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Live Bait For Seatrout

Live Bait For Seatrout

There is no more surefire method of catching speckled trout on the Georgia coast than offering them live baits. Here's a primer on this type of angling.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

It was a beautiful summer morning in coastal South Georgia. A gentle breeze blowing out of the west was hardly noticeable along the Cumberland Island beach. The air was still cool at 6:30 a.m. and the tide was just beginning to flood. Anchoring the boat just off the beach above Christmas Creek and within casting distance of the white sand, fishing partner David Wallace cast a live shrimp toward the shore. Before he could click the bail shut, his float disappeared. A minute later, Dave lifted a nice 2-pound seatrout into the boat.

But that was just the beginning. Before I could get my stuff together, Dave was baited, out again and hooked up. This time he had a little smaller speck, but a trout just the same. I was now baited up and sailed a live shrimp to the same general spot Dave had been fishing. My float bobbed along looking like it was unsinkable. In the meanwhile, David re-baited and cast about three yards from my cork. He hooked up again! I was beginning to wonder what was up. Then my float went down and we had a double working until each of us boated keeper fish.


As the morning proceeded, we caught several fish as each school moved through, intermixed with 15- to 30-minute intervals of no fish. By 10:00 a.m., the bite had ceased and we headed back to Jekyll Harbor Marina with close to a limit of fine-eating seatrout. The morning was a fine example of what summer trout fishing can be like around Georgia's Golden Isles.


Seatrout have a protracted spawning season beginning as early as April and running into September. Fish move to sandy beach areas along the Georgia coast. Beaches associated with sounds, inlets or rivers are preferred. Females lay millions of eggs that are then fertilized by males. These eggs then float with the tide into area rivers and creeks, where they eventually hatch into young trout fry. Once fish are spent, they move into the closest sound system, where they stay, in loosely knit schools, until the winter migration begins.

Seatrout are not fussy eaters and devour almost everything that swims, providing it is small enough to get into their mouths. That is not all that small considering the size of these fish's mouths. The one thing a prospective meal must be is alive, or have the appearance of being alive. Except for the occasional breaking of the rule, seatrout do not eat dead or cut bait fished on the bottom.


Live shrimp is the bait of choice during the summer months. They are easily caught by local bait shrimpers and are sold by area marinas and bait shops. Shrimp stay alive reasonably well in a good aerator, and trout love them.


The most popular way to fish a live shrimp is under a float or cork. Shrimp and minnows feed near oyster bars, mainly because the crooks and crannies offer some protection from predators. Therefore, trout feed near those same oyster bars, and the only way to fish them without hanging up is to suspend the bait just over the shell via a cork.

There are two basic types of floats -- popping and sliding. Popping floats are attached directly to the main line so that the cork moves the same distance as the main line when the rod is moved or the line is retrieved with the reel. These corks sound like feeding fish when they are popped on the surface of the water, thus attracting fish. This is accomplished by jerking the rod sharply. Poppers are effective in water depths up to about 8 to 10 feet. A leader of more than 5 feet is unwieldy and difficult to cast with popping corks. The Cajun Thunder is the most popular popping cork in our area.

When using these corks, a small adjustment is necessary to improve casting distance. Add a 3/4-once trout weight via a split ring to the bottom swivel. This makes the Thunder throw like a rock and still retain its distinctive clicking sound.

Sliding floats have a hole through them and are designed to slide up and down on the main line. A slipknot is tied above the cork to stop it at the desired depth. This allows you to fish one drop in 2 feet of water and the next in 20 feet by merely sliding the knot up or down the line. The sliding float most preferred by trout fisherman is long and round, painted red on one end and white on the other, and is nick named "Red Top" for obvious reasons. These corks come in lengths from 3 to 14 inches. The 10-inch size is most popular.

A lot of fishermen paint the white half of the cork black, or wrap it with black electrical tape. This part protrudes down into the water, and it is believed the black color spooks trout less.

