Sand trout unfazed by T-Bend drawdown
“We have owned our camp on Toledo Bend since 1968 and have fished our way through scheduled draw downs, droughts, hyacinth choked boat lanes, and the introduction of hydrilla,” stated James Coleman, “and after all of that I hit a doggoned stump right in the middle of a boat lane that I have run thousands of times last Saturday.”
He was also quick to point out that every time the massive impoundment gets this low he is reminded of how narrow the boat lanes actually are. “When the lake was young and filled with standing timber we would run the river channel and ox bows because we knew they were clear and wider.”
When the boat lanes were cut and marked to make navigating the lake both quicker and safer, 168-feet was pretty much the low level for safe travel. The level is already below the 167 mark so most of the boat lanes on the main lake warrant extra caution when running them right now.
The SRA is currently drawing the lake down for repair work on the face of the dam. The scheduled work can be done at about the 165 mark so there is still a great deal of water headed down the Sabine River. Even with the controlled release the river is high and the launches below the dam are more of a challenge to use due to the swift current.
Aside from the fact that the gin clear conditions that existed prior to the drawdown have given way to a dirtier tint, the biggest obstacle for local anglers has been floating vegetation and debris. Fishing for saltwater species has changed as it has driven them deeper in search of the heavier saltwater. We are also having to compensate for a much stronger current, but the bite is still there.
I have not confirmed it, but I also heard that the Neches is dumping additional fresh water into the lake in order to work on the saltwater barrier. High water due to big tides and storm activity in the Gulf has really put a damper on the fishing across most of the lake since mid-August and it looks like that problem will exist at least until the work is completed on both units.
I never relish the prospects of a tougher bite, but a short period of challenging fishing beats the hell out of the dam ever giving way. You don’t have to lecture folks around here on the devastating power of uncontrolled water!
Just about the time all the dirty water started running down hill, the annual sand trout bite was lighting off in the river. It is easily the most user-friendly bite of the year and requires little more than terminal tackle and a boat to get in on the action. The good news, at least through the weekend, is that rather than scattering the tasty pan fish, the reduction in brackish water has apparently concentrated them in even tighter schools.
They will bite anything from artificial lures to live bait, but to really cash in, I would recommend using small pieces of frozen shrimp or even cut bait. A 2/0 or 3/0 Kahle hook and enough sinker weight to get your offering to the bottom is all it takes. Casting is not important as you will be vertical fishing right over the side of the boat once you locate or attract a school of sandies.
Prior to the release, the magic depth was 12 to 16 feet, but this weekend the best catches were in 18 to 22 feet of water. Points of land along the river channel are obvious hot spots, but I can assure you there are huge schools of sand trout to be tapped in on all along the river channel and ICW as long as you are fishing the correct depth.
If you cannot squeeze in on one of the more popular spots, try drifting the shoreline at the depths mentioned until you catch that first fish. Move back over the spot and drop anchor. If you do not catch several fish very quickly, try a slightly different depth or pull up your anchor and fish the surrounding area more thoroughly. If you are not catching fish on a non-stop basis, don’t wait on the fish to come to you. Once you locate a school you will catch them until you grow tired of catching them or run out of bait.
I think God really created sand trout for impatient kids, but they have salvaged some otherwise tough outings for lots of adults and are as tasty as any fish you will ever fry. Not unlike any other fish, they are best when cooked fresh, but they do have an especially short shelf life when frozen. A nice sized sand trout caught on the river ranges from 10 to 14-inches in length and you will catch a world of smaller ones on most trips.
Targeting sand trout also does not exclude the possibility of having other species crash the party. Alvin Mallet took his two daughters out Sunday morning and they kept 39 sand trout, four reds, two specks and a flounder. “I told my buddies that the girls caught the sand trout and I caught the others,” laughed Alvin, “but I never even wet a hook!”