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   December 26, 2004
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Texas Sportsman Magazine
Texas' 2003 Fishing Calendar

Port Aransas
There is not a more beautiful fish in salt water than a luminescent, glowing green-and-violet dolphin that's fighting its way to the boat - except maybe 100 beautiful, glowing dolphin, swarming together behind their hooked companion in an explosion of color. As limits have become more restrictive on species like red snapper and kingfish, dolphin have become the "sure thing" that more and more Gulf skippers count on to make a trip offshore. Without limits, and as one of the best "eating" fish in the Gulf, dolphin have lots of admirers. That's no reason to harvest more than you can enjoy, but it is all the more reason to make these fish the centerpiece of a trip offshore, instead of an afterthought.

Work every bit of floating debris and every shrimp boat until you find these brilliant-green game fish. Culling shrimp boats can offer other "distractions" like kings, sharks and tuna. Almost any small flashy bait will work, although bigger baits are suitable for bigger bull dolphin. Once a dolphin is hooked, keep it in the water to draw and hold others close.

Speckled Trout
Matagorda Island Surf
There are monsters lurking in the breakers just off the Matagorda Island surf. These are not sea monsters, but monster speckled trout that have grown fat, heavy and huge on the bounty of the Gulf. These surf-run trout are most accessible in the hot still dog days of August, when the morning winds drop and the surf turns flat and slick.

Wait for a calm "green surf" day, and head south from Pass Cavallo or north from Port Aransas into the Gulf. Follow the beach and watch for working baitfish like jumping mullet. Some anglers wade the surf with success, while most others anchor up outside the second bar and cast into the first gut for trout in pursuit of baitfish.

Plugs, spinners and plastic bait-tails are all effective, but live croaker are especially deadly. Besides trout, expect to hook some bull reds and more than your share of line-sizzling blacktip sharks. The small blacktips (2 to 4 feet) will be a handful and have sharp teeth, so unhook them carefully. They are also superb when filleted and grilled, in case you want a bonus to your trout filet! If you're wading, be sure to use a long stringer to keep trout away from your legs, should a shark decide to sample your catch.

Aransas Channel
Ever hear of a "redfish rodeo?" It's a regular event each fall in a few select spots on the Texas Gulf Coast. And the "bulls" there are just as wild and mean as any you'll see trying to throw a cowboy.

Each September, huge schools of oversized redfish gather in the flats and channels approaching the Port Aransas jetties as the fish prepare to move into the Gulf and spawn. Here they will mill and feed for days, sometimes weeks, awaiting the rough waves and churning surf that draws them to the Gulf to spawn. Try first to find the schools on the flats adjacent to the Aransas channel. Often they'll gather in slightly deeper water, like the California Hole.

Savvy anglers will watch for "nervous water" or for cruising fish themselves. Cast live mullet, shrimp, a spoon or plastic bait-tail just ahead of the school and hang on! When one angler hooks up, everyone in the boat can cast into the same school and quickly hook fish. Because the school will move off but stay in the same area, it's possible to follow them with a trolling motor and hook up again and again. Some Coastal Bend guides are experts at actually herding the schools of big reds back and forth on the flats until everyone limits out!

If you can't find the schools on the flats, move out to the Port A jetties and anchor up for some heavyweight action. Fish chunks of big cut mullet in deep holes off the rocks and hang on. Here you'll find the huge 35- to 40-inch "tagger" reds that demand respect and heavy tackle.

Hybrid Stripers
Lake Ray Hubbard
Ray Hubbard may be the best fishing hole in Texas that lies within 20 minutes of a major metropolitan area. Just 20 miles from downtown Dallas, this water supply lake is home to some of the state's largest hybrid stripers. Ray Hubbard produced our 19.66-pound state record hybrid.

While traditional tactics including fishing live bait and using electronics to find shad over deep structure work earlier in the year, fall brings "the birds" to Ray Hubbard. Big flocks of sea gulls will gather over huge schools of shad being herded to the surface by both hybrids and big white bass. Casting a big shad or small plug into the melee almost assures a slashing strike. And until that first run, you won't know if you've hooked a 12-inch white bass or a 12-pound hybrid!

Related Resources
  • Texas Turkey Outlook
  • Lone Star Bass Forecast
  • Texas' 2003 Deer Outlook
    Speckled Trout
    West Galveston Bay
    "Of all the bays in the Galveston system, it's the best in the winter," guide George Knighten (281-339-5351) says of West Galveston Bay. Deeper water, including the Intracoastal Canal and its earlier predecessor, offers protection from cold weather for big sea trout. The bay also includes lots of shell, which attracts and holds baitfish.

    The deep areas are silted in some, but it's still deeper than the area around it, and everything is relative when it comes to depth. It's only 6 to 10 feet at its deepest. Green's Cut, a pass that fish take from the bay into the Intracoastal when temperatures plunge, is another excellent winter fishing spot.

    Mild spells between cold fronts will draw trout into shallow coves on the backside of Galveston Island. Big trout, to 8 pounds, will feed heavily on mullet there as the shallow water warms first. Wading the pockets while throwing big mullet-imitation plugs or Corkys can be very effective, as long as they suspend or sink very slowly.

    In deeper water, watch for and fish the oyster reefs. There's lots of it, but keep moving and you'll find trout. Try near North and South Deer Islands and on west.

    Cedar Creek Reservoir
    Cedar Creek is one of the best crappie lakes in that area of Texas, especially as the big slabs gather up in cold weather before spawning season. It's a large, turbid lake with lots of flooded timber and lots of forage fish. Moderate fishing pressure allows crappie to survive long enough to grow large. Rich runoff from the Trinity River watershed helps the baitfish, and the crappie that feed on them, grow fat. There's plenty of timber to keep the angler busy, but there are several spots that make it easier to find the makings of a fish fry.

    Bridges crossing the lake concentrate fish moving up creek channels, and they're good places to anchor up and ambush schools of slabs. Or use your depthfinder to follow creek channels, looking for brushpiles where tributaries flow into the main creek channels. While shiners are always effective, working small crappie jigs just off the bottom will let you cover more territory until you find the slabs. Keep moving and keep jigging and eventually you'll be filling a cooler with crappie!

    * * *

    Now how could anyone go wrong with fishing advice like that? I'd say fishermen following this trail of lakes are in for a year of great angling!

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