Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Spotted seatrout have a lot of fans around the Sunshine State

Spotted seatrout action has been hot and heavy around Sarasota Bay and other area waters.
Snook arguably are Florida’s most-popular backcountry fish.

But spotted seatrout aren’t far behind.

Trout are plentiful, usually very cooperative and fairly good on the table.

They’re every man’s fish.

Fortunately, those of us who reside in or near the Sarasota-Bradenton area are smack dab in the middle of some of the finest seatrout fishing around. When other species have lockjaw, you can usually count on trout.

The outlook wasn’t so good just a few years ago. Red tide, a pesky algae bloom which periodically invades area waters, killed thousands of trout in Sarasota Bay and adjacent waters. The dreaded tide showed up in December of 2004 and lasted until January of 2006.

Many local charter operators put self-imposed moratoriums on killing seatrout for at least a few months. As a result of that moratorium and the fact that trout are very prolific, the species rebounded with gusto.

Tackle for spotted seatrout should be relatively light. Most often, I use a light spinning rod and 8-pound test braided line. I employ about an 18-inch length of fluorocarbon for a shock leader.

My No. 1 lure is a D.O.A. 1/16-ounce CAL Jig with a gold or copper crush paddle tail. D.O.A.’s Deadly Combination is a close second. I also use the MirrOlure MirrOdine and the Rapala Skitter Walk on occasion.

I most often fish Sarasota Bay. Favorite spots include the deep grass off Stephens Point, the deep grass off the sand between the Ringling Mansion and Whitfield Avenue and the deep grass off the southern side of Whale Key near Buttonwood Harbor.

I prefer to drift those areas and I avoid anchoring – unless the wind is strong.

Most often, I’ll start randomly casting with a jig to determine where the fish are located. Experience tells me to concentrate on edges or holes in the grass. I will target areas of broken bottom or sand holes within a grassy area. I don’t like to fish bottoms of solid grass.

To see the grass, a quality pair of polarized sunglasses is necessary.

Tide really isn’t a key factor when fishing over deep grass. As long as it’s moving one way or the other, I’m fine.

I prefer to use the lightest jig head possible. I don’t want my jig rocketing to the bottom and tangling in the grass. I want a slow fall.

I’ll cast my jig out, allow it to sink, reel in the slack and work it. Jigging and reeling are two separate actions. Many people make the mistake of reeling and jigging at the same time.

Trout (and other species) will hit the jig as it falls 99 percent of the time. That’s why using braided line and a sensitive graphite rod is important. When you feel the slightest hit, it’s time to reel up any slack and set the hook.

I’ve fished with anglers who insist on using monofilament. I don’t have any problem with their choice, but I’m convinced it’s not nearly as sensitive and I am sure a lot of hits go undetected. In addition, monofilament stretches so much that it’s often very difficult to set the hook. There’s no stretch in braided line.

One of the keys to successful trout fishing is to fish where there’s a food source. I constantly scan to water to look for baitfish. Inevitably, whenever I find glass minnows or pilchards on the surface, I find spotted seatrout below.

I also look for predator fish blowing up on minnows.

This past year has been very good in terms of large trout. Florida’s southwest coast is not considered prime territory for “gator” trout. That honor goes to the east coast. However, my clients and I have taken several trout from 6 to 7 ½ pounds this year.

One angler, Chuck Linn of Oklahoma, managed three behemoths in one morning. His first trout was a 4-pounder and we thought that might be the catch of the morning. So, I took a photo of Linn and his fish.

His next trout was a 6 ¼-pounder that he caught on a topwater plug. I took his picture and then walked back to the kayak to put the camera up. But I didn’t get 20 feet away when Linn said he had another monster trout. This one weighed 6 ½ pounds.

I took his photo again and began walking back to the kayak. He hooked another gator.

His third monster trout of the morning weighed 7 ½ pounds.

All of that action took place on the grass flat along the south side of Whale Key on the west side of Sarasota Bay. I’ve taken several impressive trout (although none as large) since that time.

I also managed to catch a 7-pounder over the deep grass off Stephen’s Point in September.

I don’t keep spotted seatrout because they’re not my favorite fish to eat. I find them rather soft-fleshed. However, if you want to keep a couple for dinner, remember the bag limit is four per person per day. Slot limit is 15 to 20 inches. One fish in the limit may be more than 20 inches.

The season is closed in this part of the state in November and December.

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