Artificial Intelligence: “Tools of the Trade”

My September, 2020 article for Coastal Angler Magazine Charleston

My son Ian and I found some early spring heavy trout on artificial lures

When I was just out of college and living on my own, I discovered that all the home repairs that magically happened when I was a teenager now fell on me to handle. I spent many years buying cheap tools and eventually came to realize the value of quality tools. Better to pay twice as much on a DeWalt than save money on something else. They are well made and will last a lifetime. I still use a radial arm saw my Dad purchased in the 1960’s and its still going strong. Good tools are worth every penny!

If you’re going to target inshore fish using artificial lures, the tools you use make ALL the difference. For example, the difference in sensitivity between a cheap fiberglass rod and a light, sensitive graphite rod is night and day. But more on that shortly.

Why does it matter? As I’ve written before, a bite on an artificial lure can sometimes be extremely subtle. After fishing with and learning from my business partner Ralph Phillips, I eventually became convinced that “feel” is essential to being a successful artificial lure fisherman – especially in colder water. Ralph has the best “feel” for a bite than anyone I have ever met or heard of, except for maybe his brother Danny. He always says its because they grew up poor and when you have only one cricket, you have to make it count.
Many times, we would be fishing the same location, with the same equipment, same lures, and he would consistently pull the only, and if not the only, the bigger fish out of the hole. This puzzled me for a while, but it finally occurred to me that the bigger the trout, the softer the bite. My theory is it has more to do with their larger mouth and less likelihood of a lure contacting the mouth during the inhale and subsequent spit-out of the lure. For this reason, I also believe that many people have had a “gator” trout strike their lure, spit it out, and they never knew it. That should haunt your dreams…

I’ve fished exclusively artificial lures now for almost 7 years, and I can tell you the one fish I am most proud of catching. I was by myself on an overcast Fall morning, fishing a jig head and jerk shad on a submerged flat with not much happening. I felt a very, very subtle something just as I let the lure drop and, not sure if what I felt was real, I set the hook. A beautiful 23” spotted seatrout was the prize. Years later, I still think of that fish, and that most people (including myself a year earlier) would have never felt it.

What is “feel”, anyway? It’s something I’ve worked very hard to improve. I used to think I just had dead hands, but now that I have achieved a pretty good feel, I think it’s the sum of experience in being able to discern and identify what is contacting your lure down to the very slightest touch.  If you’re not using the right equipment and technique, then you might as well forget developing a feel. I’ve already discussed some of the key techniques in prior articles. Line management being number one, followed by moving the lure slowly, and casting accurately. If you have those mastered, let’s get you outfitted so that all you need to do is practice – you should have no other excuse.

Line – My recommendation is to use any line you want, as long as it’s 10 lb Moss Green Power Pro braid. There are a hundred braided line options out there, and maybe (probably) there are better but this line has proved time and again to be very strong, almost invisible, and most of all – reliable. If you are not using braid, any braid, you are missing the single most important (and relatively inexpensive) component to developing a feel. Using braided line you have almost no stretch and a very direct connection to your lure. To me, mono or fluoro line feels like fishing with a rubber band. We often even fish our 10 lb Power Pro tied directly to the lure. In our dingy waters here in Charleston, a leader is really not needed. It goes against the generally accepted convention, but if you could see the fish Ralph and I have caught tied direct to the lure you would become a believer. One less knot between you and the fish doesn’t hurt either.

Quality equipment makes all the difference. Here is a custom rod with Tennessee handle (phillipscustomrods.com)

