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Author: Ed Lawrence
Undisturbed, excellent inshore fishing, characterizes Matagorda Bay, Texas.
Boy, do I hate to call home when it's snowing, or the temperature is in the teens, and I'm somewhere warm.
Take last Friday, for instance. I was stuck in a small motel in Bay City, Texas, near the Colorado River, east Matagorda Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico. I was thoroughly pooped after a long, tough day at the office. We left the dock about the time the sun was brightening the horizon, then spent hours with Captain Jesse Arsola of Reel-Life Adventures wading the flats in search of speckled trout and anything else we could entice into a net. Also learned the "Matagorda Bay shuffle" and exposed my body to a November chill that hovered at 70-something degrees. Work was tough.
The wife was unsympathetic.
"It's seven above here and there's a foot of snow on the driveway," she said, disdainful of my working conditions.
"Well, I guess we'll both have to play the hands we are dealt," I told her. I did not mention that I'd probably be forced to choke down another slab of tender Texas beef at the K - 2 Steakhouse before the night was over.
"Well, you take care," I said before hanging up. "And stay warm."
That's how it is in Matagorda County almost year round. Warm temperatures in the spring and fall that get very toasty during summer months. Fresh ocean breezes. Good food at affordable prices. More different species of photogenic birds than anywhere else in the Lower 48. Other places in western Texas may get more press, but after spending two days with Captain Jesse I'm convinced the fishing is as exciting and the crowds smaller in the Matagorda end of the world. You can count on finding catchable fish, whether casting a surface lure, shiny spinner, trolling with some type of crank bait, or tossing a fly.
Matagorda County is located in the coastal bend area of Texas where the Colorado River meets the Gulf of Mexico, and intercoastal highway. It's only a 90-minute drive from downtown Houston.
The three most popular towns for fishermen are Bay City, Palacios, (the shrimp capital of Texas), and Matagorda. Bay City is full of historic attractions, including many of the original commercial and residential buildings. Matagorda Harbor, which is located on the Intercoastal Waterway, features four boat ramps, dry storage for boats, plus a bait shop and RV park. Palacios is the spot to access the Tres Palacios River and Bay, Turtle Bay, Oyster Lake, and west Matagorda Bay.
The bay is protected by a 50 miles long peninsula bordering the Gulf, of which 30 miles is accessible only by boat. That reduces the fishing population at the southern edge, and definitely reduces the odds of fistfights at the best fishing holes. The rest of the good news is that visitors can hook up with one of 50 guides who know the fishes' feeding habits, and where they hang out.
That morning, after blasting across the bay at 35 miles per hour, the captain killed the engine and anchored his 24 - foot boot at least one mile from shore.
"OK, boys. Hop in," he said.
"Hop in?" we asked.
"Sure. The water's only knee deep," he said, poking an oar into the soft bottom of the bay to illustrate.
He was right. Standing in knee deep water with no trees to interfere with our casts, or logs under the surface, we simply placed lures in the landing spots of birds following the schooling trout. It paid off. In the first hour of fishing we netted several lively one - three pounders that rewarded our efforts by thrashing and splashing on the surface before allowing themselves to meet our net.
"Those are small, though," Captain Jesse said. Seems as though the record speckled trout caught in Matagorda County weighed in just shy of 13 pounds. Folks in this neck of the water do keep track of their catch. Mrs. Eddie Porter, for instance, holds the Texas record for the largest tripletail, a 33 pounder she landed before lunch. Other records are a 45 - pound black drum, and 23 - pound redfish.
Then, we were off to the weed beds. Though the bay is protected by the peninsula and has few access points, it is affected by tides. So, fishing the inlets on the ebb increases the odds of finding them along the edges of grass - covered islands.
"Just cast right to the edge of the grass on the island," the captain instructed. "Fish lay in there because that's where it is easy to find food, and they are protected from birds."
Jesse was right again, and we spent the hours before lunch making 20 - 30 foot casts and catching fish frequently enough to avoid the frustration that comes with fishing, as opposed to catching.
Along the way, we learned the 'Matagorda Shuffle', which is much less complicated than a tango or rumba. Since the bottom of the bay is populated by sting rays whose appearance is similar to the bottom, doing the shuffle translated to disturbing the seabottom enough to allow the little critters to flee before your arrival.
"Otherwise, their sting can be very painful," the captain said.
No problem. We shuffled, and spent two days without a close call. Reeled in scads of specks, and a few redfish.
Naturally, the big one, a large amberjack we had alongside the boat, broke the line and disappeared.
Will I return? You bet. Tournaments are held monthly from March - October. I might make the "Texas Oilman's" charity tournament in June, women's "Lingerie on the Bay" inshore tournament in July, or "Big, Bad, Ugly" shark tournament in August.
But first I must deal with the snow in the driveway.
What to bring: