When Dean Halewyn woke up last Monday morning and realized it was the seventh day of the seventh month of the year, he remembers thinking it could be a pretty lucky day.
The 55-year-old rice farmer from Alvin, Texas, proved to be right: a few hours later he went out and caught an 8.76-pound speckled trout on Sabine’s north jetties to grab the lead in the western division of CCA Louisiana’s STAR tournament.
“I saw the hit and I really didn’t get too excited because I thought it was probably a shark,” said Halewyn, who was fishing with a live piggy perch about 8-feet beneath a popping cork. “She started running right to the boat and I was afraid I didn’t get a good hook set on her.
“She came up and the perch flew, but the hook stayed. I told my girlfriend, ‘Get the net. This is a big fish.’ She stripped a little line and I brought her back in. It was over in about 30 seconds.”
Halewyn is certainly no stranger to big trout: he’s won the category twice in the Texas STAR tournament, he’s racked up three specks over 9 pounds and in the process, he’s taken home at least one truck and four boats.
“I certainly don’t catch many fish, but when I catch one, it’s usually a good one,” he said, noting he often returns to landings empty-handed when many fishermen come back with their limits. “All these guys are looking at me like, ‘I see you out here all the time. You must absolutely not know what you’re doing.’”
But there’s a method to Halewyn’s madness: he strictly targets big trout with live bait and nothing more than a No. 2 treble hook attached to his 20-pound Berkley Big Game mono line.
“It doesn’t take a lot of fishing gear to fish the way I fish. I try to stay as natural as I can. I don’t put any split shot and no swivel,” he said. “Those big fish, I think they’re pretty educated.”
Sometimes, Halewyn says the big specks like mullet or croaker, but he’s limited by what he can personally get his hands on.
“More so than what the trout prefer, it’s what I’m able to get,” he said. “I’ll spend about an hour in the morning before I go fishing and just catch what I can catch. It might be a few croaker, or it might be a few piggy perch.
“Then I just strike out for the day.”
He’s been fishing the Sabine jetties for about 12 years, and has pinpointed a handful of ‘strike zones’ where he knows big trout lurk.
“Most people just don’t realize how small that strike zone can be because those trout are probably laying behind one of those big rocks out there and they’re catching the bait as it flows over,” he said. “When I go out, I have about four places you’ll see me. Because all the years I’ve fished, I’ve eliminated all these other places.
“These places are about the size of my boat. I’ll work one over for about an hour and if I don’t do any good, I’ll go to the next one. I’ll spend the whole day looking for some fish to be congregated there.”
Like he did for this big trout, which measured exactly 30-inches long, Halewyn sometimes uses a cork to keep the live bait positioned 3- to 4-feet above the rocks.
“They have eyes on top of their head, so you always want to be above the fish,” he said. “If you’re ever below the fish, he’s not going to see your bait.”
Time will tell if Halewyn will hang on for yet another STAR victory, but even if he does, he’ll be back pounding the jetties in pursuit of an even bigger trout.
“I’ve been so close, but I’ve never caught a 10-pounder,” he said. “Any diehard trout fisherman, that’s absolutely no doubt the magic number you’re trying to break.
“My goal is a 10-pound trout.”