Speckled Trout subdued
Every winter, the crisp cool air penetrates the Florida coast with the largest of speckled trout specimens, pushing down along the bays,rivers and inshore waterways. Florida's treasure coast is home to some of the most densely speckled trout habit and forage available. As the water temperatures drop, these keen-eyed and spooky inshore gamefish have grown to be a Florida angling favorite.
The waters stretching from Vero Beach to Hobe Sound encompass a maze of creeks, grass flats, seawalls and nutrient rich estuaries that attract a variety of baitfish such as finger mullet, pinfish, mojarra, sand perch, pilchards, croakers and a slew of snack size prey any healthy speckled trout would happily harvest. Shrimp and crabs are also a staple for specks among the inshore forage and are readily available at your local tackle shop.
There are several ways to rig for these speckled trout which include:
- Free lining - Using a light leader, usually a 2-3ft section of 20-30lb monofilament or fluorocarbon tied directly to your mainline without the use of a swivel and a line to line connection. A double uni-knot or yucatan knot works well and will keep you locked in.
- Slip sinker rig (Best when deeper water and more tide) - Use a 1/4 - 3/8 oz egg sinker tied above a 30lb barrel swivel and then to a light leader, usually a 2-3ft section of 20-30lb mono filament or fluorocarbon. Then a 2/0 - 3/0 light wire circle hook or livebait hook is tied onto the other end when the bait is hooked. Live baits such as pilchard or finger mullet are best fish when the hook is pierced through their nasal cavity or even the upper lip on the finger mullet
- Popping Cork rig - (Best for deeper water and to keep bait above the grass flats). Simply tie main line to popping cork side and then usually a 2-3ft section of 20-30lb mono filament or fluorocarbon is tied to opposite side. Finish by cinching down a 1/0 - 3/0 circle hook or lure.
Wade fishing can be an extremely effective approach to landing BIG Speckled Trout.
Shallow water anglers can target these inshore predators by wading, the use of paddle boards or kayaks, and of a quietly poled skiff. Many discriminate and veteran inshore junkies have since refined their approaches over the years, adopting stealthier strategies to stay connect with their gator trout.
A Stealth Approach
The introduction of fishing paddle boards and kayaks have enabled more gator speckled trout enthusiasts these shallow water tools, providing them access to creep up on unsuspecting trophy fish sitting in skinny water. The minimal water displacement created by a paddle board or kayak is only rivaled by any savvy wading angler. There are 3 things to keep in mind if you plan on landing a massive speckled trout along the treasure coast:
- Focus on finding and observing what forage is prevalent in the area. Spend the time checking out the area and noticing which direction the bait is traveling. If the bait happens to be mullet, make sure to pay attention to which species of mullet - silver, striped, or black?
- Also, be sure to observe the profile or size of the bait as this will dictate which size offering will be most enticing and also help when deciding which size lure to throw.
- Pay close attention to the wind speed, direction of tide, bird presence, water clarity, water temperature, drop off in elevation, pot holes, and sandy spots along grass flats.
Speckled Trout Behavior
Speckled Trout grow larger along the treasure coast for the single reason that over 80% of the anglers never even see them and simply overlook the opportunity. Gator trout look to nutrient rich areas where they can quickly feed with minimal effort, typically sitting on the edge of a grass flat, hanging tight to a dock piling, or waiting patiently on the edge of a mangrove tree line.
The spotted markings placed along the back of speckled trout provide them with great camouflage and allow them to seamlessly blend in with a variety of saltwater environments. Big speckled trout shrewdly utilize the excellent counter shading which provides them with a very stealthy approach when stalking their prey."GATOR SIZE" Speckled Trout at times miss their intended target and are happy to stun their food first. Almost like the porpoises do when they have a redfish or speckled trout in their jaws and proceed to maliciously play with their catch.
Mega SIZE Speckled Trout routinely sit near grass beds motionless, patiently waiting for prey to come across their path and in one swift motion will completely stun their victim and proceed to inhale the unsuspecting forage.
Skilled inshore anglers which are fortunate enough to connect with these drag screaming fish, occasionally find that the larger specimens they are about to subdue may have the treble hooks buried on the outside of the mouth or around the face. This is due to the full swiping action of a fish attacking and intentionally missing to swallow the bait or lure and forcing to stun and then consume it. The swiping technique is widely seen in with blue water anglers targeting billfish species offshore such as Sailfish, White Marlin, and Black Marlin.
When focusing your efforts on an area that looks like a promising refuge for trophy Speckled Trout, be sure to have a variety of offerings in your bag. The conditions and weather will dictate which live bait rig, lure color or weight, and action may be most effective For example, if the weather quickly changes to cold, overcast, and breezy with a slight chop then a search bait such as topwater or swimbait will ring the dinner bell to any larger fish nearby. A simple few degrees in temperature dropping can sometimes ignite a hot trout bite, so be sure to have a few offerings in the box. Another great bait is a soft plastic paddle tail, typically rigged on a weighted jig head also finds a regular home in any skilled inshore angler's tackle bag.
Jig Head Selection
Maintaining an ample supply of jig heads for soft plastic paddle tail swim baits is a must. On days with a stiff breeze, a 3/8 oz shad style jig head with a screw lock pin to hold the bait in place is a staple among veteran Speckled Trout anglers. Alternatively, on clear calm days lacking any breeze or tide, have a few 1/16 or 1/8 oz jig heads on board. The smaller weight of jig head will have a more subtle entry into the water and not likely spook any nearby double digit specimens.
A slow sinking twitchbait may also be the ticket when Specks are focused on snack size forage such as small pilchards or juvenile pinfish. The lethargic falling action of a slow sinking lure is what drives Mega Speckled Trout to strike!
Big fish are often very lazy and seem to almost take pleasure in eye balling their prey before launching for the final blow. It's almost kinda creepy anticipating the strike of a large speckled trout using a twitch bait. Maybe that's the very reason why seasoned Speckled Trout anglers never leave the dock without an assortment of these inshore gems.
There is a time and a place for both light and dark colors. For example, when faced with a steady flow of calm, clear tide the natural and lighter colors excel.
Native clean forage patterns stand out well under this scenario and entice big fish to attack. Reversely, tannic or stained water demands a darker color as many fish stage on the edges of grass flats or along the point of a mangrove shoreline. The silhouette left by precisely working a slow sinking lure is exactly what will drive a weary and larger fish to fully commit and keep you connected!
Pay close attention to the forage abundantly available and simply try your best to match the hatch staying true to native baitfish patterns and biologically correct profiles as this will keep you connected to your Gator!