I once read a quote that said, “Good friends are like the stars, you don’t always see them but you know they’re always there.”
Fishing has brought many great people into my life and that is probably the greatest benefit I have realized during my time on the water and being around it. Easily, one of the coolest and most influential of all those people has to be Jim Leavelle. Many of you will recognize his name and know of him as an outstanding guide for many years on the Galveston Bay complex and offshore.
Jim was one of the best tarpon guides around the Galveston region for many years before he moved his operation south to Corpus Christi. For years I have been trying to get down south and fish some of those areas but never took the time to do it, for whatever reason I can’t think of at the moment. I’ve had plenty of invitations to go but somehow couldn’t make time to get away. Literally every time I would call Jim on the phone, recognizing my caller ID he would ask, “Are you coming to see me?”, before even saying hello. Well I finally remedied that situation and made a road trip to the Promised Land of Speckled Trout and I can say without a shadow of doubt that I will return sooner than later.
The trip to South Texas actually started when I spoke to Jim’s son, Carlin, about duck hunting. Carlin is an excellent fisherman in his own right who was just recently bitten by the waterfowl bug and he was more than gracious to let me tag along with him and his buddies to shoot some ducks. The South Texas coast is an amazing place to fish and is as equally impressive location for waterfowl – redheads and other diver species in particular.
I spent a couple days in the blind with Carlin and his friends, Parker Shelly, Will Davenport, and Liam Qureshi before we started fishing. As one would expect, I was blown away at the color and clarity of the water, especially compared to my home waters of Sabine and Calcasieu. Endless beautiful grass flats with air-clear water served notice that I was a long way from home.
Jumping in the boat with Jim, in classic fashion we made the rounds in Corpus Christi and Nueces bays, probing shell in shallow water and picking up fish at most every stop we made. The key for catching was soft plastic paddletails on slow, steady retrieves. Jim stayed true to his roots and threw old school Cocahoe Minnows while Carlin and his girlfriend, Melanie McBride, opted for Down South Southern Shads. I chose the new Mullet Run from Marker 54 and was really happy with the performance of the bait. Each of us got our fair share of bites but I must admit Melanie actually caught the most fish on that particular trip.
The highlight for me came when Jim and I, along with my lab, Joli, made the trip to Baffin Bay to look for a big fish. Very few locales conjure thoughts of big trout quite the way Baffin does and I was beyond stoked to get my first taste of that famed piece of water. Our first wade produced only a few bites but the conditions would lead you to believe that good things were on the horizon.
The water was incredibly calm and full of life while boat traffic was virtually non-existent. Jim broke the ice with a very solid fish that fell for his Cocahoe Minnow in less than 2 feet of water. Our next stop allowed me to get in on the action as I hooked up with a nice fish on a She Pup that eventually pulled free after taking several yards of line and putting up a nice fight. The rest of the day saw us touring the bay and stopping on various rock piles where we would catch a few and then move on.
As we bounced around the rock piles I took the opportunity to try a little different strategy with some lighter lures fished from a spinning set up. The newest offerings from Waterloo in their Phantom and Salinity series were a pair of 6’9” rods that were a joy to fish with. At first glance they felt a little too light but I was blown away once I hooked a fish and felt the backbone these rods have built into them.
Both rods were fitted with Okuma Cedros reels which are not only very well made but also have incredible drag systems. I honestly believe the slower gear ratio on the spinning reels will allow anglers to catch more fish in the colder months as it naturally lends to slower presentations. Speaking of slowing your presentation, I also tried the new Serrano baitcast reel from Okuma which is a gamechanger for saltwater anglers with its new finish. The model I tried out was a 6.5 gear ratio, slower than many others on the market today. I can see this being an excellent reel for Corky or crankbait fishing.
While Jim and I continued to make our way around the bay it was incredibly cool to hear some of the stories of the great fish that had come from that body of water. Jim had been friends many years with Jim Wallace, a name many will recall and associate instantly with big trout in Baffin Bay. Wallace and Leavelle shared many great days and caught some great fish together. Some hardcore anglers believe that Wallace’s incredible 13 pound-11 ounce trophy is still the rightful Texas record speck, but that’s a conversation for another time.
Chuck Uzzle Talks Fishing Lure Colors