Rod – A good rod is a close second in the most important category. I’d probably call it a tie. You need a very light and responsive rod. If you have ever tried a great rod, then go back to a cheap rod, you will be very disappointed. For inshore, a medium-light action rod is our recommendation, and at a minimum a fast or extra-fast tip. My personal preference is to use an extra-fast tip. Many trout anglers would disagree, and rightfully so, because of the soft mouth of trout. A fast tip will have a little extra shock absorption over an extra-fast tip. I prefer the extra-fast because I feel that it helps me be in better contact with my lure and small twitches of the rod get more directly transferred to the lure. When I catch a nice fish, I’ll handle the shock absorption by a soft grip on the rod and a loose drag. Ralph prefers a short rod, 6 ft, with ability to more accurately cast being the reason. These can be hard to find, but a 6’3” or 6’6” will suffice. Remember high school geometry? A short rod is also a shorter lever, and a small flick of the wrist will move a lure a shorter distance with a shorter lever. A very good rod will set you back at least $200 and can go much higher. Head on over to Haddrell’s Point Tackle and they can set you up with a great rod. Yeah, they are expensive, but trust me they are worth it.

If you really want to kick it up a notch, use a Tennessee handle rod. Ralph has used these rods exclusively for years. They originated by smallmouth bass fishermen, who need an excellent feel. A Tennessee handle rod has no reel seat. It’s straight cork through the handle. You literally tape the reel to the handle. But if you think of it, how is the feel of the lure transferred to you? Through your grip. By allowing a better contact of your hand to the rod, you can’t have a better connection than through a Tennessee handle. These rods are usually custom made. If interested, Ralph’s son Les makes them (phillipscustomrods.com). I own a couple, and I’m pretty sure I can feel a fish look at my lure using one.

Reels – All major reel vendors make great quality reels. As far as performance, most inshore fish don’t put too much stress on a reel. Things that I value in a reel are a smooth drag, meaning it takes very little initial pull to move the drag, and overall quality. I want my reels to last more than a season. For size, I like anything from a 1000 to a 3000 size spinning reel. As I’ve written before, go for the lowest retrieve ratio reel you can buy – it will force you to slow down your retrieve. I’ve tried all brands of reels, but I’ve had my most overall satisfaction with Shimano reels.

Now that you’re properly outfitted for artificial lure angling, it’s time to hone your skills and develop your feel. I keep on working on mine, and after a long time not fishing I still need to recalibrate. One thing’s for sure though: Next time Ralph and I get on a really subtle big trout bite, he’ll wear my sorry butt out. You can’t beat 50+ years of experience!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com

Jump Off a Cliff!

My latest Artificial Intelligence article for Coastal Angler Magazine – Charleston

It’s August in Charleston. I’m gonna be honest, the artificial lure bite is pretty difficult this month. Your best bet will be to throw topwater plugs on overcast days or before the “orange torture-ball” rises above the tree line and the fish recede to cooler, deeper waters. So, I’m going to take this month to encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and learn something new.

An entry-level low-profile baitcaster such as the Shimano Caenan is a great choice for starters

The cool thing about fishing is there is always something new to learn. When I started fishing artificial lures almost exclusively, it was a conscious decision. I decided I was going to learn how to do it, and do it well, so I committed to only fishing lures from that day on. I knew that my catching would suffer for the foreseeable future – and it did, for about a year. I’m still learning (and will be as long as I’m fishing) but I now catch more fish on artificial lures, year-round, than I ever did before. In my opinion it’s more fun, and it’s sure nice not to have to go net shrimp before every trip.

If you want to be better at fishing lures, watch the pro bass fishermen. They are the true masters, and you can learn so much by watching and learning from them. A few staples of freshwater bass fishing that my business partner Ralph Phillips adapted to saltwater fishing many years ago are use of a baitcasting reel, and a trolling motor foot control. I’d say that the majority of saltwater fishermen have never thrown a baitcaster, and I’m not sure how many others I’ve seen using a foot control. Ralph has used both for decades, and, eventually I made a commitment to learning how to use both.

