Topwaters on Trinity
by Berk Elliott



"Don't you be telling people I can put them on fishing like this all the time," Captain Carter Hooper warned. His face was contorted in mock horror. He knew I had him over a barrel this time.
The temptation to play the role was overwhelming. I responded, "You gotta be kidding! I can see the headlines now... "Fish with Captain Carter Hooper and Catch Over 50 Speckled Trout on Topwater Baits - Guaranteed!!!"
He grumbled, "I'II come looking for you!"
The events leading up to this exchange were even more remarkable than my proposed headlines indicated. They, in fact, were dramatic evidence of the exceptional potential to be found in some portions of the Galveston Bay System.
The sun was still below the horizon when we slipped Hooper's big Boston Whaler Outrage into the clear waters of Trinity Bay that morning. We were just idling along, preparing for a run across the open bay, when he noticed a sizable group of seagulls diving excitedly near the shore. There was another boat up on the far north end of the action, so he swung wide around the south end and quietly eased into casting position with the trolling motor.
Observing that the fish didn't seem to be moving, he carefully slipped the anchor over the side. Simultaneously, we launched a Jumping Minnow and a Ghost. Using the classic "walk the dog" retrieve, we only moved the baits a couple of feet before the first explosion. The blowups were violent and serious. As usual, a number of fish missed the bait. Unlike usual, most of them didn't miss. For the next couple of hours, our greatest problem was in keeping the gulls from taking our baits. We caught, and mostly released, well over 50 specks. In a half a century of fishing, have never had another topwater session to match that one.
With well over 200 square miles of surface area, Trinity Bay is the largest water body in the Galveston Bay Complex. Running roughly from the southwest to the northeast, it is nearly 20 miles long and over 10 miles wide. In addition to the many miles of wadable shorelines, it offers numerous shell reefs, the mouth of the Trinity River, bayous, channels, spoil banks and shell pads left over from countless oil and gas rigs. Though most of the rigs are gone now, the shell pads are still holding fish.

