Spring Fishing

Spring-Speckled Trout Fishing

Southern Anglers Target the Beautiful, Tasty Sea Trout

Spring has arrived in the South, and for saltwater anglers that means it’s time to go after speckled trout. Red drum have been providing non-stop action all winter for many fishing guides and their clients, but in April an angler’s thoughts turn to the emerging trout bite the way a baseball player’s thoughts turn to home runs.

Captain Mark Dickson of Shallow Minded Charters in North Myrtle Beach has been guiding anglers to spring trout on both the North and South Carolina side of the border for many years. He says southern trout fishing is already in full swing.

“They’re feeding right now,” Dickson says, “and if you can find them you can really hammer them. We got eighteen the other day. They’re really in that pre-spawn mode.”

According to Dickson, the first trout that are active in southern waters are the “spike” sized specks of 12 to 14 inches. The bigger female fish show up a little later, as the water temperatures start to warm and they are ready to spawn. 
“Most of the ones we’re getting right now are the smaller ones,” he says. “Down in lower South Carolina, where they’re running a water temperature 5 or 6 degrees higher than us, I have a buddy catching nice five and six pounders.”

Once temperatures rise the larger trout move out of inshore waters to feed and spawn off the beach. That’s when Dickson says pier and surf anglers have their best luck, while he’ll take his clients to the jetties.

“We’ll catch the big ones on the jetties in late April,” he says. “By June they’ll be all spawned out.”

Dickson’s biggest obstacle has been the weather, with the wind and rain playing havoc with the schedules of local fishing guides. He said he’s had to cancel quite a few charters. He also watches the tide closely, as speck bites only occur when a strong current gets the bait stirred up.

“The best bait has been the Bett’s Billy Bay Halo Shrimp,” he says. “I’ve been using them with up to a ½ ounce lead head. The trout bite when the water is really moving, and with the currents, I’ve been fishing the heavier jig heads will work better than the usual ¼ ounce size.”

Trout anglers guard their secrets well, but I was able to get Dickson to describe the retrieval he’s been using recently with the Billy Bay Shrimp grubs.

“How I work these baits varies, as the fish do not want the same action everyday. I’ve been having a lot of success casting it up current and letting it sink and settle. I let it sit, then I pop it real hard once. It has movement just like a real shrimp, and those legs on the Halo baits will shimmy in the water.”

Dickson says that this technique will work with the popular Gulp baits and other shrimp-imitating lures made for trout now sold at all southern coastal tackle shops.

“You have to pop it to let them know it’s there,” he says, “but you don’t want to do too much. Fish it slow. Nine times out of ten the trout will hit it as it falls back into the water.”

Dickson also says that the color of the shrimp lures matters.

“If it ain’t chartreuse, it often ain’t no use,” he says, referring to the color many speck vets like to go to when the going gets tough. Chartreuse lures have always occupied a large section of the tackle boxes for die-hard trout anglers. 
Dickson is hoping for better weather as spring fishing gets into full swing.

“The wind has howled this year,” he said. “Makes it tough. But bad weather can mean good fishing if you can get to them.” 
Dickson and other guides like to fish the creeks until the ocean temperatures rise enough to make going outside worthwhile. As the tides lower in the feeder creeks of the Intracoastal Waterway small fish and shrimp leave the protection of the shallows and are funneled out into deeper water where the trout lie in wait. In areas where there is marsh grass, the specks will sometimes go into a feeding frenzy as the water recedes past the grass depriving the small fry of the cover they had during high tide.

Anglers can cast their lures around the mouths of these creeks on the lowering tide and often hook up with a fish on every cast. In addition to trout, redfish prowl the same waters gorging on the bait pushed out to them.

Specks will hit throughout the year in most southern states, although spring and fall are the best times to fish for them. In addition to shrimp-imitating lures, they can be caught in many other ways, including with hard plugs like MirrOlures or with live bait.

MirrOlure plugs target the larger trout that roam the ocean waters as spring becomes summer. The best live bait for specks is shrimp, usually fished either under a float or on a rig without much weight. Many fishermen use cast nets to catch their own shrimp in the creeks.

Speckled trout are a gorgeous fish that have delicate white meat that is very good fried but also great in many other fish recipes. Different states have different size and creel limits, so you have to check to find out how many you can keep.

According to Dickson, now is the time to start targeting this attractive and tasty target. “The trout fishing is only going to get better from here on out,” he says. “As long as the weather is good, you’re going to be able to catch them.”

