by: Darren Jones

When I was a young man just starting to truly cut my teeth as a wade fisherman, my
father and his coach buddies would wade fish from dawn until dusk making the
most of every trip. Limit out or not, you knew that when you went with them, that it
was going to be a learning experience and that you had to man up. “Fish with the
men son and you have to act like one” is what my dad would drill into me.
Once I could tie on my own lures and basically hold my own my father started taking
me on some of the “long range” trips to places like Yarbrough Pass, Roloff’s, Nine
Mile hole and to Baffin Bay. If we ran that far from Bird Island Basin boat launch, we
stayed all day.

Looking back at it now with our GPS’s and go fast boats it’s no big deal but in the
early 80’s running an 18ft Aluminum boat with a 40 horse Mercury was an
undertaking in logistics and grit, it was also pure adventure for a twelve-year-old
kid and now that I look back it, it was for the old men too. The drone of an outboard
in the hot sticky coastal air, the dull glow of a stern light and the feeling of being
underway with the spray in the air all set the stage for the play. We were, and still
are just actors in a production that happens every day in the wild places on the
coastal flats of my little piece of Texas coast. The actors change but the stage
remains the same.

In a word, everything south of Bird Island was, and still is remote. The Land Cut,
where the Intracoastal Waterway slices through the ranch country and the Nine
Mile Hole to the south east of it, Padre Island National seashore on the far east
border, Kennedy and King ranch country to the West. The mother lagoon is carved
out in the middle surrounded by a sea of grass and brush with an occasional floating
cabin or a massive barge full of LP gas pushing its way up the ICW to some Texas
port offer the only signs of life. Nilgai antelope, Whitetail deer, Rio Grande turkey
and rafts of waterfowl: Red Heads, Teal, Pintails and Widgeon. Even today I will get
distracted and stop the sled to watch hundreds of ducks take wing into a rising sun
or watch a gobbler doing his spring strut along the Kennedy Ranch shoreline.
Desolate, rugged, beautiful South Texas.

Fishing with the “men” that I looked up to was what I loved the most. They were all
coaches and teachers in Corpus Christi, Texas where I grew up. I respected them
not just because they were my elders but for the knowledge they imparted on me.
Bud and Tommy taught me techniques on how to “walk the dog” where you make a
top water Spook Jr dance from side to side hoping to induce a strike that sounds like
the mix of a toilet being flushed while slamming a brick into the water. Pure,
unadulterated, beautiful violence that only mother nature can produce.
The men that I looked up to taught me how to read the water, look for mullet or
glass minnows fleeing their impending death, notice the birds and how they
behaved, why we fished certain venues on a west wind and others on the southeast
breeze. All this knowledge added to my saltwater degree. I’m still just an
undergraduate always striving to fill the shoes of the masters. The education was
invaluable but it was the history and stories of fishing the coastal bend that I
remember the most. What does this have to do with ghost stories you ask? Plenty.
The sea holds many mysteries, tall tales and lore so naturally, fishing provides
experiences that in turn produce memorable stories, some true, mostly embellished
and almost always entertaining.

The rocks of Baffin Bay conjure up transom shredding stories that terrify a good
number of local boaters and fishermen and for good reason because they have
claimed their share of victims since people began exploring Baffin with outboard
motors.

I had heard stories of “The Ghosts” from the old guys I had fished with, the mythical
school of monster, oversized redfish…

I had heard stories of “The Ghosts” from the old guys I had fished with, the mythical
school of monster, oversized redfish that prowled the rocks from Alazan Bay, which
is a tributary bay of the Baffin Bay complex, to the rock strewn “Badlands” where
Baffin joins the Upper Laguna Madre. The ghosts weren’t the 24 to 28-inch slot fish
that we kept to grill on the half shell. These were and still are leviathans of the
Redfish class. Forty-eight to Fifty-inch fish that snap rods, empty spools, burn gears
and leave you with that look on your face once they have broken you and your
equipment.

I was first introduced to the “Ghosts” on August 31, 1982. That date sticks in my
memory because it was our annual back to school fishing trip and our way of
ushering in the fall. Remember when we used to start school after Labor Day?
My dad and I were drifting a set of rocks just off the mouth of Alazan and were
having a banner day, lots of Reds and Speckled trout, both wading and drifting, life
was good for us.

My dad used a Lew’s BB1N, at the time it was one of the reels that would stand up in
saltwater and take the punishment of the hyper-saline torture chamber that is
Baffin Bay. Baffin eats equipment because of its hyper-salinity, if gear can survive
Baffin it can survive anywhere.

Everyone knows the sound a human makes when they are struggling in a fight or
picking up a heavy object, that guttural wince somewhere between pain and
frustration. Add this sound to the noise of line being peeled from a reel and the
singsong ping of monofilament line under load and you have the beginning of a
redfish symphony. This was not the ordinary Redfish we had been catching, the slot
sized fish we love for grilling on the half shell. No, after a solid 10-minute fight, we
knew we had something that was not happy with our presence, something that was
not going to go quietly, and something that would create a story that would last and
be told to many. We had conjured with one of the “Ghosts”.

Obviously, August 31, 1982 was a day that had a lasting impression on me.
Did my father catch some mythical monster? No, he caught an oversized Redfish,
very oversized to the tune of 44 inches. We were already limited out so we let her
go. No camera, a cell phone was a thing that was carried in a bag and seen in the
movies, much less a phone with a camera. We admired that fish, then released her to
fight another day.

