If trophy trout fishing was defined by starting dates such as deer and duck seasons, I guess February 1st would be the much anticipated date to let the plastic fly from high-modulus rod tips. I fish for trophy trout year round, including the heat of the summer, but I admit, if there is a sweet spot in the calendar it is now. When Jim Wallace set a new state record on February 6, 1996 with a 13.69 pound beast from Baffin, the lore of February trophy trout fishing was set in stone, even for the nonbelievers of inclement weather fishing. Yes, it can be cold, or the wind can pump from the southeast, too foggy to run a boat safely, but it is FEBRUARY and we go anyway.
Before I go into what I think will and will not work this trophy trout season, I need to set the stage for what has taken place so for this winter. In a nutshell, this season has started slower than any in recent past when speaking of trophy-class fish. I have been on the water many days through December and early January, and although our efforts have produced many landings, trout over seven pounds have been very elusive. This is not to say that we are not catching them, because we are, but for the man-hours my clients and I have spent in the salt, we should have caught many more. I have many theories on why, but the most obvious to me is the lack of structure in Baffin. Mixes of grass and mud are scarce this year. It seems that all the runoff during late summer played havoc with what was a gorgeous bay floor of grass beds and potholes in key areas that trout utilize for feeding. From the boat you can see what appears to be grass, but you soon learn that it is only where grass beds once grew, and it is what is left of the root system (that will hopefully grow back). The point of all of this rambling is to let you know the fish have been very scattered, with little structure to hold them in one area for a very long period of time. If there was ever a year to think outside of the box, this may be it.
With all of that being said, how are we continuing to catch trout down here? Bait! Not live stuff on the end of our lines, but the kind flipping around, i.e., mullet. No matter what kind of structure you may are may not have, the trout still need a food supply. Find the bait, pattern the bait, and you will turn naked-structure fishing into catching. With so little grass to key on, I spend tons of time staring into the distance watching for bait activity. Some days the activity will be on a deep break, other days will find it bordering a skinny flat or a depression in a flat. Wherever I find it is where I'm moving my party to, and 9 of 10 times where we will hook up. I have fished with Capt. Billy Sandifer many times on the Padre Island National Seashore and have learned a ton from him. The very first time I went with him I learned my most valuable lesson on surf fishing, "Lad, if you want to catch fish in my house you had better be looking ahead a half mile out of the windshield instead of my damn window." He followed up by explaining to me the art of reading the surf by looking ahead instead of what was right at my feet. I utilize the same logic when patterning bait, to ultimately pattern the trout.
Every possible scenario will come to fruition this month, i.e., spoil islands, all shorelines in the Laguna Madre and Baffin, rock structures, etc. The trout will be on any (and all) at any given time, considering there is something for them to eat. The bottom line is that you need to be open minded and not worry so much about hot spots. Utilize that new Haynie boat for what it was built forexploring, learning different areas, and catching fish that nobody else is aware of. After many years on these bays, that is what keeps me "mad at them" and coming back for more.
In closing, this is a critical time of year as many fish are moving to the shallows for a number of different reasons. PLEASE be courteous to the fish and fishermen, and refrain from running and burning shorelines. If we do not act responsibly, and police ourselves, there are others out there who are already attempting to do it for us. Boat smart!
"Too many Christians are no longer fishers of men, but keepers of the aquarium."
-- Paul Harvey
"Set 'em loose." -- Capt. David Rowsey