Danny Patrick looked left, then right, before putting his outboard in neutral and moving to the bow of his 22-foot boat. He checked landmarks again, then lowered the electric motor and set it on "Spot Lock" to hold a position in very deep water.
"Catching trout isn't so hard when you consider where fish live," Patrick said as he netted a fresh live shrimp from his baitwell and threaded it onto a 2/0 Kahle hook. "When they're deep, say over 20 feet down, and the current is running pretty strong, the best way I know to catch trout is with a sliding float-bobber rig and a frisky live shrimp."
The adjustable sliding float-rig Patrick uses is a standard terminal setup that enables anglers to naturally drift live bait from just under the surface down to 40 feet or more. That day we were anchored in 40 feet of water, drifting live shrimp back to a ledge 30 feet down. It was deep, pinpoint fishing.
I tried grub jigs and spoons after our last bait was taken, but couldn't beg a strike. Even threading a grub onto a hook and taking it deep with a float-rig was fruitless.
"In deep, cool water, trout often will clobber a live shrimp near bottom, but ignore everything else," Patrick said.
Another time, during a warm summer night, my sons and I found schools of feeding trout around bright lights under dozens of docks. The water was only 4 to 8 feet deep, and I figured we'd have a field day catching them on small diving plugs and soft-plastic, shrimp-imitating lures. We caught plenty of trout, but nothing over 2 pounds, at least not until Eric made a long cast uptide with a small 1/8-ounce soft-plastic gray grub jig.
Using braided line, he got a small loop at the spool, which took a minute or so to unsnarl. The current was strong and while his lure was on bottom it tumbled along without Eric imparting any action. Just as he freed the line and wound his reel tight to the jig, a heavy fish struck.
Eric set the hook, and boated a 4-pound trout, our best of the night. Almost before Eric had his fish in the boat, Matt and I fired casts upcurrent, but with standard twitch-and-fall jig retrieves, we didn't get a strike. Soon Eric had his lure ready for another cast, let his lure sink to bottom, and slowly reeled, keeping taut line as the grub tumbled naturally. Seconds later he had another heavy trout.
Plenty of trout were feeding around those dock lights, but the biggest fish were deep, apparently picking up wounded minnows hit by smaller fish at the surface.
The point of these trout tales is that fish can be caught on everything from deeply drifted live baits, to slowly tumbled jigs and spoons, to topwater plugs. In fact, trout can be caught on so many lures and baits, using so many different tactics, that it can be a little confusing as to what to use and where to start.
Part of a successful seatrout-catching system is to consider lures and baits as merely tools to find fish and make them strike. For example, in cold weather, seatrout often become less aggressive, and move to deep water. So wade-fishing and casting topwater plugs isn't going to be as productive as fishing live shrimp along deep-water edges. However, shallow grass flats that attract schools of large spring seatrout at dawn, dusk and at night are choice places to cast topwater plugs, soft-plastic jerkbaits and lightly weighted plastic shrimp imitations.
Some knowledge of trout, their habits and behavior in various regions is important in choosing fishing tactics and lures that consistently produce fish.
At dawn and dusk, warm-weather seatrout often are found in very shallow water, sometimes just a few feet deep. Topwater lures and lipped diving plugs are deadly when cast around shoreline grass edges, alongside rock jetties and breakwalls, near oyster bars and dock pilings. In overcast weather or in cool spring and fall weather, good numbers of trout can be caught shallow through much of a day.
But when the sun shines bright, and the water is clear, trout typically move off flats into deeper water, where ledges and channels offer safety and forage. That's the time to use live bait, stout jigs and spoons to fish deeper.
Often the location of abundant bait is an important key to locating trout. In many tidal areas bait location often is determined by saline content and water clarity. If a bay or river has abundant summer rain, "upriver" regions may be too fresh to hold lots of bait, and the water may be too dingy or turbid for seatrout. That's the time to move toward saltwater, searching for bait and higher salinity. Conversely, during dry seasons, river water clears and becomes more salty, attracting bait and seatrout.
Different seasons of the year also affect bait and seatrout. In winter, bait supplies often dwindle and move deep, along with trout. Those are great times to fish jigs, spoons and live baits. In warmer months, bait is abundant, which is key in finding game fish.
Sometimes finding trout is the biggest headache, and a team of two or three anglers working together with various lure styles can be helpful in locating fish. If the water is 6 feet, one angler can cast a shallow-running diving plug, while another fishes a lightweight spoon, and a third angler a jig. Keep moving, covering water and changing lures until fish are contacted.
"Matching the hatch" is an old angling truism that applies well to seatrout lure selection. Early in the year, mullet, menhaden and shrimp are typically smaller than in fall or winter. Take note of bait size and action, and mimic it while trout fishing. Some anglers are adamant that seatrout are more conscious of lure color than many other marine fish. A good rule of thumb is dark lures in dark water or overcast weather, and bright lures in sunny weather and clear water. When in doubt, use both, such as a black grub with a chartreuse tail. And when fishing with others, each should try something different until one hue seems to outfish the others.
When it comes to choosing and using lures for seatrout, it's wise to have a wide selection of artificials that enables fishing from surface to bottom. Try different lure styles with different actions, watch for bait, and stay moving until fish are found shallow, deep or somewhere in-between.
Often redfish can be found right along with trout. However, some refinements are needed to dupe reds found near trout.
One of the most important traits for a good redfish lure — especially in shallow water — is that it enters the water softly. Many lures qualify, including most streamer flies and popping bugs.
Soft-plastic jerkbaits, rigged weedless with little or no weight, are excellent. Match the size of the lure to baitfish present to best imitate natural food. Bright colors work well, such as ice blue, white, gold, silver, green and pink.
Weedless spoons and spinnerbaits also produce well, with gold colors most popular. Be sure to make casts well beyond targets, intercepting fish during a retrieve. This way the sound of lures hitting the water won't spook reds.
Natural baits can also be deadly for reds, with many fished from a jig. Skimmer or flats-style weedless jigs are good, since they sink slowly and resist snags. Such jigs tipped with shrimp, mud minnows, mullet or chunks of crab sometimes produce redfish when nothing else will, especially in cool water and unstable weather.