The Grind

Photo by Mac Elliott Media

By Darren Jones

It’s spring in South Texas but you wouldn't know it. 

Fools that we are, we fell for the tease of eighty, even ninety-degree temps in late March. Sweating while chasing gobblers through the mesquite last week was a far cry from the chill running down my spine now as I attempt to tie on a broken back Redfin, fighting the shakes and the bumbling of my frozen fingers. Standing waist deep in fifty-nine-degree water, my only consolation is that moon phase and an incoming late cold front will get the fish to eat. Today might be the day. I blame my father and the rest of the men in my line for giving me an addictive personality and a love of all things wild. It’s a horrible, beautiful mixture of passion, determination, and obsession.  

When I was a young man, before rotomolded kayaks, fancy waders, websites, and cell phones, my dad would pick me up after school in December, truck loaded with our makeshift floats, rods and reels and usually a six pack of Pearl, to head across the Corpus Christi Bay bridge. We used what looked like eight-inch diameter foam pool noodles bolted and lashed to a sheet of plywood powered with scuba flippers. Very low tech, but effective at getting us out to the oyster shell lined guts running close to what remains of the old Indian Point Pier sitting on the North West end of Corpus Christi Bay near Portland, Texas. In the early 80’s, I caught my first real speckled trout there, twenty-six and a half inches of purple-tinged, spotted silver with a yellow mouth and teeth like crochet needles, after she inhaled my Pink Mirro-Lure 52M. You remember that one? The old plugs with three trebles? It’s still money. The Broken Back Redfin or Rapala is also one of those baits. It's like Sex Panther, sixty percent of the time it works every time. Forgive my cult classic movie references. I speak in movie quotes half the time because I'm not creative enough to come up with lines that good on my own. 

The wind is out of the north this April Fool’s Day. Hunkering up against the King Ranch shoreline on the northern lip of Baffin Bay is the only way I can find shelter and I wonder if I’m not the fool. I try not to think about the boat ride home and focus on dragging a jerk bait across the tops of the rocks, hoping a state record speck will inhale my bait and launch me into pseudo stardom, speaking engagements, and an early retirement filled with endless sponsorship deals. At least a few free rods and lures. One can dream.

My late father, W. Ross Jones, was a grinder. In wade fishing parlance that means he fished all day in the most miserable of conditions to hang one good fish. It was tough being his only son, but it instilled in me that hunting for big trout is an endeavor not meant for the spineless or those lacking dedication. One might go days without a bite from the fish of one million casts, but that one bite could be THE bite. That is trophy ‘Speck’ fishing in a nutshell and those trophies, twenty-eight inches and above, are rare indeed. Eclipse the thirty-inch mark and you enter the realm of 200-inch whitetail deer and 400-inch elk. They just don't happen all that often. I’m blessed to have landed a few Specks that size; one almost thirty-three inches and just shy of eleven pounds. The memory of that fish, along with the hope of another, is there every time I tie on and make a cast.

Working the unseen Serpulid Worm rocks just below the surface of Baffin, I divide my search area up like a piece of pie. Five casts to the left, center and right. I switch the cadence and repeat. Figuring out where the fish are holding, what they are eating, and at what time they are doing it, is a reward in itself, like calling in an elk or turkey. What they will eat, and when, is information left to proper planning and paying close attention. It mostly adds up to spending time on the water. 

Dark moon phase with a moon over major at 10:30 AM. 

Falling barometric pressure.

The fish are here.  

Bait is active. 

New cadence, twitch-twitch, long pause, take up slack, one short pull and the rod handle passes an electric jolt straight into my soul. “The Thump,” as it is known in Speckled Trout circles, is truly one of the most exhilarating feelings in the world. After casting multiple baits, changing cadence, and considering some kind of pagan fish god sacrifice, I figured it out. Or it was just time for them to eat. Either way it felt good to solve the riddle. 

Growing up grinding I thought everyone fished the way my father and I did. Didn't everyone wade all day and throw artificial baits? Apparently not. I learned most anglers just want to catch a fish and if they don't, they go home to pursue some useless endeavor like yard work, golf, or watching football. These are same people that have Labs but don’t hunt them. The art of fooling a fish with an artificial bait is a challenge. I wanted, and still want, to figure out the what and the why of fish behavior. Remember my addictive personality? It’s part pride, part determination. Sure, we could have thrown live bait and just caught fish. But deep down I wanted to show my father I had the sauce to hang with the men. Dad loved throwing plugs, top water plugs, and jerk baits, so that is what I use. Soft plastic was still a new thing in the early 1980s. Bass fishermen used them. We used shrimp tails or “touts” in the summer, but fall, winter, and spring were for plugs and broken backs, the big trout baits. 

The wind is still blowing but not as badly. It's starting to rain. This usually means a barometer drop. Maybe there is another healthy one down there. My hands have stopped working in the cold but my cadence is the same. I want to look over at my dad and see him, but I’m alone save the turkeys I hear gobbling up on the King Ranch shoreline. I send another healthy four-to-five-pound trout back into the murk after a head shaking show of acrobatics. I look over again and smile. Good memories. 

We’re grinding.

About the Author

Born and mostly raised in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he started wade fishing with his father when he was ten. Darren Jones barely graduated from Texas A&M University before spending years in Iraq and Afghanistan with the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Department of State. He’s a husband, a father, and the owner of a Black Lab named Floyd, who takes him duck hunting as much as possible. He’s a self admitted Spring turkey and trophy speckled trout addict.