- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
Late summer can be a time of boom or bust for speckled trout anglers. At that time, many interior waters become quite turbid due to plankton and algae blooms. Compounding that problem are the muddy tracks from shrimp trawls criss-crossing shallow interior bays like a drop of pick-up-sticks before they disperse into the building murk, which holds heat much better than clear water. And need I say it gets pretty hot along the Gulf coast in September! For sure, the entire coast is not so totally afflicted, but where it is, specks can have a pretty hard time making a living.
So many of them move from the interior to larger "outside" waters.
I began fishing for specks in Texas' Aransas Bay—one of that state's chain of large outer bays—and made consistently productive late-summer trips there for over three decades. After moving to the lower Mississippi River Delta I operated a petroleum facility in Black Bay—an extension of Breton Sound—and when my operation was progressing favorably, I caught specks in almost sinful numbers! Late summer, not so incidentally, was one of the best times of the year for doing just that!
Shells are prime speck structure in sounds and large "outside" bays. Looks for large willow branches or vertical lengths of PVC pipe sticking up from the bottom.
This was the case around some gas wells in the nearshore Gulf, where my wife and I would slay 'em at a time we when inshore speck waters were practically vacant! All of those areas are pretty big water, and that's the first step to consistently catching specks in many areas now.
"Big water" can be divided into three categories: bays (some of which are called "lakes"), sounds, and the open Gulf. Normally the best bays are adjacent to a sound or the Gulf and frequently have two specific types of fish-attracting structure: submerged grass and shells, either clams or oysters or both. These can be detected visually, with a depth recorder (or very carefully with a rod's tip), or by lengths of PVC pipe or long willow branches driven into the bay's bottom to define oyster leases. They are usually best worked by drift-fishing or power-drifting with a trolling motor. Also, any islands in the bay may have productive drop-offs or even flats around them, and accumulations of junk such as sunken boats, derelict oil-field odds and ends, dilapidated fishing camps, and so forth, are always worth prospecting. And keep an ear tuned for the sound of squawking gulls, which may be diving on shrimp being driven to the surface by a school of specks.
The Big Three
Action in large outside bays can be very dependant on moving water. For late-summer purposes, a rising tide is often best, as a falling tide can flood outer areas with grungy interior effluent. On the other hand, a falling tide with good water clarity can generate the best action around, especially near points and the mouths of tidal cuts emptying into the bay. Ask the guys at the marina where you launch what is presently the best tide for that area and concentrate your efforts then. That way you won't be fishing during unproductive periods, get burned out, and quit before things start happening!
Sounds—which include any bays that make up a part of their perimeter—can be considerably deeper than nearby outside bays and lack the vegetation often found there. However, shells are common and are frequently found in the form of large, firm reefs. Nevertheless, they are not easily located without a depth recorder or a school of specks suddenly driving shrimp to the surface above one. Mark any you find with GPS waypoints so that you can stay on them and return to them later.
Petroleum facilities in sounds and large outside bays can provide fast action with late-summer specks.
Another form of speck structure found in sounds is oil field related: wells and production facilities. While these are also found in large outside bays, the increased water depth in a sound demands a little more refinement in one's technique. And on that note, let me avow that yes, there are some pretty deep "outside bays" around that should be worked in the same fashion!
The wells themselves found in a sound normally make only second-rate speck structure. However, it is quite likely that at least some of them were drilled by a rig that did not have enough freeboard to operate in the water's depth. When that was the case, a rectangular shell "pad" was constructed tall enough to give the rig sufficient freeboard while resting atop it, and shell pads are first-rate speck structure! In some cases their presence can be determined by two parallel rows of piling clusters extending away from one side of the well. Otherwise they must be discovered with the depth recorder.
At dead idle speed, circle the well at a distance of around 30 yards while watching the recorder's screen. If you see a sharp bottom-rise, then a level plateau of sorts for 60 feet or so, and then an abrupt descent, then you have found a pad. Note the direction it runs from the well along with the well's lease description, number, and owner—or drop a GPS waypoint. There may not be fish around or on top of the pad that particular day, but it's a place to speculate every trip that you are in the area—and not just during late summer. One of the best ways you can ensure good action in this type of water is to have a list of wells with shell pads in a particular area. Keep it confidential, too!
No need to wait for the fall inshore feeding binge. There's prime late-summer action if you target big water.
In isolated cases shell pads can be found alongside offshore wells, but those are normally drilled by rigs, which don't require a pad. Still, those "pad-less" wells can be productive, since just about anything rising through the Gulf's water column is lifetime guaranteed to attract fish of some sort! Here, specks are common, but while they can be found around any well on any given day, they tend to associate with particular wells. Finding them therefore requires some prospecting. Normally they will be near bottom, so the main concern is getting the lure down to them in any current that is present before it is swept away. Still, use just enough weight to accomplish that goal—too much is as bad as too little.
Approach an offshore well at dead idle, do your utmost to tie off to the well's protective cribbing—not to the well itself! —on the first attempt, and do not rev your motor while doing so. Even if all that is heeded and the boat is secured on the first try, the fish must be given time to settle down from the disturbance that was still made a very short distance from them. After all, it's awfully hard to mask the presence of a 20-foot boat only 20 feet or so above the fish. Still, try! And be patient; sometimes it takes 15 minutes or more for the fish to begin to bite. If no action arises within a half-hour, though, try another well.
The Night Life
Another option the oil field offers late-summer fishermen occurs after dark under the lights of production facilities, which can be found in all three types of big water. This is a great way to beat the heat, and though the action is usually created by fillet-makers rather than brutes, it is quite reliable. Anchor on the up-current side of the brightest-lit water you can detect or near lighted water where you see fish feeding on the surface. Cast across the lighted water into darkness, and retrieve the lures in to and through the lighted water. This is a great topwater opportunity, but treble hooks, nighttime (even under lights) and thrashing fish make for a risky combination. Should you fly-fish, a size 1 popper about 3 inches long just might give you the time of your life!
While jig/soft-plastic combos in - to ⅜-ounce sizes should cover most bases in all three settings during late summer, live baits can save a trip, especially when fishing around wells in the sounds and offshore. Four- to 6-inch mullet, killifish, and barbecuing-sized shrimp are all good choices. Use a fish-finder (Carolina) rig, hooking the finfish through the lips with a single hook and the shrimp through the rostral keel with a treble.
A lot of anglers along the Gulf coast don't fish for specks in late summer, preferring to wait it out until autumn's inshore blitz begins. They sure miss a lot! Target big water—near and including the ocean—and you'll see!