The spring inshore run along the Gulf coast of Texas is as constant as the tides, happening year over year as bull reds and speckled trout move into the rich, shallow marshes to feed. Though the recent 100-year storm event that brought record cold temperatures and unprecedented snowfall to south Texas has pushed things back a bit on this year’s calendar, veteran anglers like St. Croix pro and lifelong inshore angler, Joseph Sanderson, know what’s coming. A former collegiate FLW and BASS competitor and current KBF tournament kayak angler, Sanderson relies on techniques and equipment that deliver, and he’s busy preparing right now for some of the best inshore fishing of the year.
“We are really looking to see that spring bite kick off at the end of the month, even into April this year,” he says. “Late winter and early spring is one of my favorite times of the year to chase big trout. I would venture to say that more big trout get caught from February-April than all other months of the year combined.”
Specks are a perennial favorite on the gulf coast, and require a variety of approaches depending on timing and water temperature. Tactics involve everything from plastics to popping corks – or “Corkies” – and require a host of rod qualities that go beyond your average saltwater stick.
“Sensitivity is one of the biggest factors in a rod this time of year,” Sanderson notes. “A fish’s metabolism is slower, so they just don’t have the same ferocity that they do later in the year.” More bites felt means more fish caught, a simple metric with increased importance during a time of year when they don’t rip the rod out of your hands on a take. “The fish are lethargic and the bites are often subtle,” Sanderson adds. “When working a bait very slowly, or even letting it sit still when suspended, it is imperative to have a sensitive rod to pick up on those light bites.”
For Sanderson, the overall design of a rod’s handle, grip, and reel seat are more than aesthetic. He dives deeper on the new, trout-centric St. Croix Triumph Inshore 7’ medium-light power, moderate action casting rod (TRIC70MLM), his go-to popping-cork rod in most situations. “This rod is a prime example of the way St. Croix consistently listens to anglers with specific needs in different regions,” says Sanderson. “Wade-fishing is really popular down here. If I go wading for trout, I’m really working… popping and reeling in slack and then repeating. A heavy, stiff rod will wear you out. This rod is comfortable to fish all day with,” he says. “When wading deep, you can’t use your arm; you have to use your wrist. The medium-light rod and shorter handle of the TRIC70MLM really helps. And since speckled trout have really soft mouths, the moderate action of this rod keeps them hooked up. Trout are notorious for shaking their heads. Having a rod that is parabolic is key to keeping these fish hooked up, especially when you are throwing a Corky. I really like my Triumph Inshore for this. It has enough backbone and tip to cast a slightly heavier bait, but isn’t heavy or stiff to the point that it will rip the lure out of the fish’s mouth if not fought correctly.”
Sanderson plies his trade with a host of other rods from St. Croix’s new Triumph Inshore and Mojo Inshore lineups, for a variety of other species including Redfish. “As we move into the late spring, we start seeing the redfish pull up really shallow on the warm days. That’s when we’re able to begin sight fishing them again. Accuracy and stealth are critical,” says Sanderson, who adds that while plastics produce year around, they really come into their own at this time of the year. “It requires a different approach, which places extra focus on precision casting. Here, you need a rod that is deadly accurate. If you don’t your cast will either spook the fish or be out of their strike zone.”
For sight-fishing for reds, Sanderson reaches for his 6’8” and 7’ medium power, moderate-fast action Triumph Inshore casting rods (TRIC68MMF and TRIC70MMF). “In calm conditions with clear water, you’re making a lot of medium-distance casts in the 50-60-foot range. Accuracy matters and both rods deliver with 1/16-oz. jigs and small paddletails,” he says, noting that both of these medium-power rods easily handle 20”-28” slot fish, and can subdue beasts up to 35” without concern. I prefer the 7’ version a bit better with the longer, full cork handle, because I prefer to cast with two hands from a kayak or skiff, but again, the shorter-handled 6’8” split-grip an ideal option for wading. It’s rare to find a casting rod that performs with the lightweight jigs and baits I use so much of the time, and both of these rods excel in that department.”
