Fish the Surf for Bigger Trout, Sheepshead & Gafftops
THE STATE OF TEXAS ANGLER’S RODEO (S.T.A.R.) TOURNAMENT is in full swing and anglers along the coast are competing for prizes and scholarships for catching the best of what the Texas coast has to offer.
We thought we would put together a list of tips for catching the biggest and best in the surf. Not all S.T.A.R. anglers can afford boats and truth be told some of the best action comes in the surf anyway.
Speckled Trout: Trout are the most prized fish pursued in this prestigious tournament.
Catching big trout in the surf is hit and miss but in my experience the very best trout fishing comes just before dawn until about 30 minutes after sunrise.
Savvy anglers hit the surf early throwing rattling, jointed swimbaits and topwaters designed to draw the strikes of big trout. Look for deep bowls in the surf and areas with high concentrations of mullet along the banks. Trout will corral them in the wee hours of the morning, especially on high tides and offer great shots at angling success often within casting distance of the bank.
Slow-sinking lures like the Corky can also be very productive, especially when there is light wave action. Look for emerging slicks (from the size of a fish to garbage can lid size) and for the sound of “slurping”.
Big trout sometimes smack their prey but most of the time they slurp it under. If you get a slurp and a slick know you’re definitely in the zone.
Sheepshead: Sheepshead are not super abundant in the surf but they do congregate around small rock jetties found in places like Galveston and around Corpus Christi and piers. And there are some huge ones to be found in these spots.
My favorite method for catching them is using a 1/4-ounce jighead rigged with a small piece of shrimp and fished vertically over rock outcroppings. Imagine fishing for perch from the shore of a pond with a cane pole.
I use a light braided line like Berkley Fireline, which has eight-pound diameter and 20-pound test. The low stretch line helps with hookset in the hard mouth since there is no stretch and it also aid with sensitivity.
The sheepshead’s bite can be so slight you actually have to watch the line because it can be virtually impossible to detect otherwise. A braided or fusion line can help overcome this but it can still be tough at time. Many times they thump a jig pretty hard but when they go stealth few fish can pick a bait off of a hook quicker.
Fishing a live shrimp under a popping cork is also a great way to catch them.
When the water clears up, these fish can be line shy so use a fluorocarbon leader under the cork for best results. Fluorocarbon virtually invisible and it also has low-stretch properties, which enhances its sensitivity.
Many anglers use small treble hooks which the fish ingest, but with regulations that require us to throw back many of the sheepshead we catch that is probably not a good idea. I have my best luck with thick, short-shanked hooks. Hook girth is something to consider due to the fact these fish often bite through thin hooks. I have actually had them bite through thick hooks as well but it is a rarity.
If you are serious about catching sheepshead, especially the big ones, you will need lots of patience and focus to get the job done. When they feed aggressively anyone can catch them but when they are being sort of snobbish it takes true fishing finesse.
Gafftop: Gafftops have extra-long dorsal fins that look like a sail on a boat, hence the name gafftopsail. They also have long, stringy whiskers. The fish average 2.5 pounds, but can get as big as 15 pounds. They have actually become fairly popular along the coast in no small part due to S.T.A.R.
Gafftops are like their freshwater cousins in that they are suckers for chum and will hit just about any kind of bait. Taking a small chum basket and fishing from a pier or rock jetty can be extremely effective especially when fishing a dead shrimp or chunk of cut bait.
Chumming in the surf is not recommended if you plan on wading of course. You might invite sharks. Not good.
Rigging up for gafftop is easy. A simple free-line with a 10/0 circle hook connected to 17-pound test or better is usually more than adequate. When pursuing gafftops in the surf, use a typical fish-finder (Carolina) rig with a wide-gapped hook works great. Popping corks with cut bait fished under them is also a great way to catch these slimy creatures.
Oh, I forgot to mention slime.
For anyone who has never caught a gafftop, all of the talk about slime earlier in the story might seem unusual, but it is true. These fish have more slime on them than any other fish in the sea. This slime actually finds its way up your line when fighting these fish. Gafftops make hard, determined runs, rubbing against the line and depositing the telltale slime in the process. The stuff then oozes along the line toward the spool like an alien visitor from a 1950s science fiction movie.
But you can win in S.T.A.R. for catching one so who cares, right?
Thirty Years of Winning Conservation
SIXTY SPECIALLY TAGGED REDFISH are being prepped as the STAR-ring attraction in the CCA Texas State of Texas Anglers’ Rodeo (STAR) sponsored by the Texas Ford Dealers, Tilson Home Corporation and Capital Farm Credit.
These tagged redfish will be released throughout 600 miles of Texas coastal waters, from Sabine Lake to South Padre Island. This year’s tagged redfish are even more special than normal. These redfish will represent thirty years of dedication from CCA volunteers, all with the same goal of recruiting young anglers and adults alike to join their ranks in support of conservation.
“After two consecutive years of over 50,000 total anglers and 9,000 youth anglers, we believe it is safe to say that these countless volunteers have been winning conservation for thirty years,” said Tournament Director Bill Kinney.
From the onset, the State of Texas Anglers’ Rodeo was envisioned by CCA founder Walter Fondren III and a few others, as a fun family friendly summer event with hopes of creating a reason for parents to get kids out on the water for a chance of them winning a scholarship, or the adult a driveway sized prize. As STAR tournament director Kinney often says, “We want to get kids off of X-boxes, and into tackle boxes.”
All the while, these participants are learning more and more about conservation through CCA materials. Through thirty years of hard work by countless volunteers and CCA staff, STAR has come a long way. When STAR first kicked off, it was relatively small compared to today at only 3,400 anglers statewide. In 2017, STAR shattered participation records, with 50,000+ anglers competing for over $1,000,000 in prizes for the first time ever.
Another milestone was recently reached by STAR after the 2018 tournament, $6.5 million in college scholarships have now been awarded to Texas youth, with another $325,000 waiting for this year’s winners. Little did Walter, Bill and others realize what their idea would morph into thirty years later.
—story by CHESTER MOORE