Speckled trout can provide a lot of fishing fun during the summer in South Florida. These are the places you need to try for trout between Sebastian and Miami this month.
A plastic DOA Night Glow shrimp fooled this big trout into inhaling it! Photo by Capt. John Kumiski
By Capt. John Kumiski
Early morning sunlight reflected off the smooth surface of the Indian River Lagoon. Up to his knees in the water, Mark Nichols had just missed a strike and was rapidly skimming his artificial shrimp across the surface. The bait was almost to his feet when a giant trout exploded on it, splashing water all over Mark. One of the best anglers in Florida, Nichols responded like a rank rookie, rearing back on the rod and setting the hook like a tuna fisherman, instantly breaking off the fish.
ABOUT THE FISH
During the summer months, seatrout in southeast Florida are spawning, which takes a lot of energy. Water temperatures cause the fish's metabolism to work at peak efficiency, meaning the trout have to eat a lot. Consequently, summer here means some of the best trout fishing of the year.
The fish frequent areas close to the inlets at this time of year. Do your fishing where an obvious tidal flow is present and you should have more success. Those areas should have shallow grass flats nearby, though, since that's where the juvenile trout live and feed as they mature, and it's where the mature trout look for most of their groceries. Since areas like Jupiter and the Palm Beaches lack the necessary habitat, they produce relatively few trout. Biscayne Bay and the Indian River Lagoon from Sebastian Inlet to the St. Lucie Inlet are the top trout-producing areas.
Adult spotted seatrout eat mostly other fish, like anchovies, mullet, silversides, pinfish and menhaden, or crustaceans, such as shrimp of all kinds, as well as some crabs. Using lures that imitate these preferred foods is always a good idea.
Tackle needs for seatrout are fairly simple. Plug, spin and fly tackle all work. Fishermen who prefer plug tackle want a light outfit - 12-pound-test monofilament or equivalent superbraid, with about a 7-foot rod. Spin-fishermen should use a similar outfit, with 8- or 10-pound line. Using a 3-foot shock leader of 15-pound fluorocarbon is an excellent idea.
Your lure selections should imitate fish and shrimp. Because so much of the action here is catch-and-release, my own preference is for lures that have just a single hook. That having been said, hard plugs, with their multiple gang hooks, certainly do work.
Soft plastics are my own favorites. In the summertime, I like 5-inch jerkbaits rigged on 4/0 or 5/0 offset worm hooks. These lures can be worked through the shallowest seagrass beds without hanging up, and the fish absolutely crush them. Plastic imitation shrimp are extremely effective, even more so when a rattle is inserted.
Lots of baits work if you're in the right place at the right time. There is no better way to figure out those places and times than talking with the top anglers along this coast.
Capt. Tony DeMao fishes the Indian River Lagoon between Melbourne and Wabasso, around Sebastian Inlet.
"I like to fish for trout around shallow flats and shallow bars, less than a foot deep, that have surrounding deep water," he said. "The spoil islands can also be real good."
Those islands are composed of dredge material from the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) and lie along that water route's course through the lagoon.
"I prefer to get out early and fish with topwater plugs on top of shallow flats, or around the bars or islands," Capt. DeMao said. "It's not very technical fishing. Trout are usually easier to catch than some of the other species we have here."
Once the sun gets up, he switches to soft-plastic lures that will go through the thickest grass without hanging up.
"We have a lot of floating grass," the captain emphasized. "I fish these on top of the shallow bars, casting to potholes in the grass. I like to do this in the middle of the day because usually there's no one else there. An outgoing tide is best, but as long as the water is moving it will work.
"The water is very clear, but you can't see the fish since they sit right up against the grass," he continued. "They have such good camouflage they're just invisible. The thicker the grass is, the more likely you are to get bit. If you don't get a bite on the top of the bar, let the bait fall along the bottom as it drops off, and a lot of time you pick up a fish. The biggest ones are usually in the shallowest water, though."
Capt. Eric Davis lives in Vero Beach and fishes the Indian River farther south, from Sebastian to Fort Pierce.
"Around Fort Pierce, there are excellent areas for trout - flats with thick grass full of potholes," he offered. "From the ramp on the north bridge in Fort Pierce north, on the east side of the Intracoastal Waterway, the grass flats extend for almost a mile. You can drift and cast here, and it's the closest to a sure thing in fishing, if you have an outgoing tide in the early morning. The fish are big too, often between 4 and 6 pounds.
"On the west side of the ICW in the same area, all the way to Harbor Branch, it's much the same. The grass flats have potholes, and the trout just love this kind of bottom.
"When the conditions are calm, as they usually are early in the morning, you should use smaller baits. Any plug with a walk-the-dog action is effective when you're blind-casting.
"Jerkbaits usually work better when you can see well enough to cast to individual potholes. The fish will usually be lying at the edges of the holes against the grass, almost impossible to see. So you just cast to every hole, and fish every cast like you're going to get a bite.
|PROTECTING THE RESOURCE|
During the summer, seatrout are spawning along Florida's coast. A fish in the protected slot limit of 15 to 20 inches in length may produce 10 million eggs over the course of the summer.
Larger trout of more than 5 or 6 pounds can produce 60 million eggs. Also, these bigger fish have already demonstrated genetic potential to grow large, a trait that may be transmitted to their offspring. That makes these bigger fish worth more in the water than they are on someone's dinner plate.
The bottom line is that trout being returned to the water should always be handled carefully, and it is a good idea to keep the smaller fish for the dinner table, while always releasing the lunkers.
"Stealth is extremely important in this fishing," Capt. Davis continued. "Long casts usually work better because the fish farther away from you aren't aware of you yet.
