Scratching the Itch

Scratching the Itch
Rob Ramsey proved large topwaters sometimes work well in really shallow water when he caught this beastly trout on a Super Spook.

I first fished Baffin Bay in March of 1992, with my second wife, during our Spring Break. We hired the top guide in the area at the time, a Canadian who came to call South Texas his home. Doug Bird proved himself admirably, and we caught plenty of trout and redfish, mostly on lures, overcoming the hampering effects of a nasty brown algae bloom.

Many years later, I recognize March as a prime month for chasing trophy trout in the rock-studded hypersaline estuary framed by famous ranches. Captain Bird did too, and he said so, but when my wife asked him to name his favorite month for fishing Baffin, he didn't mention the month when winter ends and spring commences. "I like June," he said. "The weather is nice most of the time, and the fishing's easy more often than not."

Over the course of two decades spent guiding in the waters south of the JFK Causeway, I've come to appreciate Bird's assessment. I'd say several factors contribute to making the month when spring ends and summer begins one of the best on the calendar for fishing Baffin and the Upper Laguna Madre. Surely, most people think of June as a summer month; for many, the season starts after Memorial Day. But the calendar speaks a different truth.

Most of June falls in the spring. I'd argue the second half of spring and the first half of summer offer the best conditions for a kind of fishing most lure chunkers love, whether they prefer to target speckled trout, peacock bass or any other species. On most days from about the end of April to the middle of July, floating plugs draw plenty of strikes from trout, especially, but not exclusively, early in the mornings.

This is why I and anglers with priorities like mine find the sport so satisfying as the calendar approaches and steps through the Summer Solstice. Lots of June mornings start off with the wind dying to a whisper over calm, clear water. While the rising sun splashes soft pastel hues on the almost ever-present cumulus clouds, prowling specks cast their eyes upward, looking for ripe targets and easy meals.

Any coastal angler with more than a few trips in the log knows what often happens then. Most of us who write about the sport have done what we can to accurately describe a blow-up, using onomatopoeia to invent words for the sound, making analogies to other dramatic things, all with the goal of honoring the essence of one of the most satisfying events we experience. The snapping jaws of an attacking trout stopping a pinging plug with a whoosh and combining air and water in a sparkling cloud of foam slakes a persistent craving.

I've said it many times during a hot topwater bite―blow-ups never get old. The next one feels every bit as good as both the last one and the first one. When the fish rise to the baits repeatedly, the sound of laughter inevitably follows. Relatively calm winds, low light levels and pretty green water measuring about 80°F or so generally encourage trout to tackle topwaters recklessly. On many mornings in the month of June, they do so for several hours, and anglers who know how to walk the dog with cigar-shaped plugs catch plenty.

When I first burst onto the Texas saltwater fishing scene, I favored a full-sized Super Spook above all other floating lures, probably because I caught my first 27-inch trout on one. But time and several key incidents taught me to favor a slightly smaller plug for duty when generic, bread and butter retrieves earn strikes at a high rate. I now contend a medium-sized lure like a One Knocker works best in such situations, though I know many others will work to produce blow-ups when trout feed actively at the surface. Surely, some situations make finding a topwater the trout won't strike more difficult than finding one they will.

But as the dog days of summer drag along, and water temperatures climb to their maximum values, smaller lures begin to work better on average than larger ones, at least for people like me, who perceive speed as the best way to stimulate strikes from relatively inactive fish in hot water. On many June days, more in July and August, I find it easier to catch trout on Spook Juniors than One Knockers, once the sun climbs high enough into the sky to fully light the day. Often, the timing of this coincides with an increase in wind speeds, another thing which elevates the effectiveness of small plugs which sputter around on the surface enticingly when worked at high speeds, pulled forward more by the reel handle than the rod tip.

