From late March to early summer the trout along the coastal waters of Alabama will begin their spawn. With consistent warm temperatures, the chances of bringing home dinner from the canals, rivers, and beaches on the Gulf Coast are rising. For some, this may be an exciting time. Specks ranging from 18-26 inches with bellies full of eggs are about to swarm the beaches and inland, aggressively awaiting a topwater lure. For others, this phenomenon may seem foreign and out of reach. But don’t despair! Large trout are within the grasp of every angler on our waters. Here are a few tips to help you improve your Spring experience:
1. Throw Away Your Heavy Tackle
Bigger and heavier is not always true in fishing, especially with speckled trout. The most common mistake for wade fishermen, kayaks, and boating anglers is the use of heavy tackle. If you fish with a leader over 12lb test, you might as well be casting a thick rope dawning a hook on the end. These aren’t 12-inch Louisiana trout that bite anything that moves. Very few respectable Alabama grown specks will be attracted to a line if it isn’t nearly invisible.
Additionally, don’t be lured in by premade rigs sold at tackle shops, unless you prefer catching croakers and hardhead catfish. Over the past few years, we have transitioned to lighter and lighter line. These aren’t largemouth that need to be horsed out of lily pads and weeds with fantastic, theatrical hook sets. Our spinning reels now contain 10-15 lb braid and the typical leader is weighted at 6-10 lbs. The braid allows a sensitive, yet strong, feel, while a few feet of fluorocarbon keep the line nearly invisible in the water.
If fought smartly, a trout could be caught on line as delicate as 4 lb test. In my early days, I would have found this idea ridiculous. But, after fishing for large trout and steelhead against strong current in Pennsylvania on as little as 3-4 lb test, I have come to realize that it’s not only possible, but it also outsmarts wary, larger fish.
The same can be applied to hook selection as well. With live shrimp, size 8 trebles have given us great results over the years. Opinions may differ, but in our experience, going any smaller affects the number of fish that can be hooked securely around the jaw bone, and any large of a hook or single shank doesn’t compete.
2. Probe With Live Bait
I understand that some trout fishermen are “purest.” Only artificial. I wish I could say the same, but I enjoy eating these fish too much to turn down a few grocery trips. If I know the trout have arrived, I will only pack topwater, Vudu shrimp, Live Target shrimp, and Mirrolures. This time of year, as trout transition from winter holdings, they can be very hit-and-miss. To combat this, using live shrimp under a cork can greatly increase your chances of discovering where the fish are dwelling.
3. Stay Active
ADHD can actually be a strength when angling if channeled in a productive manner. Too often, I observe wade fishermen standing stock-still, waiting in one spot for a bite. These fish are very mobile, and can be found at different depths depending on the day. I tend to switch my depth if I lose confidence, or take a few steps left or right, deeper or shallower, after a dozen or so casts. If a topwater or other lure is failing me after 15-30 minutes, I switch. Have three or four knots that you can tie quickly. I have one that I can tie in less that 20 seconds, allowing me to fish uninterrupted.
Once you find a trout, it’s important to continue to fish quickly. The trout will turn on sporadically. Optimizing the number of live shrimp or lures hitting the water when the bite is hot is key to filling a stringer. Photos and food can wait.
After a few trout, especially with lighter tackle, it’s imperative to check the line near the hook. Although they aren’t as toothy as a Spanish mackerel, these fish can fray a line with their fine, sharp teeth. One nick can turn 10-lb test into 3-lb test. Nothing is more frustrating than having a gator trout break a line that could have been mended.
There are countless theories on salinity, temperature, and time of day, but keep things in the appropriate perspective. Most fishermen expressing these beliefs are not well-studied marine biologists or meteorologist. The majority of conclusions are drawn by biased observers with insignificant sample sizes. It’s easy to over-think fish. In the end, you just have to be where they are, and they likely react by instinct. But one thing always hold true when pursuing the spotted seatrout: the tide always helps when it’s moving. There are a few possible reasons for this, each just as likely to be as baloney as the next. One is that fish are lazy. Like humans, they prefer to expend the least amount of energy to acquire calories. A moving tide pushes bait, and decreases a fish’s effort when combing the shore for food. Second, your float simply covers more surface area when it’s constantly drifting. It’s like nature’s trolling motor for your bait. Either way, it’s always helpful to arrive to the spot an hour or so before the tide starts changing.
Paying attention to the lunar calendar can provide some helpful insight. The moon’s gravity affects the tide strongest at full and new moons. Many anglers will tell you a “bright full moon weakens the bite.” It’s nonsense. Speckled trout feed regardless of the level of light. They didn’t evolve to be dependent on moonlight. We have loaded the cooler on the days surrounding a full, clear moon. You will notice that fishing times listed online are always predicted to be more robust at these times of the month. It surprises me how often it is proved true. Honestly, and like most anglers, I fish when it’s convenient for me rather than setting my schedule with the moon. Though, it does add an extra motivator to get me up at 4 AM.
5. Choose Times Wisely
Wake up early. The most successful trout anglers know that first light is hard to beat. It’s consistent even on the worst days. To be clear, there is a difference between first light and sunrise. First light, depending on the time of year, is usually 45-50 minutes before the sun rises. This window gets shorter as we venture further into summer, as the sun angles more vertically in the sky. The first few trout on my stringer usually are fish I hardly witness attack my line in the low light. It can be hard to rise this early on days off of work, but I am usually home by 10:30-11 AM and napping to make up for the early awakening.
Don’t get me wrong, I have had incredible days at 10 AM-4 PM. If I see the tide moving strongly later in the day, I adjust accordingly. But these trips end without a single keeper fish much more often than early, break-of-dawn adventures.
One spot will not give you fish every single trip. Admittedly, I have days without a single bite. Trout keep you honest. That’s why it’s crucial to cover lots of ground and explore new spots. A lot of successful guides are only catching more fish than the average fisherman because they have dozens more places to find trout. They aren’t using a crazy technique or magic tricks, they just have a wider range of productive coordinates. This can take years to develop, and requires patience. Popular, public spots are not always the best either. Some of our best days are accomplished where no other angler would think of stopping. Find places with dramatic dips in depth and contour or structured bottom. These are havens for bait, consequently they attract the predators.
These tips may enlighten a new or learning angler, but don’t always consider these to be absolute truths. I have learned the most from observation and challenging what I considered normal. The way I fish presently is vastly different than the approach I took five years ago. There are numerous ways to stalk this sport fish, and this is a very limited view of how we tackle the species. Feel free to comment below with your own experience. Stay tuned for more tips, recipes, and secrets to speckled trout fishing.
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