If you’ve never used a low profile baitcaster, it’s basically a reel with a horizontal spool that you control mainly with thumb pressure. The result of improper technique is the dreaded “birds-nest” when the line outruns the spool, piling up line. Most times you can pick out the knots, but sometimes only a razor blade will help. There are cast control settings that help minimize bird nesting for beginners, but these typically result in shorter casting distance. The secret is to free up these cast control settings and very slightly “feather” the spool as the line is cast, and the key is to stop the spool before the lure stops. This is usually the surface of the water, or sometimes an unintended target like a tree branch. Unexpected stops are usually the source of bad bird nests. So, what’s the benefit? It’s hard to describe but its just easier to work a lure on a bait caster in my opinion. Between the ability to underhand cast and stop the line with your thumb, I feel like I can hit an area the size of a dinner plate pretty often using one, and I’ve described the importance of accurate casting in a prior article. These are some of the reasons they are popular with bass pros. You can purchase a Shimano Caenan 100 reel for about $80 or less and it’s a really good reel for the money. Get yourself one and try it.

Minn-Kota makes a really good foot control for their Ulterra and Terrova trolling motors

Ralph has always used a foot control for his trolling motor. Usually a few times a trip he would need to retie his line, light his cigar or something where I would need to jump on the trolling motor. The results were pretty comical. I would be going back and forth trying to figure out which way the motor would turn. Toe down right, or is it left? I just could not get it! Ralph wouldn’t even have to think about it, it was like an extension of his body. The thing is, just like anything new you have to be committed to it to master it. A few years ago when I bought my bay boat, I rigged it with a Minn Kota Terrova with the anchor feature, and opted for a foot control. Now that I have to use it every trip, all day long, its second nature. I can’t imagine fishing without one. The benefit is that you have both hands free to fish, and you can maneuver in tight spots with very good control. To me, it’s worth every penny.

The last thing I’d like to encourage you to try is fly fishing. Years ago, before I met Ralph, I saw people walking the marsh stalking redfish and decided I wanted to learn what this was all about. When I say I was clueless, I was clueless! I didn’t understand why the reel was all the way on the back of the rod, or anything like that. Anyway, I went out and bought a basic starter rod. The ideal rod is a 9 ft, 8 wt rod with a large arbor reel. What’s all that? Well, go to a fly shop and simply ask. They will tell you all about it. Another thing I did which was invaluable, was to take a class from Capt John Irwin (Fly Right Charters). He has been doing this for years and is currently running them through Haddrells Point Tackle. After taking that class you will feel like you know enough to get in trouble. I’ll never forget trying my best to make a passable cast, and him demonstrating (on my rod) by casting the entire fly line off the rod. To this day, I find that incredible. So, what’s the benefit to an artificial lure angler? I view a fly rod as an essential tool in my fishing toolkit. What does a fly rod excel at? The ability to launch a very light, almost weightless lure a long way. Try to cast a fly on a spinning rod or baitcaster. You can’t. There are some days, especially in cold water when the fish are keyed in on very small forage. I’ve seen many times when a school of redfish is feasting on 1” grass shrimp and they won’t look at an artificial shrimp or jig. But, if you can use a fly rod and present a little 1” brown fly to them – its on!

A fly rod is the perfect tool for when fish are feeding on tiny forage, as often happens in winter time

The overarching theme of this article is that sometimes things are hard, but there is a reward for persistence. Sometimes you need to jump off a cliff and learn to fly before you hit the ground. Or in other words maybe you need to learn to fly-fish before you go home empty-handed!

See you on the water!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com

Artificial Intelligence Article – Coastal Angler Magazine July 2020

Adventures At The Pumpkin Patch

A few years ago I owned a second home that was just 5 minutes from a boat landing south of Charleston. If you’ve ever owned a second home you already know that for all the best times there are offsetting times of worry – about bills, upkeep, storms, water, sewer, and the list goes on. While I don’t regret selling, I do really miss what were some of the best days of my life.

A typical day would be scripted like this. Get up around 5:30 am, make some coffee, and head to the landing (almost) always the first one there. I’d take off in my 1966 Boston Whaler and navigate by the slight pre-dawn light. My destination was just down the creek and around a corner – a spot I noticed on Google maps years before that I decided to check out. Turns out that would be the first spot I’d visit just about every trip for the next 7 years, it was that good. In fact I gave it a name: “Pumpkin Patch”.

