GULF COAST FISHERMAN Feature Article - Summer '96 by Robert Sloan
FOR THE RECORD - BAFFIN BAY (Texas' new speck record)
There is a mystical madness shrouding the hunt for trophies. It's a challenge that most often leaves veterans of a chosen sport with empty dreams and tales of woe. But there is always a glimmer of hope with a positive attitude and determined effort. Trophy trout fishermen, Jim Wallace, Ed Stedman and Ronnie Sellers are all too familiar with the desire and stamina it takes to outfox double digit trophy class specks. Wallace's state record 13-pound, 11-ounce speck, Stedman's 12-1/4-pounder and Seller's 11-pounder are career fish that oddly enough were hooked within minutes of each other on February 6, 1996 as these anglers waded Baffin Bay south of Corpus Christi on the lower Texas coast, casting the hottest big trout baits on the Texas Gulf Coast - "Corky's."
That Tuesday was, shall we say, one of those days. "I heard a mullet jump and turned to see where the commotion came from,'' says Wallace, a 45-year-old Houstonian with a gift for being in the right place at the right time when it comes to catching trophy trout. "With a long cast I pushed the Corky past where the mullet had jumped, then cast to the left and the right. On the third shot she hit."
It was foggy and calm that morning. There was a light drizzle mixed with heavy rain - conditions that would keep all but the elite of hard-core fishermen indoors. Wading in knee-deep water 250 yards from Wallace, Stedman of Beaumont, was holding his own on this magical morning.
"It was about 9 a.m. when I got into the fish," recalls the 69-year-old Stedman. "I had made a cast and missed a trout that made a huge swirl at my Corky. I made a couple more casts in the area and hooked a 9-pounder. got her on the stringer, and on the next cast hooked up again, with what felt like a much heavier fish. While I worked her in I looked over and saw Jim bowed up. By the time I strung mine, a 12-1/4, Jim was still battling his fish. I knew he was into a big one."
"As soon as I set the hooks she ran about 100 feet, then jumped plum out of the water," says Wallace, referring to his record catch. "I finally got her in close and she made three runs." That's when near disaster struck. The speck was too thick to grab around the shoulders, and too long for the landing net! "I got her halfway in and the trebles on the Corky got hung up," says Wallace. "I thought for sure she was coming out."
Once this threesome met back at Wallace's boat around noon you can only imagine the comparison of specks. Each had caught their personal best, after, as Stedman says, thousands of hours casting and grinding on empty water. Sellers held up an 11-pounder. Stedman showed off his 12-1/4.
Wallace bested them all with a 33-1/8-inch whopper weighing 13-11. It'll replace a 21 year-old Texas state record established on this same bay. All were caught on a slow sinking Corky with a chartreuse sparkle body. For you and I these are new baits. But, for a group of trout fishing experts, the Corky is a lure that's been around for about 8 years in one form or another. Paul Brown of Houston, who owns B&L Manufacturing, makes this odd looking plug. It's only sold in one store - Cut Rate Tackle in Houston. You can call in orders by dialing Brown's home at (713) 946-9188.
"About 8 years ago a fellow wanted a soft plastic Zara Spook,'' says Brown. "That's how the Corky came about. Its body shape has changed a few times. And I'm still working on improving the bait's performance." Brown makes three kinds of Corky's. One is a fast sinker called a flash. Another is a floater. The most popular is the slow sinker. They're made in 3-and 5-inch lengths. The smaller bodies are the most popular and the ones that have caught the heaviest trout.
When Wallace and Stedman talk big trout baits, heads turn for good reason. Stedman has four 9's, a 10 and 12-1/4 pound trout to his credit. Wallace says that in 1995 he had five trout over 9 pounds and 20 over 8. Most were caught on slow-sinking Corkys. A few hit the floaters. A Corky is made of soft plastic with a core of glitter and cork. They have a pair of No. 4 VMC Cone Cut hooks that both Wallace and Stedman say make a big difference in the number of trout you'll catch. Stedman and Wallace, who met on the water while wade fishing Galveston's East Bay, carry a small plastic box of lures while fishing. Usually that box contains a few Corkys, a Jumping Minnow, a broken back Redfin and maybe a Zara Ghost.
"At times I'll use a Ghost to find them,'' says Wallace. "Then I'll catch them with a Corky. But if I'm fishing a proven big trout area I'll tie on a slow sinking Corky from the get-go."
Wallace and Stedman say their top Corky colors are chartreuse/sparkle for muddy or clear water, pearl/chartreuse and chartreuse/black back sparkle. Strawberry is good. Wallace says his top colors used to be purple/white.
"The most amazing thing is that the chartreuse/sparkle Corky will even catch trout in muddy water,'' says Stedman. "I'm talking about water most people wouldn't fish with live bait."
When fishing Corkys Stedman and Wallace use 15-pound test line and 6 to 6-1/2 foot rods with fast tips.
"Thefast tip allows you to control big fish, '' says Stedman. "You'll lose more fish with whippy tips due to poor hooksets." What I found most amazing is that neither of these anglers uses a leader. They say it impairs the Corky's action. These guys have caught most of their big trout on Galveston's East Bay and on Matagorda Bay, located on the middle coast. But their heaviest fish, 10-plus sows, are mostly from Baffin Bay. And both believe Baffin grows the heaviest trout on the Texas Gulf Coast. Baffin is not a user-friendly bay. It's got big rocks that can wreck a boat and motor. Worse yet, they're just under the surface. Very hazardous structure. "You better believe it,'' says Wallace who runs a 20-foot Gulf Coast tunnel hull powered by a 175 Yamaha. "I've already lost two lower units this year."
Awhile back these guys hired a guide to show them around Baffin. From then on they've been putting in at Bird Island or the South Padre Island Causeway and going it on their own. Apparently they've figured things out quite well.
When hunting for trophy trout Wallace and Stedman offer this advice. "Finding bait is best," says Wallace. "Get in tune with the environment. Take all the clues offered. One could be water color change. Others are depth, birds and water temperature."
"You've got to to love it," says Stedman. "You grind from daylight till dark. Confidence in location, the lure and your ability to catch fish is a must. It's just a sport, like sporting clays. I once made four trips to Baja Mexico while hunting for a record book sheep. We walked over 400 miles. I finally succeeded with the fourth highest scoring sheep in the Boone & Crockett book. It's just like going after trophy trout. If you like it, and you're having a good time, well, that's what it's all about."
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