Mojo Inshore becomes a part of Sanderson’s selections once late spring and warmer water comes into play. “With bigger baits, I want a rod with a little more power to make longer casts,” he says. “Lighter baits, I don’t need that backbone to cast effectively. As we move into the late spring and summer, I like to move to the Mojo Inshore series when targeting big bull redfish, jacks, and tarpon.” The upgrade to SCIII carbon and IPC mandrel technology allows for greater strength and sensitivity. The actions are super smooth, and there are simply more models in the Mojo Inshore series that make it my personal choice for tackling larger species. I like the options in the 7’6″ range with some heavier powers for targeting bigger, badder fish.”
Enter another gifted fisherman on the bleeding-edge of the evolving inshore market, in Florida-born Guillermo Gonzalez. He grew up chasing snook and tarpon in the Biscayne Bay backcountry south of Miami, though the 2017 Kayak Angler’s Tournament Series (KATS) Angler of the Year travels extensively to fish and compete in all kinds of inshore environments. Guillermo or “G” often finds himself chasing redfish and trout along the Texas coast.
“Shrimp imitations are always going to work, but redfish aren’t the pickiest fish in the world; in my experience, if a red is going to eat, it will eat about anything in your tackle box,” advises Gonzalez, who concedes he does tend to choose certain lures that have some well-defined characteristics. “I’m fishing a lot of belly-weighted root beer-colored flukes, as well as smaller, darker paddletails when sight fishing,” he specifies. “Whatever you choose needs to land softly. Smaller is usually better, and certainly nothing clunky.”
For presenting such baits, Gonzalez is bullish on St. Croix’s redesigned Triumph Inshore series of rods. “These rods combine incredible St. Croix performance with an almost-unbelievable price, and the entire series has been designed to support the specific regional techniques coastal anglers employ around the country,” he says.
“Wade fishing around oysteries, potholes and drains in the marsh is hugely popular along the Texas coast, and many Triumph Inshore models have been designed with this in mind. These anglers are doing a lot of casting, so the rods are lightweight and crisp with great ergonomics,” says Gonzalez, who adds that often means split grips and shorter handles. “They are also using a lot of moving baits, so rods need to be soft enough to keep fish pinned.”
Gonzalez prefers the 6’8” and 7’ medium-power, moderate-fast action Triumph Inshore models for his style of fishing. “The tips on these rods are perfect,” he says. “They’re soft enough to make the short, accurate pitches necessary to have success with shallow redfish in the marsh, with the power and back bone required to tame them. He also notes, like Sanderson, that the 7’ medium-light power, moderate action casting rod (TRIC70MLM) has a sweet, parabolic action that coastal Texas trout anglers are flocking to for fishing trout with Corkies and soft plastics.
It’s important to note the level of design and input St. Croix imparts from anglers like Sanderson and Gonzalez, who were impressed with the new Triumph Inshore rods from the start. “When I unpackaged these rods, the first thing I noticed was the surprisingly high quality of the cork and their beautiful finish,” Sanderson says. “The second was their extreme light weight. These are without a doubt the finest inshore rods in their price range I have ever held.” Gonzalez agrees, adding, “the finish, components, balance and cosmetics of these rods are flawless. I never expected to see that in a rod retailing for $130.”
Springtime along the Texas coast is always an exciting time for trout and redfish anglers. The full impacts of last month’s atypical weather remain to be seen, but that isn’t stopping the anticipation or the enthusiasm. “We lost a lot of fish during the freeze, and we are going to be feeling the effects of it in the Lone Star State for some time to come,” says Sanderson, who encourages everyone to get out on the water in the coming weeks and months, but to do so with a conservation-centered mindset. “Handle the fish with extra care, release those big trout, and instead of filling the ice chest, just keep the fish you absolutely need,” the passionate angler at the ground-level of some truly incredible inshore fishing advises. “Practice CPR (catch photo and release), as this will help our fishery return to what it has been for many years, which is epic and special.”
It’s a message that – along with his fishing advice – is well-worth heeding.