By CAPT. C.A. RICHARDSON, FlatsClass.com
Of all the game fish we target on Flats Class TV and me in my guide business… big “gator-sized” speckled trout are definitely my favorite species to pursue! It takes extra effort and planning to catch these wily fish who can often detect an angler from 50 yards away in shallow water. And once on the hook, these big “gator” trout always seem to pull a Harry Houdini -like escape… freeing themselves with violent head shakes at the surface or, more often, a last second” ditch” run under my boat ridding them of my lure for good.
A “gator-sized” trout is defined, in my opinion, as a hefty female trout over 22” in length with a sizeable head… loaded with needle-like teeth for gripping prey, especially the two fang teeth on her upper jaw! The anatomy of these impressive specimens tells me that they’re a superior ambush predator with built-in camouflage and big eyes set up on top of their head that gives them almost 360 degrees of vision for detecting prey or danger. With a preference for primarily a “fin-fish” diet, the big trout just lies in wait in the sea-grass ( armed with the best camouflage, visual acuity, and huge mouth that has deadly suction feeding ability) until an unsuspecting bait fish swims into her lair. KA-POW… another finger mullet serves as the day’s nourishment.
The real trick is to find out where these “gator trout” prefer to hang out during cool or cold weather… that requires some pre-planned trips scouting likely habitat. On brighter winter days, I look for big trout on shallow mud and grass flats where they seek warmth and the opportunity to feed. The tougher more frigid periods put these “gator trout” in deeper holes in rivers, channels, or canal systems where the water temperature is more of a constant due to the insulating depth. Once you’ve located a zone where the big ones are comfortable you can come back the following day using a much stealthier approach and with a little luck tangle with a few of them.
Here is some of the “how-to” that I employ for big trout during the cooler months in Florida. Believe it or not, my best success comes from wading calf-deep water on brighter days when the fish are super shallow. Even with the advantage of wading and shrinking my profile… very long casts are required with a Texas-rigged soft plastic, preferably a 5 or 6 inch long fluke-style because big trout prefer larger baits. If my water temperature climbs a few degrees later in the day, I opt for my topwater plug and cover water more efficiently, gambling that the fish are more aggressive. I like to fish both of these lure options fairly slow; the larger trout specimens enjoy an easy meal… not chasing down a fast-paced presentation! Finally once I fool a big girl into striking my lure, I fight the fish with a very light drag and patience so the heavy trout can’t use her weight to tear the paper-thin membrane around her mouth and dis-lodge or throw my lure.
I have two rod & reel set-ups for my big trout safari’s… one for soft baits and another for plug fishing but both rods are spooled up with monofilament line. Monofilament fishing line provides me with two distinct advantages; one being elasticity or some added forgiveness that won’t let a substantial trout pull the hooks and the other being invisibility, due to the more discriminating vision of a large trout. My spinning rod for ultra-shallow is a 7’6” medium action rod with a Daiwa (Advantage, Coastal, or Fuego series) 3000 packed with 8# mono line and a 30” length of 15# fluorocarbon leader. My casting rod set-up is more for throwing topwaters and suspending hard baits than soft plastics… I generally prefer a 7’ medium action rod paired up with a Daiwa low-profile bait casting reel (6.3:1) loaded with 14# to 17# mono with no leader material. These rod and reel set-ups give me plenty of versatility and un-paralleled casting distance to hunt big trophy trout. Lastly, I do have a few favorite artificial baits that have produced well over the years. They include the Mirro-lure She-Dog, Mirro-dine XL, Strike King’s Z-Too, Caffeine Shad, and Coffee Tubes, and some other 6” fluke & stick-style plastics from varied tackle manufacturers. And yes of course, I do like to add a scent attractant to all of my artificial baits because it truly enhances their appeal and masks human scent… everything has to be right to fool these wary predators.
As far as big trout fisheries go it’s hard to beat Texas, western Louisiana, North Carolina and Florida for a true “wall hanger” trout. But, Florida truly has a litany of areas known for producing big trophy trout like Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River… currently, the IGFA all-tackle record for speckled trout is over 17 pounds and came from the Fort Pierce area on Florida’s east coast. The larger fish are notorious for taking big baits and lures… so don’t fool around casting small plastic offerings if the goal is to ultimately catch a “gator-sized” trout. Make the commitment to fish larger presentations and get serious about putting more time into scouting areas before you actually fish them… it will eventually pay-off with a monster trout or at the very least a monster trout “story”. In fact, my personal best speckled trout catch came from a trip to the infamous Laguna Madre in south Texas, where I caught a 32” heavy-bellied speckled trout that tipped the scales at 10.5 pounds, it was caught on a 6” plastic jerk worm… sight fishing no-less! Once again proving a big bait… gets a big bite.
But then again, big “gator” trout have always been my major focus during the cooler months in my home waters with many of my excursions paying off with 4 to 6 pound yellow-mouthed trophy fish. But every once in awhile, that whopper 7 plus pounder “flushes the toilet” on my lure and my heart-rate starts to pound and the hair on my neck begins to tingle… and I hold my breath for an instant hoping the line comes tight and she’s still there!