A Speckled Surf State

A Speckled Surf State
Backwater wintertime trophy speck – released!

Above all other species, Texas saltwater anglers choose to target speckled trout. Sought by many because of their delectable taste on the dining table, spotted seatrout also serve a role in an industry focused on the pursuit of trophy specimens. Some guides and dedicated anglers revere giant female trout as the most illustrious gems adorning Texas' bays.

The spacious, diverse bays and estuaries in our state comprise one of the best speckled trout fisheries in the world, and Texas anglers usually target the species in these shallow waters, but trout also populate the waters fronting our barrier islands in excellent numbers. From the beaches of Texas Point National Wildlife Refuge down to Boca Chica, the surf-zone produces stud specks whose size rivals any landed in the bays.

Some of the largest trout I've ever seen swam right by me, unfazed by my presence, on the first sandbar in the surf. For whatever reason, these fearless brutes prove nearly impossible to catch, even on lures tossed right in front of them. Because they usually don't result in a hooked or caught fish, these encounters simultaneously feel supremely cool and annoyingly frustrating.

Though I'm a dedicated surf/shark fishermen, I do enjoy targeting trout at times. In winter, when the surf is blown out and slow, I like to take my kayak and wade the back side of Padre Island, in a search for monster trout and hungry reds. I do find great joy in throwing soft plastics in the bitter cold and feeling the hard thump when a trophy speck bites.

Back across the dunes, in my regular stomping grounds, I can catch trout almost daily, whenever I put a priority on doing so, though I don't often distract myself from the pursuit of monster sharks. Surf trout seem tend to run muscular and fat, and they fight vigorously when hooked. Perhaps the strength and stamina result from their lifestyle, which requires them to regularly fight strong currents and avoid numerous predators.

My traditional tactics for targeting big surf trout have remained fairly consistent over the past couple decades. During prime-time, starting in May and lasting through October, my go-to speck lure for years has been the 95MR MirrOlure He-Dog. This large topwater proves nearly irresistible to big trout, when thrown into a suck-out in the sandbar or a hole near the beach. Over time, I've favored a few different color schemes, my all-time favorite being chrome/chartreuse.

Most anglers can easily master and utilize a standard, dog-walking method with these floating plugs. Watching a large trout repeatedly blast through the waves while trying to take a He-Dog, sometimes knocking it well into the air before finally tasting the hooks, creates a uniquely satisfying adrenaline rush for any angler with salt in their veins. As long as some kind of prey like mullet or menhaden remain abundant and close to the surface in an area, topwaters tend to earn plenty of strikes. The glow series of colors made by MirrOlure seem to work best in low light conditions around dawn and as the evening sunlight fades.

Alternate lures I throw at trout in the surf throughout the year are soft plastics, silver spoons, and slow-sinking twitch baits. Soft plastics like Saltwater Assassins and KWigglers work well most of the time, when the fish don't want to blow up on top. Various color patterns produce well in the surf; I tend to use vibrant colors, usually including at least some chartreuse highlights. With regard to spoons, I find trout seem to like silver ones better than gold. Old-school Krocodiles and Johnson Sprites have proven themselves consistently productive for decades. Though I often lack the patience necessary to properly work a slow-moving twitch bait, they do produce bites from jumbo trout in the surf, usually when the water runs cold and clear, with relatively weak currents.

Because anglers can pursue the mascot of our salty waters from the surf-zone to the back-lakes and throughout various parts of the bays, speckled trout earn great prestige among anglers in the Lone Star State. These attractive, abundant fish accommodate anglers hoping to catch and release the fish of a lifetime as well as folks just wanting to put some tasty fillets on the table. This vulnerable species does benefit richly from responsible acts of conservation.

The freeze of February 2021 wreaked havoc on the inshore fishery, creating lingering effects, killing huge numbers of fish, including many specks. In response to frigid temperatures in the shallows, some trout likely fled from bays like the Lower Laguna Madre, swimming through the Port Mansfield Jetties and into the surf. I have good friends who caught and released some stellar surf trout starting about a week after temperatures began to rise.

Over recent years, I've grown fond of photographing and shooting underwater video of big trout while releasing them. During the catastrophic freeze, I found several massive schools of trout, including some huge specimens. These fish were congregated in shallow areas by the hundreds, soaking up the sun's warm rays in super cold water. Lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, I documented some of the Lower Laguna Madre's speckled survivors.

The eyes of Texas truly gaze upon our flagship saltwater species with pride; recently, state authorities have become quite protective of these prized fish, for good reasons. It is reported that on or about March 10, 2022 the daily bag limit on the middle and lower coast, including the surf, (upper coast bays are not included) will become three per day; keepers must measure between 17 and 23 inches. This regulation is set to expire on August 31, 2023; at which time the previous regulation of five fish per day at 15 to 25 inches will once again become effective.

Many natural and man-made hazards threaten this fecund, yet fragile species. Everything from the relentless pursuit of limits to rough handling by careless anglers to red tide blooms and freeze events cause mortality in the trout population. Because so many people derive joy from pursuing these versatile, valuable fish, we should all do our part to help insure the sustainability of the resource.