Spring Fishing

Spring Fishing for Bluefish

When the spring warms the coastal waters of the south, anglers set their sights on bluefish, a powerful and aggressive species that deserves every bit of its bad reputation. Bluefish seem to be an angry fish, chomping on anything in their path and bullying their way through surf and waterways.

They are so intent on slashing in and imposing their will that they will even eat other bluefish if nothing else happens to be available. That’s why bluefish schools usually contain fish all the same size: smaller ones are afraid to join the roaming packs.

You can catch bluefish in a lot of ways and with a wide variety of bait and lures. Sometimes redfish or speckled trout anglers, who don’t want to catch them at all, have an encounter with a hungry bluefish that decides to chomp on their grub or plug. However, if you want to target bluefish selectively there are some basic strategies you can use to catch them.

Bluefish are called different names at different sizes. Little ones are snappers, large blues are tailors, and big daddy blues are called chopper. As I said, you won’t find the sizes mixed together too often as blues have no problem turning cannibal on their friends.

For catching spring snappers and tailors out in the surf or on an ocean pier you want medium-heavy gear. You need to decide if you want to bottom fish or throw lures at blues. Fishing with lures is more fun when bluefish are biting but it can become a bit of a chore when they aren’t around.

As far as lures go spring bluefish hit anything fast and shiny. Gotcha-style pencil plugs with redhead and white bodies are classic bluefish lures.

For bottom fishing get yourself a good 7 to 8 ft rod and spool it with 12 lb test line. You will be throwing bottom rigs and need something that can handle two or three ounces weight. Many stores will try to sell you wire bottom rigs for bluefish, due to their sharp teeth. But you will get many more hits if you stick with heavy monofilament leaders.

On bottom rigs, fresh bait is best, and bloody cut bait is hard to beat for bluefish. The cut flesh of just about any fish (even bluefish itself) will get those snappers chomping. Blues also hit almost any other natural bait fished on the bottom including cut shrimp, squid, bloodworms or even earthworms.

Spring bluefish will also hit live baits fished on the bottom. A fishfinder rig is better for this type of fishing. Blues love to chomp on finger mullet, pogies, mud minnows, small pinfish or most any live bait you put out there. Bluefish are great fun to catch and spring is a perfect time to go after them. If you want an encounter with a hard-fighting species that will put your fishing skills to the test, then bluefish are the perfect target for you.

Spring Fishing

Spring Fishing for Sea Mullet from the Pier or in the Surf

Sea mullet start hitting in the spring along the southern coast and are one of the most popular targets for anglers fishing off of ocean piers and in the surf. People are often confused about when and where sea mullet are biting because they have so many different regional names that it is difficult to talk about them without getting mixed up.

In reality, three species of this feisty little panfish are caught during the spring along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, but it doesn’t matter what you call them since the point is they area fun pier fish and very tasty on the dinner table.

Sea mullet are not really mullet at all and belong in the drum and croaker family. They go by a host of different names such as kingfish, whiting, roundheads, Virginia mullet (in NC), and sea mullet. Whatever you call them they are a fun fish to catch and eat.

You fish for sea mullet on the bottom with standard high-low rigs and small number 4 or 6 hooks. Sea mullet have small mouths and it’s harder to hook them if you are using big hooks and baits. You don’t need fancy spinners or floats on your rig, just a couple of small hooks above a sinker of about 2 or 3 ounces.

You can catch sea mullet from the pier or from the surf. They go into very shallow water chasing sand fleas, but they also sometimes hold in deeper sloughs out off the beach in holes that local anglers become familiar with quickly.

As far as baits go, sea mullet are in the surf to suck up shellfish and seaworms, so your choice of offerings should reflect their diet. A good choice is a very fresh-cut shrimp. Many piers and tackle shops sell frozen shrimp, but if you obtain local fresh shrimp you will have better luck with sea mullet as fresh shrimp stays on the hook better and puts out a better scent.

Sea mullet can also be caught with pieces of cut squid, cut bloodworms, or small sand fleas that you dig out from the surf at the beach. You can even catch them on regular old earthworms and also on any bit of cut bait.

If you are looking for a mess of sea mullet, however, it is best to give them what they the bait that they are foraging for in the first place. I like to use a small piece of cut artificial bloodworm marketed by brands such as Fishbites and Gulp and then add a bit of fresh-cut shrimp to the hook. The combination is one sea mullet can rarely resist. One thing is for sure, sea mullet won’t disappoint you at the table. They are a delicious fish that is just perfect for pan-frying. So go out to the nearest fishing pier or beach and get in on some nice sea mullet action.