Off the Road … For a Few Days, Anyway

My sincere apologies for the delay in posting as of late. The “field offices” have been mighty busy.

I have been on the road for the better part of eight weeks, beginning with an incredible nine-day Princess cruise with wife Liz up Alaska’s Inside Passage and moving on to, among other places, Lake Conroe (catfishing with guide Tex Bonin and friends Capt. Wayne Vinton and Don Netek), Smith Point and East Galveston Bay (with Capts. Steve Dye and Pat McLennan) and Port Mansfield (with Capts. Charlie Buchen and Walt Kittelberger).26-inch Speckled Trout

I’ll be covering all of these trips and more in the weeks to come, as well as a few of the thousand or so photos that I have been fortunate enough to add to my ever-growing image bank. (Many thanks, by the way, to Dave Aitken for shooting this photo of Yours Truly.)

As an inveterate saltwater fisherman, one who especially likes to catch big fish from shallow water, I feel obliged to first share with you the highlight of last week’s trip to Port Mansfield. With the cooperation of the Port Mansfield Chamber of Commerce and participating guides, the help of Jim Kneer of Cabela’s Buda and James Powell from the store’s Nebraska headquarters, and last but not least, Debbie and Ed Freeman of the Sunset House (1-800-311-4250), who shared some first-class accommodations, Dave Aitken and I enjoyed back-to-back days of fishing the flats (a planned offshore venture was cancelled due to high winds … nothing new about that this year).

Capt. Charlie Buchen, who was originally going to take us offshore, instead opted to take Dave and me out on the flats in style via his Air Ranger airboat. Just riding on one of these things is a blast. The fact that it will get you to places, and fishing spots that others literally cannot access is no small factor, either.

I’d love to tell you exactly where we ended up, but to be honest, the network of sloughs and drainages was a vast and indistinguishable maze south of Port Mansfield Harbor. It was primo fishing terrain, and Buchen (956-944-2434), an experienced and longtime Port Mansfield pro, took us to what is arguably the ultimate wading venue in the state … if, that is, you are fortunate enough to find it on the right day at the right time.

Massive rainfall in recent days coupled with a strong outgoing tide to carve a narrow, thin pass between a large and (by Mansfield standards) deep lagoon and an adjacent flat that was in most places less than a foot deep. The tidally-created canal was loaded with finger mullet, every one of them going with the current flow toward the mouth of what I can best call a “microdelta.”

The current had cut a noticeable ledge on the opposite side of the delta mouth, against which both the mullet and a fluttering wall of loose vegetation had stacked up to provide a break from the current. I spent about 10 minutes shooting photos of the unique and promising coastal terrain while Dave and Capt. Buchen waded the shoreline to the north. Upon hearing the mullet … once again … getting smacked by predators, I finally set down the Nikon long enough to pick up a lightweight spinning rig I had carried with me (7-foot Kistler medium-light “Magnesium” rod fitted with a small Daiwa spinning reel, 10-pound-test Trilene XL, a length of 20-pound-test Vanish fluorocarbon leader and a red-and-white PRADCO “Yum” soft plastic shadtail on a 1/8-ounce jighead tied via a loop knot).

It took all of a 30-second wait to see a mullet visibly attacked. I cast the bait beyond the channel, pulled it midway into its center and let it tumble with the current. The strike was immediate, a healthy, 21-inch speckled trout.

It always makes me nervous to catch a fish on the first cast.

Catching one on the second cast is even better (or worse, depending upon your outlook).  I sure as hell wasn’t complaining, especially once I realized this was a better-than-average fish. It had crashed the mullet, and its long, shadowy profile presented a clear target.

The water was so shallow the trout was actually able to gain leverage by thrashing its tail on the bottom and digging in its jaw. The little spinning reel helplessly surrendered line. Since it was only 10-pound-test, I backed off the drag. The next two minutes was sheer fishing fun, enough to more than justify the 750-mile round trip from Seabrook in what were questionable weather conditions at best.

The fish measured 26 inches.

That trout is shown here. As for details, much more will be explained, illustrated and described in the October, 2007 issue of Salt Water Sportsman via a feature I am writing on how to approach and probe coastal “microdeltas.”

This experience lent some great material as well to a Texas Sporting Journal story I have been working on for several months. It has to do with spinning tackle, and the fact that, despite the contentions of many dedicated baitcasters, “coffee-can” tackle actually offers a great many advantages to the opportunistic angler who knows how and when to make it tick. You gotta love light tackle. Plus, I have long been convinced that more delicate presentations set the stage for a much higher percentage of strikes.

Again, my apologies for the delay in posting as of late. Internet connections have been tough to come by in the past month or so … but rest assured, I am not complaining. Now, if we can only see what will happen when the weather finally stabilizes.

Meanwhile, I have plenty to share, from hyperactive Lake Conroe catfish and hand-sized bluegills on “fluorescent” nightcrawlers (fed SureLife Labs’ “Worm-Glo”) to a surprising and super-sporty bunch of blacktip sharks that interrupted a recent morning on East Galveston Bay with Capt. Pat McLennan and my good friend and noted sporting artist, Mark Mantell. The toothy predators hammered offshore-size Black Salty baitfish, and (again) on lightweight spinning gear, presented a bona fide definition of light-tackle saltwater fishing.


I hope you’ll check in, and touch base with an adventure of your own when you can.

Tight lines and safe fishing to all …


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