What's Changed and What Hasn't

What's Changed and What Hasn't
Before 1997. 2010, and 2017.

I caught my first eight-pound trout on the fifth day of June 1997.  Since then, I've caught a good many more, some considerably larger, but the memory of that first one remains strong, almost larger than life.  Recalling specific details related to the catch cause me to reflect on a related pair of lists, which describe a variety of things, some of which have changed in the decades since the event transpired, and some of which remain the same.  

In the late 1990s, I worked as a teacher and coach in the Clear Creek Independent School District.  Because of the school schedule, I always looked forward to some serious fishing time once June arrived, and our summer vacation commenced. That year, my wife and I spent roughly a week in Rockport, soon after we turned in our grades and raced home to celebrate the end of another academic calendar.  

In February of the same year, I'd caught my first “big” trout, a 27-inch specimen which tackled a Super Spook in what I always knew as Fenceline Cove, on the south shoreline of West Galveston Bay. Predictably, I fell in love with throwing topwaters, specifically full-sized Spooks, especially the Mark Sosin line, produced by Heddon. On the morning in question, I had one of those tied on the end of my monofilament line.  

We left the dock in darkness, well before the orange fingers of dawn reached into the eastern sky, taking the tide cycle and moon phase fully into account while planning our excursion. It was the day of the new moon; the silver disk rose at seven a.m., about a half an hour after sunrise. With one other person, I waded the outside beach of Traylor Island, at the mouth of Trout Bayou. The images included here document the exact location, as I remember it, also the ways the bottom topography has changed over time.    

In Port Aransas, a couple miles south and west of our chosen spot, high tide occurred at 6:00 a.m., but wouldn't reach its apex in Rockport, a similar distance to our north and east, until after two p.m.. Importantly, at Trout Bayou, the tide would begin to gush in about the same time as the sun and moon began to climb into the morning sky. We timed our arrival to allow us to park a short distance away from the grass beds, sand bars, and shell pads lying just outside the mouth of the drain, so we could walk in and start casting just before the tide rolled in.  

We found the shoreline flat covered with a giant raft of mullet when we arrived; the glare of our Q-beam sent them scattering and jumping, provoking a similar flutter inside us; we eagerly expected an exciting bite. While we quietly inched our way toward the perceived sweet spot, we could hear sounds which indicated dramatic life and death scenarios playing out around us, though we couldn't see our hands in front of our faces in the pitch-black air.  

They say it's darkest before the dawn; they had it right that night. When darkness deprives us of sight, our other senses come alive. The flat around us seemed an active war zone for a while. When we started casting and clicking and walking our topwaters through the battlefield, we did so with a palpable sense of anticipation. The bites came fairly often and easy for a while.  

Honestly, I don't remember exactly how many fish I caught and/or missed before I got the big bite, nor the exact dimensions of the ones I managed to land. I do remember how the sounds emanating from some especially intense ruckus pulled me slightly away from shore just before six o'clock. A short distance north and east of the mouth of the bayou, shallow water covered a shelf of grass and shells along the edge of the shoreline flat, adjacent to the deeper waters of Aransas Bay.    

When my bleeding shad Jimmy Houston Super Spook plopped down in the midst of the melee occurring there, I let it settle for a moment, then began rhythmically twitching my rod tip while reeling slowly and steadily; I could hear the plug clicking in response to my actions, but only for a moment. A few seconds after I began the retrieve, I heard the unmistakable crashing sound of an aggressive blow up, then my rod bowed sharply against heavy weight and my drag began to whine.  

The fight played out slowly while the tide and sun began to rise. I carried no Boga Grip back then, so when I spread my hand out wide to grab the tired fish across her back, just behind the gills, I knew she was bigger than any other trout I'd ever seen alive. The landing, handling and stringing of the fish happened without much drama. After uttering a celebratory scream, which might have awakened my wife at the hotel in town, I went back to casting and walking the dog. Soon after catching the big one, I caught another toad, slightly smaller than the one on the stringer, so I let her go, after comparing them side by side.  