Baffin Bay and its rocks are known for trophy trout. My personal best Speckled
Trout came from Baffin Bay back in December 2014, 32-1/2 inches and almost 11
pounds, a true trophy. Fast forward a year on the exact December day it happened
again, conjured like an apparition a Ghost slammed a plastic so hard I almost lost my
entire outfit to 41” of pure terror. It was the only Redfish caught that day of
exceptional speckled trout fishing. Granted 41” is not as big as some of the Ghosts
I’ve seen in Baffin but it was a respectable redfish. True to form the black moon that
falls the week before Christmas did not disappoint. My father, and one of the owners
of Baffin Bay Rod and Gun, Sally Black, were wading a section of Alazan prior to a
front.

The wind was out of the west and “A-Zan” was laid flat, this doesn’t happen all the
time so we took advantage of the conditions and were wading an area looking for
big specks. When the moon over major conditions turned on it started with my dad
limiting out on redfish and all of us catching a few trout. The old man moves slower
now but he can still fish with the best of them and December 18, 2017 he put on a
clinic and I was doing my best to try to keep up with him or risk the relentless
torment of how bad he whipped me once we get back to the dock.

I had a sizeable trout come unbuttoned after a short fight and after a few select
words and apologies to my maker I decided to work my piece of water over
carefully and not blow through this spot. Pop hadn’t moved much either as he was
still getting action on a Corky near a drop off.

Five cast later, after moving only a few feet from where I hooked and lost my big
trout I am hooked on to a bronze nuclear submarine that has peeled at least seventy
yards of line off my reel and forced me to follow or should I say, chase her into
deeper water. I knew what I had and when Pop saw me getting dragged into deeper
water he yelled “what you got?” all I could say was,” Ghost!” I heard him laugh and
start walking my way. By the time he got to me I had finally coerced the fish to stop
running and turn back towards the shallows. I’m thankful for this because I was
about 15-20 yards away from being spooled. Twelve-pound Suffix is great for
working light plastics and catching big specks but for oversized reds it’s pushing the
limit.

Forearms aching and my legs quivering from the excitement I finally get my
BogaGrip into the mouth of the largest redfish I have ever personally caught. She’s
beautiful and mean all at the same time, fifty inches. A mouth big enough to put my
entire fist in with room to spare, shaped like a bombshell with a spot on her tail that
looks like a heart and a tail so large I cannot wrap my hand around it. We take a few
pictures; I give her a kiss and watch her evaporate into the green water. The rest of
the day was good, a few good trout in the 22-24” range and few reds for the BBQ pit.
Baffin is diverse and unique to any other Texas bay system. The two types of
naturally occurring hard bottom habitats, beach rocks and Serpulid reefs exist here.
Both the rocks and reefs were formed from 300 years to 30,000 years ago. The
beach rock is found mainly from Penascal Point south, on the eastern shoreline of
the Laguna Madre. The beach rocks are 20,000 to 30,000 years old and are
composed of coquina shell fragments, sand and clay bound together. Because these
rocks were once the Gulf of Mexico shoreline, before the formation of Padre Island,
they are called beach rocks. The serpulid reefs are much younger than the beach
rocks, from 300 to 3,000 years old, and are found in Baffin Bay and its tributary bays
Laguna Salada, Cayo del Grullo and Alazan Bay.

This second type of hard structure habitat, serpulid reef, was built by a colony or
aggregate of tube-dwelling polychaete worms. These worms are called serpulids
(after the family of tube-building worms, Serpulidae), and much like coral reefbuilding
animals, make their tube homes out of calcium carbonate. Over time, these
tubes build up into very large rock-like reef structures. While there are some living
worms still found on these reefs, the reefs are no longer building or enlarging.
Scientists believe that the serpulid reefs stopped growing around the same time the
salinity increased in the Laguna Madre.

No one is sure what keeps these big reds hanging around year in and year out… but then again, they are ghosts.

No one is sure what keeps these big reds hanging around year in and year out. Do
they migrate out like the rest of the reds in the bay? Is it food? Are they lost? What
is it that makes these massive dirty water apparitions stay year in and year out?
Everyone has a theory, I don’t think these big fish ever leave, but then again, they
are ghosts.

My good friends Sally and Aubrey Black own Baffin Bay Rod and Gun and know the
Baffin Bay system and can put you on the trophy speckled trout of a lifetime. They
can also conjure the Ghosts. Aubrey’s personal best is a 53-inch freak that slammed
a white paddle tail and one of his clients caught a 54-inch mutant that was well over
30 pounds, all on light tackle.

Baffin, Nine Mile Hole and the southern end of the upper Laguna Madre can
arguably be some of the best fishing on the Texas coast. Trophy Speckled Trout,
Flounder, Redfish and at times world class duck hunting. It is remote and beautiful
in its ruggedness and I hope that is stays this way for years to come. It is one of the
last truly wild places on the Texas coast.

I consider myself lucky to have grown up when I did, like I did and where I did. I had
a lot of freedom as a young man and my first car was a boat. I was most fortunate to,
and still do have some great mentors that have taken the time to share their
experience and most importantly their time. I’m also blessed to have parents that to
this day love to fish and be on the water.

There will be more water to explore, fish to catch and stories to be told. I hope God
lets me hang around for a while so I can catch a few more and impart some of my
knowledge on the next generation that is willing to listen to the memories and
stories of my youth….especially the “Ghost” stories.

To visit Baffin Bay Rod and Gun, click here.

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