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.”