What made it so good, and the things I learned while fishing it are the subject of this months article.

This spot was a bay on the end of a large flat full of oyster mounds and it was situated such that the outgoing tide would push water into it and trap bait naturally. For example, around Labor Day, there was typically so much bait that when a seagull would fly low over the rafts of bait would scatter in a spray. The bay would fill to about 3 ft deep at high tide and be dry at low. It was strewn with random oyster clusters and not surprisingly, home to a large number of redfish. Sometimes they would be schooled up in the back, sometimes working the dropoff, and sometimes bellying through the mud with their backs out of the water. After spending countless mornings there, you start to learn their typical behaviors.

The best way to target these fish was with a topwater plug. There are very few things you can experience that are more of a rush than a bull redfish charging a plug on top in less than 2 feet of water. Over the years I found that the type of plug made a big difference with these redfish. They far preferred a Rapala Skitterwalk with its large profile and low pitch knock to a Heddon Spook Jr or other high pitch rattle. If I made a random cast into the bay where I knew the fish were and worked it back at a moderate pace, it would almost never get hit. However, working it very, very slowly, moving 6 inches at a time with a long pause between would improve my odds significantly. But by far the most effective way to catch one was to hold the rod at the ready and…wait. I would wait for a fish to make a topwater strike on a real baitfish and I found that if I landed that plug within a 10 ft radius within less than 10 seconds it would almost always get hammered. My guess is that the fish thought he scattered the bait in the air and then it landed nearby, making for an easy meal. It worked for me…over and over again.

When targeting redfish on top, remember that they are built for feeding on the bottom. They must raise their heads completely out of the water or sometimes roll on their sides or upside down to get the plug. For this reason, they often miss the plug, blowing a hole in the water in the process. It’s important to be very patient and wait for a pull on your plug before setting the hook or you’ll miss your fair share of strikes. When one misses, don’t reel in. Instead, “sell” the wounded baitfish act with small twitches and pauses. More often than not they will come back to finish the deal.
With 3 or 4 redfish caught and released, I’d head back to the house around 9:30 to find the rest of the family just waking up and starting to make breakfast. Lunch or dinner would often consist of at least some “creek-to-table” food, and after a day at the beach or sandbar there wasn’t a night where I wouldn’t fall asleep exhausted only to repeat again the next day.

Over the years I had a few unusual things happen at the Pumpkin Patch, including a flounder on topwater, and a bull redfish that broke both treble hooks off a brand new Skitterwalk plug. Never underestimate the power of the crushers in the back of a bull redfish mouth!
From July through mid September, catching redfish on topwater is a fun and reliable method to focus on. I highly suggest you try it. If you read this carefully, I’ve given a number of nuggets that will help you by shortening the learning curve.

Now if you excuse me, I’m going to check the real estate listings!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com

Coastal Angler Magazine Charleston – June 2020

There is something deeply satisfying about catching a sizeable fish, handling it as if it were something valuable, getting some quality pictures, and watching it swim away healthy to spawn or perhaps be caught and released again.  If you follow us on social media (@eyestrikefishing), you know that conservation and sustainability in our fisheries are very important to us.  My motivation for this stance has always been that I want my grandchildren to enjoy a better fishery than I do.  I’ve been to northern Quebec where the fishing is almost untouched by humans and its incredible to be able to experience today what a fishery was like before overfishing.  Rather than lecture people on conservation, I try to lead by example in hopes of inspiring others to do likewise.

If you’ve lived in Charleston for at least 10 years, you know that our population increase has really put a strain on our roads in the form of traffic jams.  This is mirrored on our waterways as can be witnessed on any given weekend with boat landings at over-capacity, sand bars full, and almost every semi-obvious fishing spot being hammered all day long. 

Pressure on our fisheries is at unprecedented levels and increasing daily.  Not just with population growth, but also improvements in technology such as side-scan sonar as well as an abundance of fishing tutorials and advice on YouTube and social media.  However, our capacity for fisheries abundance is at-best fixed, and more likely diminishing with coastal development and pollution. 

