Tucked in the bottom corner of the Lone Star State, Baffin Bay is home to trophy-size seatrout and redfish, drawing anglers from around the country. (Not to be confused with Canada’s Baffin Bay, thousands of miles to the north.) Capt. Sally Ann Black has been guiding on these waters for more than a decade, after a long career working on the waters around Rockport, to the north.
Female saltwater fly-fishing guides are relatively rare anywhere, but in South Texas, Sally Ann has been a real pioneer. She owns and operates Orvis-endorsed Baffin Bay Rod & Gun, located in the back of the bay. She was kind enough to submit to our “5 Questions” and tell us all about her personal history and her fishery.
1. How long have you been guiding? How did you get started in fly fishing?
I have been a full-time professional fishing and hunting guide on the Texas Coast for 21 years. I hold a United States Coast Guard Near-Coastal Masters Captain’s license, which I obtained in 1998 in Rockport, Texas where I started my guiding career.
Growing up on the Great Lakes with an outdoorsman of a father who was in denial that I was a girl, I fished and hunted all the time. Dad had a Cris Craft Cabin Cruiser on Lake Erie, where the family spent weekends fishing. He also had a camper on the back of a pickup and a boat on a trailer and spent all of his spare time with our family and me on the water, fishing. I even had a rod holder on my bike. Bass, bluegills, crappies, walleyes, perch, and catfish were our main targets, but in the winter, Dad took a couple of weeks off work to make our annual sojourn to Florida, fishing down one coast and up the other. We fished everywhere we went and fished almost every style, from cane poles to fly rods.
So with a background like that, it wasn’t surprising that I bought my first new fishing boat in Rockport, Texas, in 1985 and set about learning the bay systems there. There wasn’t a woman to be found at the boat ramps at that time, so, since I was 25 years old, I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of commentary–things like, “does your husband know you have his boat” or, “for a blonde, you can sure back up a boat trailer”!
2. What’s your main fishery like? Describe the kinds of fishing you do.
In 2009, I was lucky enough to move from Rockport to Baffin Bay, a unique bay about an hour and half south of Rockport. This bay is about 180 degrees away from where I came from and is known as a “hyper-saline, landlocked lagoon.”
Talk about a life-changing experience! No only did I marry the man of my dreams, Capt. Aubrey Black, who just happened to be known as the “guru of trophy trout” on Baffin Bay, but it took me one full year to bring enough of my Rockport clients to Baffin Bay to experience some of the most untouched fly fishing that exists on the Texas Coast.
Baffin Bay, being a “land-locked lagoon” has no tide. It’s too far from either Gulf inflow from the north or the south to make a difference. Water will eek in and eek out, but at a snail’s pace–which could take days, not hours. It’s a hyper-saline system that has no fresh water sources other than rainfall run-off, which ebbs and flows and why the area is known as the “Wild Horse Desert.”
Baffin Bay is known for growing the largest Speckled Trout on the Texas Coast, and there is very little boat and fishing pressure. Because of the remoteness of the bay, anglers really have to want to fish Baffin. The bay also runs east and west, into the land mass, unlike the rest of the bays on the Texas Coast. The entire north side of Baffin Bay is the legendary King Ranch and the entire south side of the Bay is the Kenedy Ranch. No water towers, power lines, houses, condos–nothing. This will not change in my life time or maybe many others, so the vast remoteness of the bay is protected from development.
3. What’s the one thing that your clients need to work on?
Here on Baffin Bay, the most important thing about being a successful sight caster is seeing the fish (and more importantly, seeing the fish before they see you). Understanding the shapes, colors, movements and high probability locations of the predator fish under the water is not as easy for someone who doesn’t do it very often. That kind of focus is easy for a guide because we look at fish every day. Imparting that kind of knowledge to clients is the most important thing to start getting shots at fish.
Clients should start by having the right pair of sunglasses and a hat with a dark underbrim. Sunglasses in high-contrast colors such as brown, amber, or vermillion are essential.
Short, accurate casts are more important here than big long shots. See the fish fast, get the fly to the fish, catch the fish! Fancy casts are nice but getting the job done is better and seeing the fish as soon as possible is the best way to catch a bunch on the fly!
4. What is your favorite winter species to target?
Winter fishing on Baffin Bay is trophy trout time. A trophy on this bay is over 30 inches. Eight to ten-pound fish are regularly caught during the winter and into early spring. The biggest, heaviest fish will be caught closer to the spawn, which happens when the water temperature rises to 75 degrees and stays there. The trout have been feeding all winter to survive and then also feeding up for the spawn. An eight-pound trout caught in December could balloon up to a ten- or even an eleven-pounder in March. However, Baffin is the kind of place that can offer a new Texas State Record–currently nearly 14 pounds–on any given day.
Another great winter species to target are the many big redfish that live in the system. Redfish in other Texas bay systems move out to the Gulf and stay there when they grow to be over 28 inches. In Baffin Bay, because the bay is so far away from any gulf outlets, the redfish don’t leave to spawn; they get the job done right there. So, because of this, there are herds of these gigantic redfish in the 50-inch class that are around 50 to 60 years old. They feed deep and shallow, but when they are shallow, half of their bodies are out of the water. If they are up shallow, they are usually eating, so tossing just about anything in front of them will result in a strike! Hold on.
5. What are your top winter flies?
Believe it or not, my top winter flies are also my top summer flies, with a few slight changes! White Clousers–tied with arctic-fox fur, red gills, and bead-chain eyes on a #4 hook–perform miracles here on Baffin Bay. The other productive fly here is a white crab, also with bead-chain eyes and on a #4 hook. The tail on this crab is tied with arctic-fox fur as well. Arctic fox fur really undulates in the water, giving the fly lots of free-swimming life.
In the winter, I’ll toss either of these same flies tied with mini-barbell eyes and lots more material, creating a bigger presence in the water. Since fish like to eat bigger in the winter and there isn’t much small food in the system, throwing bigger flies will catch more fish. Now, fishing for trophy trout calls for something even bigger. Trout can eat baitfish that are 2/3 of their body length. So when they do eat, they want more bang for their buck. Again, a big white streamer or something that looks like a five- to six-inch mullet. Dave Hayward at the Swan Point Landing Store in Rockport ties some of these big whopper trout flies. They are white SeaDucers, and I just call them “baby hamsters,” but they catch big trout!
To learn more about Capt. Sally and Baffin Bay Rod & Gun, click here.