There are special weights made to work with these floats that are called trout sinkers. These sinkers come in varying weights, and each different cork size works best with a specific size sinker. When rigging, tie the slipknot several feet up the main line and then slip a small glass bead onto the main line. Next add the float red end first, then a big glass bead, and finally tie a double overhand knot. Slip the loop created by the double overhand knot through the eye of the trout sinker and around it. Tie a 20-inch length of 20-pound test fluorocarbon leader to the swivel on the trout sinker. Last, tie a 2/0 Kahle hook to the other end of the leader.

I like any of the new super braid lines that float for my main line. Floating line is easier to set the hook with, and the new stuff does not stretch. Also, a bow will form in the line when you're fishing across current, and it is more easily removed when you're fishing floating line. Most of the new braids come in 50-pound test but 12-pound-test diameter. Fifty-pound test is good for getting off the oyster bars and 12-pound diameter is good because a smaller, lighter reel can be utilized.

When fishing live shrimp under a float, the hook should be inserted near the head. There is a dark spot behind the crustacean's eyes. The hook should be inserted just in front of the spot. Insert the hook from one side to the other and toward the top of the head. There is a horn that grows out the top of the head that is very hard. The hook should be inserted just under the horn. The shrimp will live the longest when hooked in this manner and swims most naturally. Also, trout strikes are vicious and always directed toward the head of the intended pray.

Both casting gear and spinning gear work equally well when you're float-fishing. Rods should be 7 1/2 to 9 feet long and medium to medium-light action. Mid-sized quality reels are fine.

When trout will not take a live shrimp fished under a float, it is time to try one free-lined. This fishing method entails light tackle. The main line should be 6- or 8-pound test. A small swivel is used to c

onnect the main line to a 15-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. A No. 1 circle hook is tied to the other end of the leader. Try some of the new blood-red hooks, which may attract more strikes. Spinning gear is a must in order to cast this light rig. A 7- to 8 1/2-foot medium-light-action or light-action rod works well. A medium-sized reel with a dependable drag is a must.

The live shrimp should be hooked just as it is when you're float-fishing. The idea is to cast the shrimp across the current as far as possible. It will swim with the current and end up out the back of the boat. Most anglers put the rod in a rod holder and wait for the bite. The fish sets the hook when you're using circle hooks, so just wait for the rod to bend over and then pick it up and begin reeling. The reason this method works is that it lets the shrimp look more natural when you're using the lighter line and hook with no sinker. The best time to utilize this method is the couple of hours around the change of the tide or on those days when the tides are small and therefore slow. A fast-moving current will bring your shrimp to the surface, spinning "in the wind" so to speak.

Bottom fishing is also utilized with live shrimp. The same gear used for float-fishing can be employed for bottom fishing. A fish-finder rig consisting of an egg sinker is slipped onto the main line above a swivel, a 20-pound-test 20-inch length of fluorocarbon leader is attached to the swivel, and a 2/0 Kahle hook is used. The sinker should be just heavy enough to keep the bait on the bottom. This is dependant on the depth of the water being fished and the strength of the current flow. Needless to say, you should only bottom fish where the bottom is relatively clean.

Seatrout are in mid-spawn in July, and they are found on beaches, in sounds, and in rivers and creeks in the lower reaches of sounds. The beach fish run the shore in water depths ranging from 2 to 10 feet. The ideal situation is low tide at sunrise. The water temperature is as cool as it is going to be all day, and the sun is not yet bright overhead. Also, most spawning is done during the low flood stage, thus allowing the eggs to float with the tide inland. Look for spawning seatrout on Wolf Island beach near the "break through."

When fishing the beach, always consider the wind direction and speed. Any wind with an easterly slant to it is bad for fishing Georgia beaches. Easterly winds cause bigger rollers and surf that make fishing uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst. No wind or west wind is best for beach fishing.