Should we be surprised that numbers of fish such as flounder, red drum, and speckled trout are on the decline?  Our catch and creel limits are simply not keeping up with reality.  I think everyone’s idea of what a good fishery is, is relative.  For example, I’ve fished in Charleston for 15 years and I’ve noticed a decline.  But my business partner Ralph Phillips has fished here for 50 years – and the stories he tells of what it used to be like are almost unbelievable in today’s world.  We need to listen carefully to folks like Ralph who have witnessed it firsthand.

I realize this seems like “Doom and Gloom” but I believe there’s hope to ensure our grandchildren have something to catch in the future.  What can we all do, today, to make a difference?  We can set our own personal catch and creel limits that are more restrictive than the law allows. 

I made a personal commitment about 8 years ago that I would observe an upper-slot of 20” for speckled trout.  When I would catch one over 20”, I would take a pic and describe on social media and forums that I released it and why.  Over time, I have had many people including some I have never met before say they do it too because they read my posts. 

There are many compelling reasons to release larger fish.  Some reasons specific to speckled trout:

  • Almost all trout over 20” are female
  • 20” trout are rare; They are approximately 4 years old. If you start with 1000 trout at year 0, its estimated that 8 will remain after 4 years
  • Egg production increases exponentially with larger trout. A 20” trout releases around 20 million eggs annually
  • Probably superior genetics allowed a trout to reach 20”. Maybe it was resistance to cold, resistance to disease, or simply that they grew faster – its important to let these fish pass on these genetics through spawning

I was discussing my personal upper slot on the Eastern Current podcast (https://youtu.be/uSG6KIrjDv0) recently and Joe Neely from CCA North Carolina was listening.  We had some discussions and decided to formalize this concept into what we are calling Release Over 20”.  We are proud to say it will be a major initiative for CCA in North Carolina (https://ccanc.org/whatisro20/) and we are hoping that we can even make an impact on a national level.

We are not saying to release all fish.  We ourselves enjoy a few fish for dinner, but let’s carefully handle and release the big ones.  Another obvious benefit of releasing big fish, is more larger fish to catch for recreational anglers.  Who wouldn’t want to catch more “gator” trout and doormat flounder? 

Not all will agree, but if you do, we would love you to follow our Instagram page @releaseover20 and get a sticker to display at eyestrikefishing.com.  The stickers are sold at cost.  Through our social media we will have some great incentives to participate – for example, we have already given away a free fishing charter to one lucky winner.

If we can get enough people to buy in to Release Over 20”, I believe we can make a noticeable difference, not just in Charleston, but around the country.  I hope you will join us. 

I’ll close with a quotation sent by Joe at CCA NC that is appropriate to our initiative:

Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching – even when doing the wrong thing is legal” – Aldo Leopold

See you on the water, but not on Saturday!

Salt Strong Podcast: Release Over 20 Initiative

Recently I had the honor of being interviewed on the Salt Strong podcast on the subject of our Release Over 20″ Initiative.  I love podcasts because they let people talk on subjects in detail so you understand better what its all about.  This is a great example.  Thanks to Joe Simonds for reaching out to me.  There are a lot of good comments and discussion on their site.

 

Release Over 20″ Update

Release Over 20″ is taking off in a great way, and we are ready to announce some great incentives to participate.  There are different categories to participate.

Recreational Anglers and Guides – You can now enter your Release Over 20″ trout in our contest and (optionally) receive a FREE Release Over 20″ decal, and each entry gets a chance to win our quarterly contest for a prize pack from our corporate sponsors.  We only ask for the minimal information and won’t share your personal information with anyone.  We just want to see how many trout are released by state as a result of our initiative.  Professional Guides can be entered to track how many have been released on your boat, to see who has the most releases by state.  If you sign up as a guide company endorsing the program we will put your information on our site and promote it on our social media.  How to enter: Simply take a pic of your Release Over 20 on your smart phone, and go to releaseover20.com (Hint: Make an icon to it on your home screen).  Enter your information.  It takes only a few seconds and can be done on the boat.