Hooper has guided the length of the upper Texas coast, but Trinity is his home water. He grew up there. When it comes to fishing topwater baits on his old stomping grounds, he replies, "You know how I feel about my topwater baits. I'd rather catch them on top than any other way."
Far too many people view this method of fishing as something reserved only for the most advanced among fishermen. Nothing could be farther from the truth. For those who want to learn, using topwater baits is little more difficult than other baits. Fishing with any artificial bait is about learning how to impart action to the lure that the fish will find enticing. It is literally about how fast to reel, how often to twitch, when to jerk, etc.
Hooper says, "The biggest problem most people have with topwater baits is not staying with them. They throw them for five or ten minutes and, when they don't catch anything, they go back to the shrimptails they've been catching fish on for years. Soft plastics are their confidence baits, so they stick with them."
He's right. Worse yet, they'll try to convince themselves that they actually gave it a try and it didn't work. Then, the next time out, they give it a dozen half hearted shots and retire it again. In a short period of time, they have themselves convinced that either the baits don't work or that they just aren't skilled enough to effectively use them. And that's a shame. They are wrong on both counts. Once they catch a few on the surface lures, the fish will begin to teach them how, when and where to use them.
Hooper suggests, "The fastest way to learn these baits is to find some working birds. When the gulls are working over the shrimp or small bait fish at the same time the specks are chasing them to the surface, that's when you want to throw a Ghost or a new Top Dog into the melee. Once you get into a good session under the birds, you'll have a new confidence bait in a matter of minutes."
The most popular surface lures right now are the Corky, the Jumping Minnow, the Ghost, the Super Spook and the new Top Dog, from MirrOlure. It is not by accident that each of these features a "walk the dog" action. They work because they effectively mimic frightened bait fish. Unfortunately, walking the dog requires more practice to achieve than any other retrieve. To get the desired action demands a stop and start coordination between the rod tip and the reel. Essentially, you have to throw slack into the line before each twitch. But once you get the hang of it, it's no where near as difficult as it sounds.
The good news is that these frightened bait fish do not zig-zag back and forth in a perfect pattern. S peckled trout are not offering style points on your performance. In fact, there are times when a beginner's erratic retrieve provides the most successful action of the day.
"Each of these baits, and several others, will catch fish," Hooper adds. "They all have slightly different actions, but they each have their strengths under the right conditions. They are all proven performers."
One of the deadliest genre' of the topwater clan seems to have lost favor over recent years. That is the broken back lure. Though some would argue that these are not true topwater baits because they dive below the surface, it doesn't matter. If you want to experience the excitement of violent surface strikes, try fluttering one of these under and allowing it to wallow back to the top in shallow water. For another option, try twitching a Pop R or a Chug Bug near shallow grass. Each of these baits are easy to work and they make a natural step up to the more "sophisticated" topwaters. And, a word of caution, keep a good grip on your rod when you throw them.
"There's pretty much no wrong place to throw topwaters," suggests Hooper. "With the exception of when they're sulking in really deep water, speckled trout may be susceptible to topwaters almost anywhere. Trinity offers a number of reefs and miles of shorelines that are ideal. As you know, I prefer to wade any time I can."
That brings up another common misconception about this type of fishing. Contrary to popular opinion, a lot of fish are caught on topwaters thrown in front of a drifting boat. The accepted technique demands wading, but the fish don't know that. Hooper's solution to the question is to let the conditions dictate how you fish. If the water is two foot deep and the bottom is hard sand, you can bet he's going to wade. But, if the bottom is soft mud or the water is six foot deep, it's time to drift.
Regarding locations, Hooper says, "I like to wade protected shorelines during the spring and fall. On a northwest wind, the flats from Umbrella Point up to the HL&P Pocket can be excellent. On the southeast wind we have throughout most of the year, the east shoreline, from the Anahuac Pocket all the way down to Smith Point, offers miles of good water for waders."
Any number of the shallower reefs can be waded or drifted. Some of the reefs in the area around the Vingt-et-uns and Hodges fall into that category. To the northwest, reefs like Dow, Beazley's and Fisher Shoals call for drifting. During the winter, the HL&P Spillway area is a notorious cold weather fishing hole. The well pads in the middle of the bay are great locations for the heat of summer, but because they tend to be pretty deep, they are generally not the best locations for fishing on top.
Obviously, Trinity Bay presents a multitude of opportunities for fishing topwater baits. My personal favorite is the mouth of the Trinity River. Especially during the fall of the year, I love to throw a Ghost around the many passes and pockets in that corner of the bay. When the first ducks begin to arrive, this is a great redfish venue. And, if there is anything more exciting than topwater specks, it's topwater reds. When a red blows up on top, it can be almost frightening.
There are two popular locations for those waders who don't have a boat. McCollum Park offers access to the flats along the northwestern shoreline and Fort Anahuac Park allows for drive-in wading in the Anahuac Pocket area. Most other parts of the bay will require the use of a boat to reach.
A few suggestions concerning gear to carry in the boat might be in order.
A drift anchor is always good if you like drifting, but don't forget a wading belt, long pants and wading boots if there's any chance you might be going over the side. If you're going to look for working birds, don't leave the dock without a good pair of binoculars and a strong trolling motor. Naturally, carry a pair of polarized glasses. Then, you can round out the inventory with your favorite popping rod. Hooper uses light to medium action CastAway rods and Shimano (Calcutta, Chronarch or Curado) reels. All Star, Loomis and Falcon are also popular rods, while Ambassadeur and Quantum are other commonly seen reels.
With regard to running boats in Trinity Bay, Hooper cautions, "This is a huge body of water. When the weather gets rough, it can be a long way back to the boat ramp. If you're going to run far from land, be sure you're in enough boat to get you home."
Anyone who has spent much time on this bay knows that, when it's right, the fishing can be phenomenal. But, it can kick up some huge waves in a storm. It is big enough and treacherous enough to warrant extra care from small boaters. For those who want to learn their way around it, you'd be well advised to find someone who already knows it well or to call a reputable guide.
Captain Carter Hooper, a member of H&H Hunting & Fishing, can be reached at (281) 573-3272 - (713) 962-7633. ( Also guides for tarpon during the summer.) Just tell him you want to catch over 50 specks from an anchored boat on topwater baits!

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