A few tips from a great Mobile Bay guide can get us in on the action for speckled trout fishing.
Rhythmically hopping across the water’s surface, the pink topwater plug looked like a living piece of bubble gum. I wondered what would attract a fish to something so unnatural looking as this noisy, bright colored, cigar-shaped lure. My charter worked cork rigs as I had instructed, and the occasional “pop” of the cork was the only other sound that broke the clack-clack-clacking of my topwater plug. The cool breeze of the post-front, early spring morning made a light ripple on the leeward bank that I was trolling us down. Nothing happened for the first five or so minutes, but I thought that everyone, including myself, was enjoying the beauty of the sunrise. As if being cued to interrupt the tranquility of the daybreak, a big speckled trout crashed to the surface trying to eat my topwater lure. Her strike sounded like a five-gallon bucket of water being dropped on the water’s surface.
The trout slammed the plug again. This time the lure disappeared beneath the surface, and I felt the line come tight. I snapped the Fenwick rod vertical, and it bent into a nice “C” shape. This speckled trout was a beauty, probably going over four pounds (actually totaling out to five pounds, as all fish caught on a topwater plug in my boat get a one pound bonus added to their weight), and we took a few pictures before releasing her.
My crew began casting again, and it didn’t take long for things to start happening. Corks began going down almost before they were popped, and fish after fish was brought into the boat. All were nice fish ranging from 16- 22 inches. When the bite stopped, we simply drifted a little further until we found more fish. The scene was repeated all day long and was brought to an end only when the crew finally had enough.
Be shallow minded and hard-headed
The coasts of Mississippi and Alabama have numerous shallow bays – all of which are adjacent to tidal river systems. These rivers are the locales for speckled trout. As spring rains flush the bait, trout and other inshore saltwater fish, the first place that they end up are these bays. Take a look at a chart of the area and notice places like Lafourche Bay, Portersville Bay on the Mississippi Sound side and flats areas at the mouth of Dog and Bon Secour Rivers as well as a monstrous flat south of the Mobile River delta system. These areas are found at the mouths of deep tidal rivers. They are in water shallower than six feet and have hard bottom in the form of sand – but most importantly shell. When speckled trout spawn, the eggs adhere to the bottom, and the males use the tidal currents to fertilize the eggs. The most successful spawning is accomplished when the eggs are able to remain in place in order to be fertilized. The spawning schools consist of huge numbers of male trout that normally don’t get much larger than about 18 inches. Of course, there are females as well, and they get much larger with 25-inch fish not being uncommon. When the spawning ritual occurs, speckled trout of both sexes are very aggressive.
“When the spawning ritual occurs, speckled trout of both sexes are very aggressive.”
Because the bays and flats are huge and there is very little in the form of structure to hold fish, it is important to stay mobile by drift fishing. Typically, I check the wind direction before a trip and determine which areas will be the best based on that day’s wind. As I approach an area I plan to fish, I try to stay far away from the area that I plan to drift. I then look for signs of active fish. Slicks and diving gulls- especially during the spring- are dead giveaways. The fish will be upwind or upcurrent of a slick, and the bigger the slick, the more it has dissipated- meaning that the fish are farther away. Diving gulls are another good indicator of active fish. Gulls over feeding trout will hover in groups, and several will dive at once when bait is forced to the surface.
Fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, shrimp cocktail…
Bubba listed all of the ways that he knew to prepare shrimp in the movie Forrest Gump, but speckled trout love them in their most natural state-live. Unfortunately, live shrimp are not only expensive but often during the spring, they are scarce. The good news is that shrimp imitations work just as well.
