising says he doesn't do anything fancy. He prefers a slow, but steady retrieve.
Rising says that two of the heaviest trout he caught on Sabine Lake this spring had 10 inch long mullet in their throats. That translates into big lures for big trout.
When sizing up a reef for big trout, Rising and Norris look for a high tide, and water that isn't too clear and of course baitfish such as mullet. The day Rising made his record catch the tide was 2 feet above normal and the water was murky.
"I was fishing a big flat in the middle of nowhere," says Rising. "Seeing mullet on that flat has been the key. No mullet. No trout. Actually that's how I found that particular flat. I saw mullet jumping on it, and the big trout were under them.
Norris says that when looking for big trout on Sabine he likes the lower end of the lake. And he's specifically looking for scattered beds of shell. Find that type of bottom, throw in some baitfish and trout won't be far behind.
Capt. Jerry Norris, with 30 years experience on Sabine, is an ace at drifting or wading the lake for big trout. He grew up fishing the lake and knows where to go. For information on his Sabine Lake Guide Service call him at (409) 736-3023.
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