As golden light steadily replaced the jet-black of night, the bite became tougher and tougher.  Once we could clearly see the sand bars and grass beds around us, we realized the giant raft of mullet had split up into smaller pods. These schools moved with speed down the shoreline, obviously fearing for their lives. The only other strikes we had occurred when we managed to place our wobbling plugs right in the midst of a harried pack of mullet, and most of the fish that struck failed to stick.  

Neither my companion nor I changed lures all morning; we kept throwing floating plugs into the huddled herds of bait, despite making dozens of casts without any bites at times. My friend did manage to land one more trout, well after the sun rose higher into the sky and the pods of mullet moved farther from the shoreline. He strung and killed his fish despite the fact we could see she was somewhat smaller than the one tethered to my side.  

When I pause to recall and document the facts related to the morning on which I caught my first eight-pound trout, I realize some things have changed dramatically since June of '97, while others remain the same. I've been a fishing guide most of the time since then, and I no longer see the month in an optimistic light like I did back then, at least in terms of its potential to produce trophy trout. Additionally, as a licensed guide, I can no longer fish in the S.T.A.R. Tournament, but even if I could, I would choose not to participate, as I did back then.  

I took the trout I killed to Palm Harbor Marina, and entered her in the event. For my troubles, I earned 3rd-place runner-up status on the leaderboard. I don't recall whether I received any kind of tangible prize; if I did, it had little significance. These days, I carry a Boga Grip, and would never kill a trout of such dimensions, even if I thought doing so would park a free boat in my driveway. Personally, I don't have much blood-lust anymore, and a giant female trout means far more to me alive than she ever could after she's dead.    

Killing really big trout simply makes little or no sense to me now. Some things I did on that memorable day still make perfectly good sense, though. I like heading out in the pre-dawn darkness to fish a rising new moon and the start of an incoming tide in the month of June, especially in places where strong tide movements occur. In areas like the hypersaline lagoons where I now spend most of my fishing time, factoring in the timing of the tide cycle bears less significance than it does in Aransas Bay, where strong tides roll on a daily basis.  

Topwaters work well most every day in the last month of spring, first month of summer, especially late at night and early in the mornings. Consequently, I start off most every June outing throwing a floating plug; lately it's more often a One Knocker or a Spook Junior, not a full-sized Super Spook. These days, once the frequency of the blow-ups wanes, and I make some adjustments to presentation, I switch much more readily to soft plastics or slow-sinking twitch baits than I did two decades ago. If I'd been more versatile on the day I caught my first eight, I might have caught several more big ones to brag about.  

Certainly, I would still use a strong monofilament leader like the one I had between my twelve-pound mono main-line and my lure that day. But today, I've replaced the mono with twenty-pound braid. Braided line facilitates greater ease of use, better control of the lure and enhances sensitivity to subtle bites. All these things make me (and most others in the inshore saltwater crowd) believe it's far superior to the stretchy lines we used twenty years ago.  

In those days, two guys could wade the outside beach of Traylor Island in June without excessive interference from others. Oh sure, once the sun climbed well above the horizon, and people could see to navigate, anglers arrived and lined up on the outside edges of the grass beds, most of them staying in the boat and throwing live croakers. But we had plenty of room to operate, and large sections of the shoreline remained free of boats.  

Since then, crowds have appeared earlier and more often in these same places, most of them deploying live croakers as soon as they're available at local bait camps. At some point, all this activity caused a major change to the fishing in the Coastal Bend bays. In the early parts of the last decade, guides I know either abandoned the idea of fishing for trout in the bays around Rockport and moved north or south, or they started targeting other species like black drum as a way of coping with the scarcity of trout.  

These days, with tighter restrictions in place, and perhaps due to other natural influences, fishing for trout in the area has rebounded. I get reports of excellent outings, on which folks catch ample numbers of trout between twenty and twenty-five inches in Coastal Bend bays.  Few report catching fish in excess of twenty-eight inches and/or eight pounds, though. I doubt we'll ever return to a world in which two guys can catch three trout weighing over seven pounds on the same wade on the outside beach of Traylor Island.