Corporations – If you believe in the cause and would like to be promoted, please send us some in-kind donations for our giveaway prize packs.  We plan to do the giveaways quarterly, so 4 donations per year is required if possible.  Just contact us to get involved.

Our first quarterly prize pack. Will be drawn at the end of June and is provided by Eye Strike Fishing!

Coastal Angler Mag Charleston Article for May

“Threading the Needle”

This is the 27″ fish described in Scenario #1

Each year, a group of friends and I rent an AirBNB on the water and have a “guys weekend” full of fishing, cooking and a little beer drinking. Over the years, the group has changed and includes an interesting mix of different people and has become a group who otherwise might have never met but have become all good friends over the years.

Understandably, a good portion of them aren’t the most experienced at fishing, much less with artificial lures. I always step into the role of fishing coach on our trips and try to offer help on how to present the lure so they have some luck. I also watch carefully to try to understand why they aren’t catching, if I can. Sometimes, the fish won’t cooperate, no matter who you are!

Always, by the end of the trip, and year-to-year, I can see their skills get better each time. On our first outing last year, we were working a typical creek lined with docks and piers. I was showing them where fish were likely to be and where to cast. At each “spot” I gave them first shot at it. But in short time, I had an inshore slam, and my guests had nothing. Why? We were using similar rods and reels, and often the same jig head and soft plastic lure.

To be successful at using artificial lures, it’s all in the details. Based on my observations on this trip, the number one reason was casting accuracy. My guests simply were not able to hit the spot needed to present the lure to where a fish was likely to be. I’d say, in order to be successful, you need to be able to hit a spot the size of a 3 foot diameter circle with good regularity. If you can’t do it the first time, every time, then if you can do it within 2 or 3 tries, that’s good enough. Obviously, get that accuracy down to the size of a dinner plate, and all the better.

Here are two scenarios where it really mattered that day. It was a bright, sunny early November day, and the water was still a little warm. We pulled up to a dock with a steep, rubble filled bank. I pointed out a shadowy area between the bank and the first piling. I asked my guests to cast there, and, they couldn’t hit it after several tries. I made a cast and thread it between the dock and bank, let it drop for a second and … 27” redfish.

Scenario 2, we were fishing that same pattern with very good success (that’s a topic for another article) and came to a dock with a similar bank, but a floating dock running parallel to shore. After working the floater with no luck, I slipped my Sportsman bay boat between the floater and the bank. I instructed my guests to cast under the pier in the shadow. Again, they struggled to hit the spot. I made a cast in the intended spot and found a school of puppy red drum in there.

My point is that it’s one thing to know where to cast, but you need to be able to hit it. You can practice in your living room or back yard at any time. Being an accurate caster can make the difference between no fish, and dozens of fish.

And, my guests? They all caught plenty of fish with a few days of on-the-water practice. Next time, they will arrive rusty, but will pick up where they left off in short order. They will lose a few jigs in the meantime, but luckily I know someone in the business!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com

Release Over 20″ Initiative

We are proud to finally announce an initiative we have been working on with CCA North Carolina, called Release Over 20″.  In essence, its encouraging people to release all speckled trout over 20″ and committing to making 20″ your own personal upper-slot – Even if the law allows.  Rather than explain further, we discussed it in detail on the latest Eastern Current podcast, which can be watched here.  Follow @releaseover20 on instagram and/or Facebook/groups/releaseover20 to join the movement!

Watch the story on @judbrockfishing on instagram to qualify to win a free guided trip for trout.  Entries are open now till next Friday. 

Thanks!

Clack, Clack, Splash!

My article for the April edition of Coastal Angler Magazine – Charleston

This 25″ Charleston Speckled Trout was caught on an as-yet to be released product, a Texas Eye Finesse jig

Launching in the pre-dawn, we turn on the nav lights and head cautiously to our desired spot: A gravelly shallow point, with the outgoing tide pushing against it. We shut down the big motor far from the bank, and ease in slowly and quietly on the trolling motor. We make a long cast, guessing at the distance to the bank as we can’t really see where our topwater plugs will land. A turkey gobbles in the nearby woods as we listen to our plugs clack-clack, with random pauses. Suddenly a splash, and drag peels off the reel. Unseen, we are left to guess at the size based on the frequency of the head-shakes. This is the essence of trout fishing in April.

