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the last best place on the texas coast

By JB Bruning

For a moment, when I was invited to fish in Baffin Bay for redfish, speckled trout and flounder, I thought it was strange trying to catch those fish off the coast of Greenland. Of course, it was actually Baffin Bay, Texas, an inlet of the Laguna Madre located about seventy miles south of Corpus Christi. It is believed that Captain Mifflin Kenedy named the bay after visiting the Arctic Baffin Bay because of their stark contrasts. Roughly 3000 years ago the formation of Padre Island cut off direct discharge from Baffin Bay into the gulf which, combined with limited freshwater inflow, evaporation and sedimentation, resulted in hypersaline water conditions. The average depth of the bay is only 7.5’ and many areas of the bay contain reefs made of the remains of ancient serpulid tube worms. These reefs provide habitat for crustaceans and mollusks but also present hazardous navigation challenges as demonstrated by several abandoned ship and boat wrecks. The shallow depth of the bay has also enabled the construction of numerous floating cabins of varying designs and condition levels.

Despite the uniquely severe water quality of the bay, it is known for trophy speckled trout, red and black drum and flounder. These fish are basically landlocked, as there is limited migration out of the bay which, combined with the hypersaline water, results in larger growth rates due to their ability to more efficiently absorb nutrients. Three of the last four Texas State Record speckled trout have been landed in Baffin Bay, including a behemoth 37.25” 15.6 lb. caught in 2002.

My host, longtime client and friend Tim Strickland has been after me for a decade to come down and fish with him. Tim is a well-known maritime lawyer in Houston who frequently comes to Colorado to visit his parents and do some trout fishing. He finally pinned me down and I made the trip to the Baffin Bay Rod & Gun (BBR&G) resort located in Loyola Beach near Riviera, Texas last October. The lodge and guide service are owned by Captains Sally and Aubrey Black. The remote location of the BBR&G combined with the all-inclusive format of the resort made for a wonderful experience. In addition to the lodging and guided fishing, BBR&G also offers cast and blast opportunities for seasonal dove and migratory waterfowl in the nearby fields and estuary. My wife Jane joined me on this trip and she enjoyed the beautiful lodge, swimming pool, great food and walking Tim’s dog “Hunter” while we were out fishing…she’ll fish with us next time!

After fly fishing for the past 56 years and guiding for 12 of those, the peripheral elements of this “experience” are, for me, increasingly more important than just the catching. Perhaps the most valued and memorable are the people I meet. I am blessed to have many return guests, who like Tim, have become true long-term friends. But it also includes my relationships with Sage, guides and others who work in the fly fishing industry. Now, so it is with Captains Sally and Aubrey Black.

I had the honor and pleasure of being guided by Capt. Sally for the two days I fished Baffin Bay. Sally grew up in the outdoors boating and fishing with her father in Lake Erie. She moved to Houston and later to Rockport where she worked as a paralegal and saved her money to set up her first boat. Sally obtained her 25 Ton Near-Coastal Masters Coast Guard Captains license in 1998 and became a fulltime fishing guide. She was the first and only female fly fishing guide on the Texas Coast and the first professional fly fishing guide to introduce and specialize in kayak fly fishing in Texas. To put this in context it was (and to a great extent still is) a “man’s world” until Sally used her fearlessness, self-confidence and perseverance to break through that barrier…an honorable and significant achievement!

Capt. Aubrey Black is known as one of the best BIG speckled trout guides in Texas. He has landed 118 speckled trout over 30”. Aubrey grew up hunting and fishing in west Texas and after moving to San Antonio became a competitive tournament fisherman for 7 years. He obtained his USCG license in 2003 and started guiding in Baffin Bay. I like Capt. Sally’s accounting about how they met (I’ll let her tell you the story), but they got married in 2010 and established the BBR&G. Oh yeah, Sally taught Aubrey how to fly fish. It was inspiring to see their passion for fishing, hunting and commitment to making their guests’ experiences outstanding. These folks are the “real deal”.