After lots of folks abandon topwaters and begin throwing other lures, rightly sensing the bite has slowed on medium-sized plugs worked steadily and generically, I'm often able to continue catching trout on top, using Spook Juniors and working them with lots of starts, stops and speed bursts, to create wildly erratic movement patterns. The strikes often occur right when the little plug comes to rest after a speed burst, or as it starts moving after a pause of one or two seconds. Hotter water and stronger winds increase the likelihood of these events unfolding.

Mostly, I think of June topwater fishing in simple terms; once water temperatures reach the 80° mark consistently, and spring winds subside in anticipation of summer, floating plugs become the main course, not a side dish. I only include a lure in my quiver if I can articulate specific circumstances which push it to the top of the list of things I believe will work. Perhaps because of the combination of its size, profile and the pitch of its rattling beads, a One Knocker meets such a description when trout bite readily on top.

Though I've tried, I struggle to discover a reasonable explanation for why the sounds emitted by topwaters sometimes dictate so much about their potential. I've witnessed events which lead me to believe topwaters' audible qualities do affect their productivity, sometimes in situations where I can't make any sense about why one particular pitch or volume of rattling would make trout more likely to strike than another. However, I can elaborate a pair of specific situations which clearly elevate the potential of two different types of topwaters above others.

In murky water, especially under strong winds, topwaters like She Dogs, with high-pitched, raspy rattles, draw more strikes than most others. This truth applies more if the targeted fish swim in water too deep for wading. In places, where numerous large menhaden make "flitting" noises at the water's surface, as is sometimes the case in the summer surf, topwaters enhanced with one or two propellers earn more strikes than ones without whirling blades. The utility of specific kinds of sound production makes sense to me in both these situations.

My two buddies and I did not need either of these types of topwaters on the June day which perfectly illustrates the potential beauty of fishing for trout in the waters of Baffin Bay this month. On the memorable occasion, back in 2002, we started off wading at the west end of Cathead, standing in the shallows on top of the sand bar, tossing at visible rocks in deeper water, soon after daybreak. We all threw different lures; the blow-ups came fast and easy on each of them, and the attacking trout had consistently satisfying size.

One of my friends and I walked away from the hot bite before it waned, because we'd already caught over 50 trout, at least 80% of which measured 22 inches or more, though none stretched much more than 27 inches. We walked toward the north shoreline, into shallow water over grass and potholes, switching to Paul Brown Fat Boys, hoping to entice some bigger trout into taking a bite. Our mission failed, though we did catch more three to five-pound fish. The other member of our trio stayed out by the rocks, switching to a soft plastic dangled under a cork, and he continued catching at a fast clip.

After one move which further convinced us most of the trout, including some of the big ones, preferred water about three to five-feet deep around rocks, we ventured over to Penascal Point. There, we started another topwater rodeo, finding a bucking school of hungry trout around just about every rock. In the end, we caught several dozen trout each, with about 100 of them falling into the 22 to 27-inch class. For me, the day epitomizes the primo potential inherent to throwing topwaters in Baffin this time of year, also the plan's shortcoming; in June, floating plugs produce plenty of large trout, but few giant ones.

This month, live croakers become most effective at urging strikes from the biggest trout in Texas bays. The fact doesn't dissuade lure chunkers like me from continuing to try and trick the sow of a lifetime on something made entirely by the hands of man. We have zero interest in using live bait, especially when lures can and do produce such satisfying results on a regular basis, as is the case in South Texas when the days stroll out of the season of beginnings under a sizzling sun.

Maybe Doug Bird lied to me and my wife all those years ago when she asked him to name his favorite month for fishing Baffin. He knew we were school teachers. Maybe he thought we'd come back and fish with him again after the school year ended, if he built some hype around June. I doubt it, though. I believe he had long since learned what I came to know; this time of year, Baffin ranks high on the list of best places to get a blow-up in the Lone Star State. On these legendary waters, this month's sultry, placid days provide us ample opportunity to regularly scratch one of our most enduring itches.

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