Now through June will be your best opportunity to catch your biggest speckled trout of the year. The big ones are almost always female and need to fatten up for the spring spawn – thus they are feeding on larger baits. Your best chance for a gator trout on artificial will be using a topwater plug, or suspending lure. Jig heads and soft plastics will also work but require, in my opinion, more skill to catch the big girls.

Thanks to our friend Chris Bush, of the Speckled Truth on social media, we know more than ever about how to target large trout. We know that your best chance of catching a big one will be a few days either side of the full and new moons, corresponding to solunar periods. In Charleston, solunar periods generally correspond to the high and low tides, along with sunrise and sunset.

In my personal experience, I believe that big trout only feed in short windows of time – approximately 30 -45 minutes. What causes the switch to be flipped, I wish I knew, but I have some theories. Anyone can catch a big trout by chance, but to catch them on purpose is a whole different thing. First of all, you need to be where big trout live, with the right lure in the water, when the feeding window opens. This is often more of a grind than most people are willing to commit to. Are you willing to go all day without a bite, in hopes of catching a 25+ inch trout? There is no shame in not being that committed, but that’s often what it takes.

Where do big trout live? Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but they seem to hang around very hard structure near deep water. What are some examples? Rock walls, concrete, gravel, etc. There are examples literally everywhere in Charleston.

I’ll close with a conservation message. It’s very important that big trout be handled carefully and released to spawn. The number of eggs in a large trout is exponentially more than smaller trout. They reached their size by being especially fast growing, resistant to cold or disease, etc. Therefore, it’s important to allow them to propagate these superior genetics to ensure great trout fishing for years to come.
Launch early, and we may see you there. Sleeping in is for teenagers!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com

Tom & Huck go to Texas

Something we have tried to do each year is take a destination fishing trip.  Our first adventure was to Louisiana to fish with our Team Eye Strike member Jud Brock.  Our report from that trip can be seen here.  In 2019 I went to NC to fish with the Speckled Specialist Ricky Kellum for gator trout.  Ralph unfortunately wasn’t able to make that trip.  On our short list was a visit to big trout mecca, a.k.a. the Laguna Madre in southern Texas.  We decided to go at one of the best times of year at the best time of month to catch a true giant trout.  

I asked for a guide recommendation from our friend Chris Bush, founder of The Speckled Truth – a great organization dedicated to the pursuit and conservation of big trout.  His recommendation was Capt. Wayne Davis out of Port Mansfield, Texas.  I contacted him and we batted around some dates, ending up with 3rd week of February near the full moon.  Ralph nor I have ever wade-fished for trout, so Wayne was great at answering my stupid questions without making me feel like an idiot.  With travel arrangements made, we waited patiently for the big day, hoping for good weather.

On our way to Big Trout Mecca

I was kind of afraid to look, but a few days out from our trip, sure enough a huge front was predicted for our fishing window.  With great weather, we would have had a chance to wade from shore on Thursday afternoon, then had 2 full days of fishing Friday and Saturday.  As it turned out, it looked as though we might get a few hours to fish Friday afternoon, then Saturday looked doable.  Thursday, no way.

The wind map on Friday morning – Whipping!

We flew into Harlingen, Texas – a small town near the Mexican border and rented a car.  On recommendation from Capt Wayne and a friend, we hit a grocery store and stocked up on food for the weekend.  The drive was about 45 minutes to Port Mansfield through huge open space full of windmills and pasture.  Port Mansfield is very small and literally 25 miles from any other town.  The first thing we noticed was all the deer around.  Some really big bucks just walking around acting like neighborhood dogs.  The wind was howling, so we drove around town getting our bearings and settled into our rental house.  

