When a five year old boy was asked in the spring of '57 if he wanted to learn how to catch trout, the blond-haired, blue-eyed little boy whose brass shoes were on a bookshelf, didn't know the difference between trout and sardines in a can. I take the back. I did know. I ate both and knew that they tasted a lot different. I loved both and still do - one fried in butter and one taken from a can. There were no options in spring water in the fifties.
Michael Wilson is a local angler and the professional photographer who helped us with the book Skinny. His images have developed a style and a look that makes me feel like this hefty speckled trout wants to go home with me.
But today we are asked the same question. In many cases by men and women towing children like that five year old behind them. And they ask us "I want to learn how to catch a trout, can you tell me how?" The trout we're talking about here are not the rainbows and browns of my youth, living in spring-fed streams knee deep and eating bugs whose replicas fit on #18 hooks. (Try tying an ant on a #18). We are talking about speckled trout, a saltwater species nearly as beautiful as those rainbows (to me there is nothing quite like a rainbow except for deep water mahi while they're still in the water fighting; that color splash does not exist in the real world).
Learning How to Catch Trout
Learning how to catch trout is pretty simple. So easy, in fact, that many of our readers, in their elitist approach to fishing, feel that trout are below them. They are not. Abundant, hungry, and anxious to eat anything from a small jig (great!) to a big live bait meant for a snook, the fish respond well and are great for beginners, regardless of their age, gender, or prior experience.
Shrimp are shrimp are shrimp. And once the water temps fall below about 80, they are the top bait for our local speckled trout. Buy them alive, and hook them through the head (look at where NOT to stick that steel hook) or the tail. You can hook them through the tail from the top down or the bottom-up. We prefer the bottom-up approach - it seems to let the shrimp swim more naturally. Hook them right and they can live a pretty long time. Long enough, for sure, to attract a tasty and dinner-ready speckled trout.
Where to Find Trout
We've talked about this before, but you have to fish where the fish are to be among the 10% of us that catch 90% of the fish. Trout can be found several places, one being on grass flats. You can also find them in residential canals, and we often catch them near docks fishing for snook, and in the deep backwaters among the many mangrove islands that speckle our environment. But if you want to fish where you are likely to catch a trout, find a way to drift or anchor your boat on a grass flat. Drifting is often best, and if you are going to use an anchor we recommend a quiet and easy-to-pull stick anchor, like a Wang anchor. They do not make noise, and they do not tear grass.
The lighter spot in this map (courtesy of GoogleEarth) show you the contrast created by the grass and the sand in this skinny area on the west side of lower Tampa Bay. It is right outside an area called "Snell Island" and produces nice trout all year. In the summertime when the water is hot -- generally speaking -- the fish are on the edges in the deeper water (BUT NOT ALWAYS!). In the cooler fall and winter months you can float and drift or wade on these flats and catch them in a number of different ways. Try light spinning tackle and live shrimp on a bobber and you will catch them easier than most other fish.
Speaking of tearing grass, do not run your boat on the grass flats. Even if your boat runs in six inches of water, the five inches you will run over will be scarred for thirty years by the wake and prop damage you leave behind. Drift in the wind or tide, and use a trolling motor. If you are able to afford it, you can have a PowerPole stick anchor. It is what the pros use. But you can catch the trout in a canoe or kayak or wading. The first ten thousand trout I caught, killed, or eventually released were done in waste deep water around the west side of Tampa bay. In the water walking. Tight jeans covered by tight socks coming out of high-top sneakers is all we needed to protect us from the crabs and Crustaceans that wanted to come along for the walk.
Lures to live bait: What to Use to Catch Trout
We will present these in order of difficulty from easiest method to most likely to produce one fish instead of eighty releases and three for dinner for four. Here are a few ways to catch trout:
- Live shrimp on a #1 hook
- Popping cork on a #1 hook
- Artificial lures
Easiest: a live shrimp on a #1 hook
The environmental world will hate me for saying this, and just saying it in public might get me fined (or worse, I am thinking gulag), but I personally, and with good field experience as proof, think circle hooks suck. I do not gut hook fish, I do not leave the rod alone while I make-out with my life partner, and I avoid circle hooks when alone and fishing. But to be politically and fishy correct, tie a circle hook to a five foot leader and the leader to your braid. Use light spinning tackle - a seven foot or seven and a half foot Ohero and an Ohero reel is a good buy. So too is an Ugly Stick and a Daiwa, Shimano, or (love them) Penn. Ten pound braid, 20lb leader to be safe (there are cobia, snook, shark, big redfish, and god knows what else on those flats).
Second best: popping cork on a #1 hook
Deep fish in the summer: FishFinder rig. A FishFinder rig is a simple way to bottom fish. In the heat of summer the trout tend to hang around the channels on the sides of their favorite grass flats. On lower tides, they might be found in eight or ten feet of water on the edge. Clip a bobber onto your line anywhere from 2 to 6 feet, depending on how deep the fish are hitting. Experiment. With a popping cork, you can use live or artificial bait. I like using a popping cork with DOA shrimp. Trout seem to love it.
Third best: Lures
Lures of all kinds can catch trout. Or many years I personally used - and sometimes still do - a pre-tied pair of small lead jigs with rubber tails, called "Love Jigs". They catch them two at a time when the fish are there. I love white or yellow for trout, although you should consider darker colors on brighter days, and brighter colors on darker and cloudy days.
Catching Trout can Produce Dinner!
Trout are great eating, so consider breaking and frying their delicious filets. Since they are a common fish, we offer a number of great recipes in our How To Cook fish featuring their clean, white, and very solid protein-filled meat.
Commercial Fishing for Speckled Trout
Note from the Publisher: Nets are used by commercial fisherman to trap the fish on flats. Many people think that all shallow-water fish should be out of reach, but the same people that want to shut down the commercial guys think we are worse. We release fish after torturing them, only to try to catch them again. Pure torture, with no food-source motivation in play. So let the commercial guys work with solid and well-thought-out state regulations. Not federal, but state.
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