Day one fishing with Captain Sally began with a stimulating boat ride in her custom 23’ Haynie Cat Bay Boat. I watched as she frequently checked the GPS to avoid hitting the serpulid reefs that are scattered throughout the bay. I was taken in by the stark native coastal prairie landscape that surrounds the bay consisting of prickly pear cactus, Joshua Trees, live oaks and sandy bluffs. Baffin Bay is also located on one of the largest migratory bird flyways in North America and a bird watchers dream. The Laureles Division of the enormous King Ranch frames the bay on the NE side and the La Parra parcel of the Kenedy Ranch on the SW side.

Our initial destination was the 9 Mile Hole located in the Laguna Madre. The water and air were clear and we progressively scouted the flats and edges of the estuary for anything that swam. This started out as one of those fishing days when we just couldn’t find any feeding fish. But the conversation was entertaining and I think we both enjoyed sharing and comparing our distinctly different guiding experiences.

We beached at a promising flat and proceeded to wade along the shore, but nothing showed itself. I was so intent on the fishing, I failed to notice our proximity to the Intercoastal Waterway until I heard something over my left shoulder. A large barge was being pushed down the channel by a tugboat. Suddenly, I noticed the water was flowing away from shore like a current moving the opposite direction of the barge. I asked Sally what was happening and she explained it was the displacement caused by the barge, much like a back eddy. As soon as the barge passed by, the flow reversed itself and we simultaneously spotted a nice redfish swimming directly at us feeding on all the stuff that had been dislodged by the passing barge. My 9-weight Motive put the non-descript white shrimp pattern right in the “bucket” and the redfish hammered it. Funny how things can change so quickly! Several minutes later I landed my first and only redfish, probably around 30”, a two spotter with the characteristic blue-tipped tail. These are pretty hardy fish, so we indulged in a quick photo.

The aura of catching that red lasted the rest of the day, despite not having other shots. But it was not a reflection of Sally’s efforts as we covered a lot of water. As a guide, you can tell when another guide is just “mailing it in” or “headed back to the barn”, but not Sally. When we returned to the lodge we were met by Tim and Aubrey who were ready to do some dove hunting. The entire transition from fishing to hunting was handled flawlessly and we drove a short distance to a ranch with great habitat for doves. We bagged a few birds to top things off, then headed back for a spectacular prime rib dinner. Altogether, it was a fine day!

In short, the second day fishing (catching) was a bust, as 20–25 naught winds turned the water turbid under a mostly cloudy sky. But that didn’t slow Sally down as we covered nearly 100 miles in the boat that day. The Haynie Cat handled the choppy water with ease, but we did get a bit wet from the spray. I’m typically very good at locating fish, but not as much in that environment. I know about watching for swirls, birds and bait balls, but I had to ask Sally what she was looking for beyond the obvious. Her response was, “I’m looking for differences in the texture of the water.” That made sense to me, as pods of fish swimming just under the surface can create subtle visible anomalies. No shots at fish, but an otherwise great day in a very unique environment.

A 9’ 9-weight rod with a tropical floating line on a strong saltwater reel is quite sufficient to handle most everything you will encounter. I love my 9’ 9-weight Sage Motive…it’s just a comfortable sweet casting rod and Sage’s new SPECTRUM MAX reel. Typical red fish and speckled trout fly patterns are all you will need tied to RIO Red Fish/Sea Trout leaders attached to a RIO General Purpose Saltwater line…I like to keep things simple but great! If you are looking for an off-the-path, uncrowded and unique destination that has opportunities to catch world class speckled trout, red and black drum and flounder, take a trip down to Baffin Bay, Texas. Treat yourself to a few days at the Baffin Bay Rod & Gun resort and take advantage of the opportunity to fish with Captains Sally and Aubrey Black!

about the author

John “JB” Bruning is a third-generation native of Boulder, Colorado, combining his passions for contemporary metal sculpture and fly fishing.  He is a Sage Elite Pro team member and fly fishing guide.  His sculptures are found across the United States and he specializes in site-specific, commissioned pieces custom-designed for his clients.  For more information visit his website.