PARK FALLS, Wisc. – 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.”