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Sabine's Fall Flounder

by Robert Sloan

 

CURRENT MOON
lunar phases

Catch the Run
 
The mud hump was almost visible at the mouth of the tiny canal draining into the feeder bayou that led to Sabine Lake.

"That's exactly what we're looking for,'' said Jerry Norris, a guide on these waters for more years than he cares to admit. "During the fall, flounder will stack up on the mud humps, especially on an incoming or dead tide."

Norris slipped the trolling motor in the water and eased the boat into position. We both lobbed minnow imitation jigs past the humps.

"What you want to do is hop the jig up on the mud hump and keep it moving with a steady retrieve,'' advised Norris.

Just as soon as the jigs inched close to the hump both were hammered with solid thumps.

"See what I mean,'' laughed Norris, as we fought two hefty flounder back to the boat

Within a half hour we had iced 12 flounder to 4-1/2 pounds. That's about as good floundering gets with a rod and reel. And, when you're after big ones, the fishing won't get any better than during the fall months when the first cool fronts start playing through.

Sabine Lake is a massive saltwater bay on the Texas/Louisiana border. This place is so big you can actually get lost on it, if you don't pay attention to where you're going. It offers a variety of fishing options for speckled trout, redfish and flounder. It's during the fall that this place gets red hot with flounder.

Norris guides on the lower lake out of Port Arthur. Guide Skip James works out of Orange on the upper lake. Both are excellent fishermen and can teach you a thing or two about catching flounder on Sabine Lake.

"On the lower lake you'll want to concentrate on the major bayous connected to the big marsh,'' says Norris. "The marsh feeds into the bayou via small drainages, that eventually flow into bayous. The bayous feed into the main lake. Most of the year you'll want to start at the mouth of the bayous as they feed into the lake, and work your way towards the marsh. During the fall flounder run it's just the opposite. I'll start in the marsh drainages and work my way out."Norris says the tides play a big part of when and where he fishes. With an incoming or still tide flounder will gather on the mud humps at the mouth of the drainages. They also gang up on the points.

"With an outgoing tide flounder will be moving more and kind of spread out," says Norris. "That's when you want to keep moving with the trolling motor, while fishing the bayous and drainages."

Norris' favorite lure is a Cocahoe minnow jig. He'll use a 1/4 ounce in a slow or dead tide. A 1/2 ounce is best in a fast moving current. That may sound a tad heavy, but you'll be amazed at how fast the current can flow out of the marsh. And the idea is to keep a bait on bottom. Norris' top colors are a red body with a white tail. The jig head should be chartreuse.

"Live baits are also very good,'' says Norris. "And you can tip a jig with a piece of shrimp. But, on the lower lake the water will get so salty that you'll have tons of trash fish in the bayous and marsh. When you tip a jig with shrimp you'll be picking up lots of unwanted bites. That's why I either go with a live 5 inch finger mullet or a Cocahoe minnow. I'll spray shrimp scented Fish Formula on the jig for added appeal."

For the heaviest flounder Norris will use his cast net to catch 3 to 5 inch finger mullet.

"If you want to catch a trophy-class flounder, one in the 6 to 7 pound range fish a 5 inch live finger mullet on bottom,'' says Norris. "I rig them on a 1/0 Kahle live bait hook (through the lips) under enough weight to keep them on bottom. This is slower fishing but during the fall run you can catch some whoppers using this tactic."

When it comes to catching flounder on this huge bay you won't find to many fishermen that know the water better than guide Skip James. His tactics vary from custom clipping shrimp to fit a particular type of jig to anchoring off cane breaks.

It's no secret that the best flounder fishing you'll find on Sabine Lake is along the Louisiana shoreline. This is the wildest part of the lake with miles of marsh, bayous and flats, that attract an array of critters that flounder like to eat such as shrimp, shad, mullet and mud minnows.

Just about year around James likes to use three inch white twirl tail grubs rigged on 1/8 oz. lead head jigs. A 1/4 oz is best in rough water.

