When spring finally arrives along the Northern Gulf Coast, inshore fishermen have a multitude of angling options to explore. Wave after wave of big spring speckled trout will begin to invade the shallows. They’re in search of food and satisfying the urge to spawn.
Some of my fondest memories of speck fishing date back almost thirty years. A young man and his father began learning the habits and haunts of inshore fishing’s most popular game fish. At first, we knew very little about what makes a speckled trout. The basic habits, food preferences, and structures that speckled trout prefer were not yet understood. We just liked catching them along Alabama’s Dauphin Island and along the beaches of Fort Morgan and Gulf Shores. The fishing back then was incredible. With little or no fishing pressure, we could easily fill an ice chest with speckled trout before sunrise. Then we have the rest of the morning to just relax. We’d spend the rest of the day swimming and exploring the beaches.
Spring Patterns to Find Fish
I’ve learned that speckled trout in the spring will gravitate towards certain types of structures and habitats. My favorite shallow water structure in the spring will almost always involve some type of hard rock or shell bottom. A living oyster reef with deep water nearby will always produce bigger trout than shell bottoms with little depth change. The bigger fish always like the security of deeper water to evade predators and to fall back to in case of lingering cold fronts that can still occur in the spring months. The best places to catch fish will be near points or shallow humps, which serve as ambush points.
“A few degrees is all it takes to get the bigger fish into a feeding mode”
One of my best patterns involves targeting trophy-sized speckled trout along the northern edges of protected banks and pockets. Many bays along the coast will have areas of vast oyster bottoms that seemingly go on forever. The best banks will usually be the ones that warm up the first. Since the coastline will usually get northerly winds after fronts pass, the protected banks are calmer and receive more direct sunlight. A few degrees is all it takes to get the bigger fish into a feeding mode. I’ll often cover lots of water in these areas with a topwater bait or a suspending hard bait plug that mimics a big speck’s favorite springtime meal- a mullet.
Another favorite springtime pattern involves finding clearer water. One of the problems with relying on hard oyster bottoms in the spring months is that these areas get extremely muddy when the wind blows. I like to have a backup plan, and this involves finding grass flats. There are numerous grass beds along many of the barrier islands of the Gulf Coast that produce some fine fishing in the spring. The west end of Dauphin Island and the numerous grass beds in Grand Bay along the coast have miles of grass that filter the water and produce clearer water – a must when using artificials.
The grass beds also hold lots of bait and small shrimp, which help jumpstart the food chain. Grass beds along ‘Bama’s coast will often hold huge numbers of speckled trout and redfish which can be caught by drifting and casting from a boat or by getting out and wade fishing. You will have to be extremely quiet to catch the bigger fish – a fact that most anglers often overlook.
Alabama is also blessed to have numerous manmade reefs that are situated in prime springtime trout and redfish habitat. In fact, each year some of the biggest trout of the season will be caught along these manmade structures. With at least fifteen shallow water reefs to choose from, anglers have a great chance at catching both quantity and quality-sized trout from the structure’s numerous concrete and oyster lined bottoms.
Most of the reefs along the edges of Mobile Bay can handle a good number of boats. However, they do get crowded on pretty days and on weekends in the spring. I’ve found that individual reefs will get hot for a few days when everyone is catching fish, and then things will fall back to normal. Then another big wave of fish will move into another reef and go crazy for a while. If you have witnessed this phenomenon in person, you know exactly what I’m describing!
Spring Techniques to Catch Fish
If you want to go with what catches them every time, then live shrimp is what’s best for you. If you can find them, live shrimp will catch more spring specks than anything else on ‘Bama’s coast. Live shrimp will catch fish in both muddy and clear water situations as long as you are rigged properly. Along many of the manmade reefs and oyster bottoms where the best fishing will occur, the best way to catch trout and reds is to present live shrimp under a popping cork. I love to use corks with rattles that have extra sound-producing qualities. This helps me get more bites in the spring because the fish are super aggressive.
I like to really get down with my popping technique until the fish tell me they want something different. Since most of my spring fishing will be in shallow water, I’ll use a popping cork to cover the water effectively and to locate precise areas that are holding fish. I pay close attention to irregular shorelines, points, small islands with moving water, extended shallow humps and bars, and bottom changes. I look for fleeing baitfish, diving birds or fish slicks on the surface that indicate feeding fish. These are all signs of an active reef.
If you are not into fishing with live bait, then the spring trout bite with artificials is meant for you! I believe in the “big baits catch big fish” theory, especially for springtime specks and reds. Rick Murphy is a seasoned guide and TV host and is especially fond of throwing noisy topwaters to find trout and redfish all along the Gulf Coast. The ESPN Redfish Pro gave his insight on locating fish with artificials in the spring months. “One of the things we look for is finding bait. Whether it’s small mullet moving nervously down a bank, ladyfish busting on glass minnows, or reds showering on shrimp, we like to be in areas with lots of bait and that’s the key; where you have the forage, that’s where you will find the fish.”
Once an area shows promise, the veteran angler then selects artificials that help him locate fish quickly. He then determines the best way to catch them. “Certainly a topwater plug is a way to call a fish up, even from considerable distances. The clickety-clack of a Rapala Skitterwalk, for example, is a proven trout and redfish producer for us wherever we have gone on the tournament trail. Topwater baits are one of the best lures for finding fish, but not necessarily catching fish, especially redfish,”
Murphy explained. “Because of the way a redfish’s mouth is designed up underneath, he has a hard time engulfing a surface plug. A lot of times a redfish will get so excited, he will blow it up completely out of the water, but miss it. For that reason, we often use surface plugs to locate fish for us, then change to other baits like soft plastics, Bass Assassins, spinnerbaits, and gold spoons to catch our fish.”
There are numerous baits on the market that will catch fish in the spring months. Be sure to have a few of each that will cover each part of the water column on a given day. Topwaters will produce fish as mentioned before and have a history of producing big fish as well. I also rely heavily on subsurface hard baits in the spring months because they resemble mullet so well. Any type of crankbait or jerk bait, like a mirro-lure, is a consistent producer along Bama’s coast. One of the best baits that will produce numbers of fish is a D.O.A shrimp suspended under a Cajun Thunder cork. I’ve found that this bait will work well on large flats and locates fish quickly.
Use Tides to Help Locate Fish
The tides control where the fish are located. They also contol when the fish are feeding the best on a given reef. However, this aspect of fishing success goes unnoticed by many anglers. I always like to fish the edges of the structure like points and drops on a tide change. If I’m fishing a shallow bar, I know this will be better on a high tide situation since the water may not be deep enough near the last part of a falling tide. If I have found fish along a point on high tide, I’ll fish out more where the point extends out near deeper water on a falling tide.
“There is always a reason a school of fish is located at a given spot.”
The point I am trying to make is that there is always a reason a school of fish is located at a given spot. The tides determine where the fish and position themselves in a given spot. Master this and spring fishing just got a whole lot easier for you.
Go Out and Get Some!
Spring is one of the best times of the year to get out and enjoy the Gulf Coast. From the grass flats and oyster reefs in the Mississippi sound to the man-made reefs in Mobile Bay, these scenic areas offer some of the best inshore fishing to be found. We’ll see you on the water!