East Matagorda Bay is no longer a well-kept secret
Doug Pike Houston Chronicle, December 15, 1994.
"One of you guys is living right," said Capt. Jim Leavelle to Jeff Autrey and me.
For 10 anxious minutes early Tuesday, wed idled through a paste-thick fog on East Matagorda Bay. Somewhere in the middle, best we could figure.
The only certainty was that we wouldnt have to look any farther for trout.
A single gull, barely visible in the mist, sat motionless on the water. Leavelle quieted the outboard and switched to electric power. A second gull sliced through the haze and dove sharply. On its wingtips came a third.
Beneath the birds, we watched occasional shrimp make its final leap. If the trout underneath didnt get it, an opportunistic gull did.
Bay fishing doesnt get much easier.
In turn, each of us began catching fish. Not every cast, mind you, but pretty close to it at the peak of the session.
While Autrey worked overtime on a stubborn three-pounder, we lost sight of the gulls.
"It doesnt matter." Leavelle said. "Theres fish here. Just throw anywhere."
What wasnt a speckled trout was a redfish. Once, one it was neither, it was a sand trout that Id swear weighed two pounds. Leavelle called it a little one by Matagorda standards.
In three hours (including the release of any fish that even was close to being a throwback), we landed our limits of specks and fell one short of the full ticket on reds.
Sometimes amongst working birds and sometimes not, but always within a quarter mile of where Leavelle first stopped the engine.
Wherever that was, we never lost the fog.
For a month now, I've heard from several sources that Matagorda Bay is the best-kept secret in Texas. I wasn't convinced right away.
The day started slow and ugly. At daybreak, we endured two full hours of cold rain and calm wind and slack tide. Our reward: a single trout. It, at least, weighed more than five pounds and crashed a topwater plug.
One trout is one trout, though, and hardly justified the collective effort.
"I was going to bring some pictures to show you what we've been catching down here," Leavelle mumbled once in frustration, "but I forgot them."
About 9 a.m. I was ready to look at some pictures - of trout or trees or rocks or girls in grass skirts. Any pictures, so long as they were back at the marina beside a cup of hot coffee.
During those final three morning hours, though, East Matagorda Bay tossed this wet, tired dog a bone.
Lee and Travis Knezek, both from Matagorda, believe so strongly in the bays recreational fishing potential that they socked their last nickels into Harbor Bait & Tackle, a first-class facility opened in July 1993,
When the brothers made that decision. Lee was studying to become a Certified Public Accountant and Travis, fresh out of college, "was starving to death in the insurance business."
"We're trying to put this place on the map." said Lee. "Weve got excellent fishing year-around."
Leavelle agreed. On his first visit, in late October, there were dozens of trailers in the parking lot. The skipper was fearful of heavy boat traffic, with which Galveston-based fishermen are all too familiar.
"We hardly saw any other boats." Leavelle said. "There are so many places to go down here that you just don't see many other people."
Fish might be huddled over shell reefs, prowling grassy shorelines, or shadowing shrimp over bare bottom in the middle of nowhere. Some days, they're everywhere.
When weather turns really cold, trout and reds retreat to the depth and warmth of the Colorado River. Bay action seldom comes to a complete halt, though, even through a norther.
Fishermen who tire of chasing trout and reds often turn their attention to flounder (a particularly good plan just now. as the fish move toward winter homes in the Gulf).
One boatload of anglers brought several thick flatfish, including an honest five-pounder, to the cleaning tables Tuesday.
Harbor Bait & Tackle sits just of Hwy. 60, only a stone's throw north of Matagorda. From downtown Houston, at posted speeds, the drive is approximately two hours.
The marina features four public ramps, a well stocked store, covered and lighted cleaning tables with electrical outlets, parking for 200 trucks and trailers, and enough enclosed slips to house 100 boats. An RV park is under construction.
The harbor itself was completed about five years ago by the Bay City Port Authority. It is well protected against any wind short of a hurricane From the harbor entrance, its a four-mile boat ride down the intracoastal waterway to the first entrance into East Matagorda Bay.
The river is roughly one-half mile south, and the jetties and open Gulf of Mexico are another six miles or so down river. According to the Knezeks, there are eight or nine local guides who call Matagorda home.
Leavelle fishes East Matagorda Bay from his 25-foot Boston Whaler and has had no serious navigation trouble. He did caution skippers of larger boats to take it easy the first time, however. Average depth is just a few feet, and bay floor is littered with speed bumps (oyster reefs).
Shallow-draft boats offer better access to shoreline flats: the compromise is a bumpier ride across open water and around mid-bay reefs For reference, East Matagorda Bay is almost identical in size and shape to East Galveston Bay.
If the area has a drawback, Lee said, it is in overnight accommodations. Of the few motels nearby, none is particularly fancy. (Not that a mint on the Pillow matters much to fishermen.)
"This area could use a good 30 or 40-unit property." Lee said.
"Why don't you put one in yourself, over there." I challenged, pointing to open ground beyond the parking lot.
Lee smiled but said nothing.
Matagorda has long enjoyed a reputation for producing excellent numbers of fish, but it also may be a sleeper for trophy specks.
Lee's got an "eight-plus" in the freezer now, one of several heavier than six pounds he took on an afternoon wade last week.
"The Parks and Wildlife Department's gotten some 12 and 13 pounders during their gillnet surveys." Lee added.
To date, Leavelle hasn't even tried any of the other spots the Knezeks say are so good: he hasn't left East Matagorda Bay because there hasn't been any reason.
"If you can get out there and you can stand up in the boat," Leavelle said, "you can catch fish."
Indeed. East Matagorda Bay has been extremely good to Leavelle through recent weeks. Slicks. birds, shell; they're always somewhere.
Nothing like the wisdom of a local to bust a bubble, though.
'Its been a little tough up here for a few days." Lee said in reference to the same water on which we d just caught limits before noon. "West Matagorda Bay. That's where they're really catching 'em."
By Doug Pike Houston Chronicle, December 15, 1994.
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