Despite being the most sought-after species on the Texas coast, many of the facts about the lives of speckled trout and the tactics that work best for catching trophy-sized specimens remain mysterious.
Enshrouded in mystery, covered in speculation and often steeped in tradition, the real facts on Texas’ trout, are fascinating.
For years a popular myth about speckled trout has persisted particularly along the Upper Coast of Texas. It says that during winter most of the trout migrate into the Gulf. That is just not so.
According to officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD,) speckled trout spend most of their lives within five miles of where they were born. Nearly 90 percent of all fish recovered in a tagging program came from the same bay in which they were tagged.
While many trout move into deeper water during cold weather, there is no scientific evidence of a winter migration to the Gulf. Research shows that some fish may move to the Gulf to escape blowing northers, but this is temporary and the fish return once weather abates.
A study by the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (GSMFC) report shows that one researcher tagged more than 2600 trout and received 50 returns.
Of these, 20 came from the release point. Similar findings were reported by researcher Rogillio with 98 percent of the returns coming within 1.5 kilometers of the release point, while another noted that two spotted seatrout tagged in Calcasieu Lake were recaptured over 160 kilometers away east in Atchafalaya Bay, Louisiana.
As noted in my book, Texas Trout Tactics, the report details that in Texas, of 20,912 tagged trout released in Texas marine waters, 1367 were recaptured. About 84 percent were caught in the same bay where released; eight percent were caught in another bay; and five were recaptured in the Gulf. Of 588 spotted seatrout tagged in the Gulf surf, 14 were recaptured, 12 in the Gulf and two in Texas bays.
And while there is no evidence to suggest mass migration, Salinity can be a factor in locating trophy trout. Researchers with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission have found that big trout tend to prefer water that is close in salinity to seawater over more brackish water. For anglers wanting to fish the Sabine and Galveston areas this is extremely important as it often experiences incredible fluctuations in salinity due to a massive river systems feeding into these bays.
Salinity is an important factor as the closer an area is to the Gulf, the higher the salinity, however there are some other factors that come into play with trout here.
Big, incoming tides bring warmer Gulf waters onto trout friendly areas like shallow flats along channels and with them come baitfish. When you have the combination of water that is more saline, a few degrees warmer than that in the upper reaches of the system on top of a high presence of mullet and other baitfish you have serious trophy trout potential.
A study conducted by Louisiana State University (LSU) biologists in Barataria Bay involved setting gillnets at three sites: low, mid and high salinity.
“More and larger speckled trout were caught at temperatures 75 degrees and above. Average size was somewhat larger at the high-salinity site and smaller at the low-salinity site. They were also more abundant at the high and mid-salinity sites than at the low-salinity site.”
Looking at this research alone helps you eliminate hundreds of square miles of habitat and focus more intensely on the areas where the big trout you seek are more abundant.
Some anglers find a disconnect between lures first used in freshwater and the pursuit of trophy trout but the fact is this could make them miss out on fine fishing opportunities.
Swimbaits are essentially soft plastic crankbaits that allow anglers to cover lots of water and fish with a simple retrieve to target big fish. Most major tackle companies have some sort of swimbait on the market now ranging from the foot-long $40 trout mimicking behemoths to much more affordable fare.
“Swimbaits have been invaluable for me fishing on Lake Falcon,” said 2008 Bassmaster Classic winner Alton Jones.
“They will get big fish when other baits don’t seem to get the job done. I have seen big fish get up and follow a big swimbait when they seemingly get lockjaw in clear water.”
The Jones quote might seem out of place but when both largemouth bass and speckled trout reach a certain size they switch to eating almost exclusively large finish. Numerous anglers have reported similar reactions to using swimbaits for specks by producing big fish when other lures do not.
This could be a product of “newness” as most trout have never seen a swimbait, the aforementioned attribute of water coverage, or both.
Many anglers know the importance of oyster reefs in the life cycles but miss the fact you need to get violent with the shell to catch the most and biggest fish.
As noted in my book, Texas Trout Tactics, the most important thing to keep in mind about reef fishing is to use sand eel imitations and fish them on the right sized jighead. Fishing with 1/8-ounce jig heads is great for shallow reefs with light currents, but you need something heavier that will get down to the bottom and be able to fight heavier current.
Drift with the current and let the lure bounce, bump and crash into the oyster reef. Yes, you will lose jigheads but the angler who can discipline themselves to fish this way typically scores on bigger trout. Make sure you have enough line out to where you are not vertically fishing. The lure will not be able to work properly that way. In addition, it is important to keep contact with the lure.
When I use this method, I slowly raise and lower my rod tip to give the rig a slight hopping action. If you feel the line get heavy or a light tap, set the hook. Chances are you just scored on a speckled trout.