Port Mansfield has some unusual dogs

We met up with Wayne and made a plan.  Friday morning was a loss, with maybe a few hours doable in the afternoon.  He lent us a few rods and we spend Friday fishing from shore where we could and not really having any luck – but it helped pass the time.  The weather did finally break mid-afternoon but we opted to pass and make a full day of it Saturday.  I requested that we focus on big trout, since we can catch big redfish pretty much any day in our home waters.  We knew that meant we would probably be grinding and also that we might leave empty handed.  But, the chance at a big fish is why we came all the way to Texas to fish.

Ready to Roll

Because the weather and water was still pretty cold we didn’t leave the marina till around 9 am, and got in Wayne’s SCB boat.  These rigs are designed for the lagoon, ie very shallow water and ability to hop in and out to wade.  Wading is a really cool experience.  We got in the knee deep water and fanned out about 100 yards apart and started working the flat.  You wade down-wind and after we got a certain distance, Wayne raised the Power Poles on his rig and let it drift back to us.  You could barely make out large mats of sea grass though the wind whipped water but you could feel them on your jig as you fan cast the area.  

Wayne is owner of KWigglers lures, so we fished his plastics on our jig heads most of the day.  The KWigglers have a fairly large profile but matched well with our 2/0 TroutEye jigs.  At this first stop I had my first Texas fish, a rat redfish.  This spot was a bit slow, so we moved on to a spot where only the big girls reside.

First Texas Fish

This area was a sandy bottom only about shin deep with no discernible structure.  We covered a few areas here with nothing to show, until I saw Wayne climb aboard his boat and pick up Ralph.  They started idling my way, when I got slammed!  The line shot sideways, slicing the water then ran straight at me.  I reeled like a mad-man trying to stay tight.  The fish struggled on the surface and threw the lure back at me…ugh!  I never did get a good look at it, but it seemed like a really nice fish.  

Later in the afternoon we made a long run and immediately started to see bait fish everywhere.  As we poled down and slipped out of the boat, I noticed the footing was much more difficult to walk in.  I was sinking a few inches some times, so Wayne suggested that Ralph stay in the boat.  He would drift the boat downwind while we waded, allowing Ralph to fish the area also.  

We were encountering some grass patches, so I switched my lure to a Texas Eye 1/8 oz jig.  Texas Eyes need the right plastic to allow a good hookup ratio, so I paired it with a 4″ Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ in Nuked Pilchard color – a setup I’ve done well here in Charleston on for big trout.  I started working the area, and I got a sudden thump.  The fish tore off line in a fast run, then raised its head up and shook its big head.  I yelled “I got a giant!” and Wayne started walking toward me and coaching me through the fight.  I made sure to stay tight with rod held high and to back off the drag when she got close.  When I saw this fish it took my breath away.  It seemed like forever until I could get my Boga Grip to find its mouth and only at that point could I relax and celebrate.  Wow what a fish.  

My Texas Trophy, just under 28″ and fat!

You couldn’t script it better.  A Texas giant speckled trout on a Texas Eye jig!  Wayne took some great pictures, and I promised to keep the pics quiet because it had a chance to make the cover of Texas Saltwater Fishing magazine.  Alas, it didn’t make the cover, but he did feature it in his column in the magazine.  We participated in Wayne’s “Empty Stringers” program and gladly released this fish.

One of the best parts was that it qualified as a Speckled Truth Citation fish for Texas.  I received my sticker today, and am currently planning on how to make a picture frame to commemorate the catch.  

We finished the day catching a few smaller fish and a few redfish.  A great way to end the trip.

Ralph and Capt Wayne doubled-up! Look how shallow it was.

I’m truly thankful that I was able to land such a trophy.  It’s very lucky to do so with one day of fishing under fairly tough conditions.  Capt Wayne deserves full credit for leading me to this fish, one that I will never forget.  Can’t wait to return to the Lower Laguna Madre.  Just the opportunity to hook into a 7 lb + trout any given day is an amazing thing.