"The secret," says James, "is to tip the jig with a piece of fresh table shrimp. Just the tail section is used. A lot of the bait shrimp are not fresh and that will not attract flounder. Peel the shrimp. With a pair of scissors cut a half inch piece of the tail into a wedge and place on the tip of the hook with the blunt end facing forward.

What you want to do is scoot the jig along bottom with short two inch twitches.

James says hot areas for Sabine Lake flounder are anywhere along marshy shorelines where you have some sort of drainage flowing from the marsh to the lake. From Coffee Ground Cove on the upper lake down to Blue Buck Point is about 9 miles. Along that shoreline are 15 tributaries - some are large, others small. Three of the largest, and most popular, are Johnson, Willow and Bridge bayous.

Some tributaries draining into the lake are more productive than others at various times. It all depends on how many minnows, shrimp, mullet and shad are coming out of the marsh with the falling tide.

"Keeping an eye on the tide will show you how flounder will be feeding at any given time," says James. "On a fast falling tide the fish will move in close to the drainage of the water. On a slow falling tide they might be scattered out around the mouth of the drainage or even up the bayou and into the marsh. Also, very important, is the water clarity at the mouth of a tributary. Where the black marsh water meets the murky bay water can be gathering areas for flounder. It's where predator meets prey."

An example of what James describes can be found at the mouth of Johnson Bayou. This is where the smaller Madame Johnson Bayou also drains into the lake. The shallow flats at the mouth of these bayous are several acres in size. As you can imagine the fish can be spread out. But they can be patterned, just like bass.

"On big flats like at the mouth of Johnson Bayou the first place I'll work a jig is around the marshy points," says James. "That's where the flow of water will eddie and that's where baitfish and shrimp will swirl into. Flounder key on that type structure. At the mouths of the bayous you might have four of five productive points. One might be better than another, probably because it's attracting more food items. Those productive points are the ones you want to remember.

"On up the lake from Johnson Bayou is Bridge Bayou, and just up the shoreline from there is Three Bayou. That's a top floundering area of mine. But I fish it a little differently than most people do. There's an extended point off that bayou. It moves well off the visible marsh grass, but is just under the surface. On a falling tide flounder will position on that flat facing up current catching minnows and shrimp as they're washed to them."

What James will do is use the trolling motor to position the boat down current and to the right or left of the flat, while casting shrimp baited jigs up current of the flounder. The jigs are bumped down current into the feeding zone of the fish.

"Another hot area during falling tides is around stands of cane that get flooded on a high tide," says James. "From Coffee ground to Blue Buck Point there are 10 areas of high cane. That's the east shoreline. Bait fish and shrimp move into the root systems of the cane on high tides. As the tide starts to fall, all that food is flushed out and flounder gang up to feed."

"Very few people know how well the cane tactic works," laughs James. "It's very good for large flounder. The bigger flounder are survivors. They know where to go for food. As the tide begins to fall the big fish will move in close. As the water depth shrinks they'll move out. When fishing the cane take your time. Don't move in too fast and too close. The big fish are very spooky, which is why most anglers don't catch too many of them."

Flounder are one of the tastiest fish you'll eat. The two to three pounders are best. Here's my favorite way to cook them. Head, gut and scale the fish. Score to the backbone one way then the other. Liberally coat with Old Bay seasoning and lemon pepper. Melt butter and mix with fresh squeezed lemon juice and paint the fish with the mixture. Broil the catch, while basting, until the meat flakes from the bone, about 8 to 10 minutes. Serve with steaming white rice with a glass of chilled dry white wine. This is one of the best meals you'll ever eat.

For details on fishing with guide Jerry Norris call him at (409) 736-3023. To book with Skip James dial (409) 886-5341.

On the upper lake you can launch at Bailey's Fish Camp (409) 735-4298. On the lower lake try Causeway Bait Camp at (409) 985-4811.

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