My favorite is the D.O.A. 3” shrimp in translucent with a chartreuse tail, and I fish it under a popping cork. I think that the key to the effectiveness of this lure is how it sinks. Rather than rocketing head first to the bottom, it glides- almost horizontally- down after the cork is popped. It is uncanny how well it mimics the swimming action of a live shrimp. The downside is that the store-bought version comes pre-rigged with a belly weight and hook. After only a couple of fish, the lure slides down the hook and no matter how well the fish are biting, they will not hit it when it has slid down. I tried a number of ways of fixing it (Super Glue, toothpicks, etc.) and finally came across a way to remedy this. I use a 1/16 oz. flutter style hook made by No Slack Tackle Company and only slide the plastic shrimp on the hook. The hook has an offset, and that puts the weight in the cavity that was designed for the factory weight. This maintains the same sink rate. The plastic can literally be shredded, and it still won’t slip.
My artificial shrimp rig is a spinning reel on a 7-foot medium action rod. Also, to eliminate line twist, I use braided line on the spinning reels. Four pound diameter/15 pound test Spiderwire Ultracast Invisibraid is my favorite, but whatever you decide to use, just be sure that you keep the diameter low. I tie the braid to the cork and then run about two feet of 15lb Stren tinted fluorocarbon leader. I tie the hook on with a loop knot.
By far, most fish that I catch during the early spring come on the shrimp rig, but topwater plugs do a wonderful job of locating schools and enticing strikes from bigger trout. I am partial to lures that have silver sides as I think that the flash looks like a mullet on the surface. If water conditions are not too choppy or muddy, I use the Skitterwalk from Rapala. If the surface is chopped up, I like the noisy Mirro lure “He Dog,” and if calm, the “Top Dog Jr.”. One key is to vary the tempo of the retrieve. It is amazing how the trout like a certain tempo and how it can change from spot to spot or day to day. Be sure to cast around 90 degrees relative to the direction of the current while you are searching. Once you locate fish, you can really throw the lure in any direction, and they’ll get it if they are eating. Lastly, learn how to tie a loop knot for use on the topwater plugs which frees up the lure giving it more action. This results in more strikes.
Setting the dinner table
When I determine where I plan to drift, I shut my engine down well upwind of the area, and everyone gets ready. Shuffling tackle boxes or other gear makes a lot of noise that transfers well in shallow water over hard bottom. Remember, it’s important to cover big chunks of water with each drift. We cast from 90 degrees to the wind to directly downwind. Keep in mind that you are in shallow water, so there won’t be anything behind the boat because they will scatter when the boat gets near them. As soon as someone gets a bite, I stop the drift.
“By making long casts and stopping in time, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy incredible action if you fish smart. “
By making long casts and stopping in time, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy incredible action if you fish smart. The action will cease as quickly as it started, so be fishing when you are on fish. Moving slowly or not fishing when you are on fish is a sure way to turn a 100 trout day into a 10 trout day. Eventually, after a few fish are missed or released fish find the school, the fish will either turn off or leave. At that point, I pull the pole and resume the drift, repeating the procedure until we get bit again.
Very generally speaking, the fish that come out of a school is going to be about the same size- give or take an inch. I get excited when we start catching male trout that are on the larger size. That means that if we are catching 18+ inch male trout, we have found an old school. The heaviest fish will be in the early spawning period- early spring- as that is when they are most laden with dense roe. Keep in mind that the big spawners add the most to the speckled trout population, so if you are lucky enough to get the big bite, handle her gently, take a picture, and let her return to her baby-making activities. Many of us trout fisherman have come to realize the need for practicing CPR (Catch, Photograph and Release) on this most sought-after inshore game fish.
Back at the dock
Spring is a tale of two seasons in terms of weather. Early in spring, we can still have those bull fronts, while late in the May, the weather is more reminiscent of spring. The key to successful fishing during the early spring is to watch the water temperatures. Sixty-two degrees seems to be the magic number. When the temps reach that point and stay for a few days, the trout will transition from winter to spring pattern. During the early period, stay close to the deeper water, but by late in the season you’ll find fish scattered throughout the bay systems often miles from any of the deeper tidal rivers. Tie on the popping corks and topwater plugs and remember to fish smart. I’m sure you’ll come to enjoy it as much as I do.