"South of the south bridge on the west shore, there are a lot of docks. This is a productive area. Sometimes the fish are right around the docks, sometimes they're out away from them over the grass, and sometimes they're scattered through both places. There are subtle variations in the bottom here - depressions, bars and holes, and the fish are as likely to be there as around the docks.
"On the other side of the ICW, there are submerged islands that also hold fish, but you have to fish them early. Once the boat traffic starts along the ICW, the fish disappear from this area.
"The all-tackle world-record seatrout weighed over 17 pounds and was caught here."
Mark Nichols owns DOA Lures and does extensive product testing on the waters of the Indian River Lagoon near the St. Lucie Inlet. Mark has caught as many 10-pound-plus trout as anyone I know.
"Moving water and the presence of bait are two of the most important things to look for when fishing for trout around here," explained this innovative angler. "I like to fish around sand or shell bars. My preference is for a falling tide, but two of my best-ever days were on incoming tides.
"I like a mixture of bait sizes," Nichols added. "If you have small baits, the trout will also usually be small, but if small baits and big mullet are mixed there are almost always some big trout around.
"I prefer to wade. A stealthy approach is very important. I think if I catch a fish or two from a spot while fishing from the boat, I could have caught 10 or so if I were wading. It's that big a difference.
"I usually like fishing off the bar in two or three feet of water, but early in the morning the biggest trout will often be right on top of the bar in the shallowest water, especially if those big mullet are up there. Bars close to channels seem to have more big fish than bars farther away. I think they like the security of nearby deep water."
Nichols generally casts across the current and lets the bait swing with the flow. He gets a lot more strikes during that swing than once he starts retrieving the lure.
"When I'm fishing over grass, I like the bait to be in contact with the top of the grass," he noted. "The fish are lying in the grass waiting to ambush stuff passing by. By having it down there on their level it makes it easy for them to eat it.
"When I'm fishing really shallow water, less than a foot, I like to use a jerkbait. You can skip it across the top when throwing it and snake it back through the thickest grass. If I need a little more casting distance or need it to sink a little faster, I can just add a pinch weight to the hook.
"When I'm fishing in shallow water 2 to 3 feet deep, I like using the shallow-running Bait Buster, especially if I'm targeting only large fish. My favorite colors are silver with a black back and red head over white. I make them part a wake just under the surface, especially if the water is calm. The strikes when a big fish nails these are just awesome.
Not surprising, DOA plastic shrimp lures in 3-inch and 4-inch sizes Nichols' are go-to baits. Trout of all sizes hit these, especially the 3-inch version. While catching a lot of the smaller fish, he still gets those big ones that he likes so much. The angler switches to the bigger imitation shrimp when he needs more casting distance.
One trick he uses is to stick a plastic worm rattle into these baits, which often results in more strikes. His favorite color is the Night Glow, closely followed by root beer.
"Noisy surface plugs can be used to cover a lot of water and can be extremely effective, especially when it's rough," Nichols resumed.
"I like to use a light rod, light braided line, and a light drag setting when fishing for trout. The braided line is real sensitive and lets me feel the subtlest strikes - very important on slow retrieves. Even a big trout isn't going to fight very hard, and their mouths tear easily. Using a lighter touch will actually put more fish in the boat."
Capt. Alan Sherman lives in Miami Shores and fishes Biscayne Bay extensively. He's one of the few guides there who concentrate on seatrout.
"Finding trout in Biscayne Bay is pretty easy. They like to hang out around seagrass beds. The bottom of Biscayne Bay is covered with seagrass from Baker's Haulover Cut all the way down into the Keys.
To arrange a day of guided trout fishing on the southeast coast, contact Capt. Eric Davis of Vero Beach at (772) 567-6665, Capt. Tony DeMao of Palm Bay at (321) 508-3351, or Capt. Alan Sherman of Miami at (786) 436-2064.
To learn more about Mark Nichols' DOA Lures, visit www.doalures.com.
"I usually fish between the Haulover Cut and Government Cut. There are lots of flats in these areas. I prefer water between 3 and 6 feet deep. The fish go out into water as deep as 10 feet if the water is clear, but usually in the summer it gets discolored."
The captain looks for bait - glass minnows, pilchards, sardines or finger mullet - in order to locate the trout.
"On big flats, individual large fish lurk around potholes in the grass, but the schools of fish I prefer to target generally stay near the edge of the flat," Capt. Sherman emphasized. "I find that on these
large flats, lower tide stages are better because they force the fish to the edge of the flat, where they are much easier to locate.
"The smaller flats are better on higher tides. Because the flat is small, it's a lot easier to locate fish, especially schools of fish, on top of them then."
Once the fish are found, Sherman has some tricks for hooking them too.
"As far as tackle, my favorite way to fish for trout is to use a float with 3 feet of 30-pound monofilament underneath it. I prefer natural baits, such as shrimp or pilchards. It works incredibly well on everything.
"I usually use a 1/0 or 2/0 long-shank hook. The 30-pound leader is heavy for trout, but it doesn't seem to bother them, and we also get snook, tarpon, Spanish mackerel and bluefish taking our baits. The heavier leader lets us land most of these fish, and the long-shank hook reduces the number of cutoffs from the mackerel and the blues. That long-shank hook is much easier to get out of the fish than shorter-shank models, too."
But live bait is not all the captain employs.
"When I'm using lures, we blind-cast these and bounce them along the bottom through the grass. Trout are ambush hunters. They usually lie in the grass waiting for something to swim overhead so they can nail it. We find when we fish this way that most strikes occur when the jig is falling back towards the bottom."
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