Michael and Scott Vaughan posted a very solid 7.12-lb stringer in winning the year-end Sabine River Championship. Their victory earned them a $1210 check. Mike Chargois didn’t have a bad day either taking home a $600 check for second place with 6.88-pounds and an additional $240 for a 4.56-pound big bass.

Third place honors and a $365 check went to the team of Jonathan Simon and Kevin Vaughan with 6.04 pounds. The championship culminated a very successful season of Tuesday evening tournaments hosted by Simon Outfitters. Every tournament was well attended and those that fished it on a regular basis praised the worker-friendly schedule and three fish format. The 2012 season will officially kick off on March 12.

For the past two years, Sabine Lake fishermen have blamed the ever-increasing redfish population on everything bad in regards to catching trout. I do think the shallow water bullies make things a little tougher on wade fishermen committed to stalking big trout in skinny water, but I am yet to fish with even the most ardent trout fan that doesn’t respect the power and drag-burning runs these fish serve up.

Even with the increased number of tournaments hosted on Sabine this year, the summer fishing pressure has been lighter than it has been in years. Both the oppressive heat and the ongoing drought have combined to encourage the weekend angler to pursue cooler outdoor activities that include some semblance of shade. I can assure you there is no shade in the middle of Sabine Lake and most anglers’ idea of a fun day on the water does not include dehydration and sunburn!

So…..a combination of all of the above mentioned factors has in my opinion, resulted in some not so accurate conclusions regarding the health of the speckled trout population. While I have not caught nearly as many six-pound plus trout as in years past, the numbers of fish in the 14 to 17 inch class may have never been better. I attribute the scarcity of bragging size fish to the fact that we lost so many prime time days in late winter and early spring to the wind.

With the exception of taking advantage of the schooling redfish phenomena most every day, we have spent the past two weeks getting more serious about our trout fishing and have not been disappointed. We have had to switch gears somewhat to get it done, but the catching part has been better than average for this time of the year.

The drought has basically pinned the shrimp up in the bayous and marsh and they are not coming out in any significant numbers until we get some rain or the north wind starts draining the marsh. When the shrimp are not in the lake, the user friendly bite of fall does not take place.

There are no birds to key on and the 14 to 18-inch trout are just not bunched up and feeding like there is no tomorrow. For that reason alone, area fishermen that don’t have the luxury of fishing any time they want find it difficult to locate the fish and return home convinced that the fishing is worse than ever.

I can’t say that I don’t occasionally have a day when I don’t agree with that assessment, but I am on the water enough to know that changing tactics is usually more productive than calling in the dogs. If you are not a purist and are not eaten up with how you catch trout, spend more time in the rivers, Neches or Sabine, until the shrimp migrate into the lake.

You don’t have to drastically change your approach. On most days fishing a finger mullet or shad on a Carolina rig will produce more fish, but we do very well simply bouncing tails rigged on quarter ounce jig heads off the bottom. You do not have to worry about fishing pressure as there is no end to the rock piles and sunken debris lining these tributaries.

Tide changes are very important when fishing this pattern. We have done a little better with tails fishing the steeper banks of the ICW, but we are currently catching a world of trout fishing the shallower banks of the rivers with Swim baits, crankbaits and topwaters.

The ratio of keepers to throwbacks has been much more favorable in the ICW. I would guess that about 20 percent of the trout we are catching in the river are keepers, but we are easily catching 40 to 50 fish each trip. And, not surprisingly, we finish each morning with a few slot reds and flounder as well.

While catching small trout can be frustrating for the fisherman looking to have a fish fry at the end of the day, the plethora of undersized trout speaks volumes for the future. Enjoy catching them, be gentle with them when you release them and fish fries that include trout will not be as difficult to come by this time next year!