Trout move away from the beaches as the day progresses. As the sun rises, the water warms and light penetrates farther. Fish then head into nearby sounds, creeks and rivers, where they can find deeper water. Water depths ranging from 8 to 20 feet are preferred during the heat of the day. Post-spawn trout also are found in these same areas.

Look for dropoffs close to shore that are lined with oyster shell. Trout are structure-oriented, and shells break loose near the bank and fall into the deeper water. When fishing a new prospective drop, it is a good idea to tie a 2-ounce egg sinker onto the end of a rig with 50-pound-test line. You can probe the bottom with the sinker by casting in different directions and dragging it back across the bottom. If you do not feel a good bit of shell or other debris, do not spend too much time fishing the area.

Areas where trees are washed down at the water's edge are also good prospects. Probe the deeper water away from the bank for fallen trees and branches.

Also look for trout in deeper holes in feeder creeks. Tributaries with an average depth of 4 or 5 feet often have holes that drop to 8 to 20 feet deep. The holes themselves are the structure attracting the fish. Look for these in the curves where a creek splits or where one creek empties into another. All of Georgia's coastal rivers and creeks have these kinds of holes; some produce fish and others do not. You have to explore the streams in your area and do a little fishing to find the ones that produce fish.

Trout also move to submerged oyster bars during the early morning and late afternoon when the tide is high at these times. Many of these areas are associated with mud bars, where boaters never get close enough to see the oyster bars on low tide. They are then covered by water on high tide, so they go unnoticed. Other places to look for during morning and afternoon trips are riprap, docks and ballast rockpiles.

Good locations for such searches are for seatrout in Wassaw, Ossabaw and Doboy sounds.

OTHER LIVE BAITS

The vast majority of trout taken on hook and line in Georgia are taken on live shrimp. But Georgia Department of Natural Resources studies reveal that mature seatrout have a diet of almost exclusively finfish. Fish oil is a necessary ingredient for quality trout egg production; thus, the big female trout begin targeting mostly finfish in their third year. Those anglers who seem to bring big fish to the docks year after year know this.

There is no consensus among anglers as to which finfish is the best trout bait, but there are several bunched together at the top of the list. Finger mullet are one of the top big-trout producers, and some trout fishermen do not fish if mullet are not active in the area. These baits can be taken with a cast net this time of the year with a little work, and they live fairly well in a decent aerator.

GEORGIA STATE-RECORD

Tommy Hall caught the Peach State's Largest ever speckled trout while fishing in Christmas Creek on Cumberland Island. He boated the 9-pound, 7-ounce trout on a fishing trip in July of 1976.

 

Finger mullet can be fished with all the previously mentioned methods. Simply hook the mullet through the lips from bottom to top. When you're free-lining or employing the fish-finder bottom rig, hook the mullet through the back behind the dorsal fin. This allows the bait to swim more freely and to move into places where the big trout lurk.

Croakers are believed by some anglers to be the top choice for big trout. Croakers eat trout eggs and fry and are hated by trout. Croakers up to 6 inches in length make good baits, although a 6-incher is awfully big bait.

You can catch small croakers on hook and line with a small piece of shrimp or take them with a cast net. They can be fished by all the aforementioned methods using the bottom-to-top lip-hooking technique. When you're free-lining and using the fish-finder rig, hook larger croaker in the tail behind the anal fin.

Mud minnows are another great bait for big trout. These minnows can be taken with a minnow trap. Cat food, crab meat and hotdogs are a few of the favored baits. Mud minnows can be found in small creeks and ditches. You can see them darting away as you walk the bank. The best time to put your traps out is the l

ast couple of hours of the ebb tide and the first couple of hours of the flood tide. These minnows can also be purchased at many bait houses. Again, use the bottom-to-top lip-hook technique.

One other way you can employ any of these minnows is by using them to tip a jig. This rig casts great and is really attractive to trout. It is especially effective when you're fishing around docks and bridge pilings.

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