The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 12 No. 28 - April 25, 2012

reel time

It's prime time to target trout

Reel time

Aledia Tush, owner of CB's Saltwater Outfitters, caught this
trout, estimated at 9 pounds, while fishing with Captain
Rick Grassett.

At the end of the 2005 season, after the worst red tide in recorded history, I would have bet good money that local trout populations wouldn't recover in less than five years. Just three years later in 2008, trout populations in Sarasota Bay were near an all-time high. Four years later, I realize that the population dynamics are far more complex than we'll ever know.

The waters that surround Sarasota Bay have never been known as a big trout destination. While a double digit trout is a rare occurrence, large trout have made a significant recovery in the past few years. Last week Aledia Tush, owner of CB's Saltwater Outfitters, caught a trout with Captain Rick Grassett that, although not weighed before it was released, was estimated at 9 pounds.

Sea trout have always been a prime target of anglers, but never caught the attention of the fishermen seeking trophy specimens. Most would rather target redfish, snook and tarpon. The average Gulf coast trout weighs in at about two pounds and doesn't put much of a bend in a light fly or spinning rod.

Larger trout are harder to find, are much more wary, and a worthy adversary on a mid-weight rod. The reason most anglers haven't pursued them is that they have been so scarce.

In the early 80s it wasn't uncommon to catch an 8-pound trout during the late winter and early spring. By the mid 80s, a large trout was hard to capture on any tackle. The net ban that was enacted in 1995 gave anglers great hope for a resurgence in trout populations. The net ban helped restore trout populations, but the anticipated resurgence of trout has been uneven at best. In the last few years large trout have been a real possibility, and conventional and fly tackle fished stealthily are the best ways to lure a big fish to the hook.

Traditionally, the best time to target trout is during the months of March, April and May. The months of December through February can also be good for trout that forage for food during the lean winter season.

Sight fishing trout from a boat requires a stealthy approach. Even the pressure wave of an angler moving in an approaching boat can spook trout. When sight-fishing from a boat, move extremely slowly and avoid any noise including the push pole hitting the boat or any other sounds that might telegraph from the boat through the water.

Flats with healthy grass beds with white sand hole and edges provide cover and forage for baitfish, shrimp and mullet, a favorite prey of large trout. When picking a fly or plug, try to mimic the prevalent forage food. In local estuaries and the open bay, mullet may be the dominant food source, but trout are opportunist and will pursue glass minnows, shrimp, pilchards, and other available food sources.

The pattern varies depending on the season and water temperatures. During times of low visibility and low tides, anglers can move their efforts to the deeper edges of flats, the drop-offs into rivers and bays and the deep edges of oyster bars.

Fly leaders should be long and tapered (up to 12 feet) with no more than a 30-pound bite tippet. I prefer a premium 20-pound fluorocarbon bite tippet. While it's possible to catch big trout on larger tippet I think the smaller diameter is best for the biggest and wariest trout. Your approach, even on foot, is very important.

One of my favorite ways to hunt big trout is with a top water plug. Plugs seem to scare big trout when the sun is high, but are deadly early in the morning and just before dark. When wading, shuffle your feet and move slowly to avoid a pressure wave. Fly fishers need to be stealthy and avoid disturbing the water when lifting the line for another cast. Every advantage is necessary in the hunt for sea trout.

This is a game in which anglers may have to cover a lot of water. When fishing for trout, never run the flats, looking instead for surface action, including schools of mullet and diving seabirds. Top producing flies include the Clouser Deep Minnows, Lefty's Deceivers and top water poppers. Some of my favorite plugs are the Heddon Zara Spook, the MirrOlure He Dog and the Rebel Jumping Minnow.

While poppers are effective for trout, they too need to be fished early and late. A big noisy popper will often scare wary trout off a shallow flat. In the shallows I prefer a deer hair popper that lands soft. I've found slow strips that move water but aren't noisy to be more effective.

Now is prime time to target trout in local water. Remember, trout should be handled with care and released quickly. Always wet your hands if you handle them and revive them in the water until they swim off on their own.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper