By Dee Kaminski
Call them spotted sea trout, specks, or “gator” trout. These beautiful fish with colorful spots, egg yellow inner mouth and teeth like vampires, are considered one of the most popular game fish of Florida and can be caught by anglers of all skill levels on a variety of live and artificial baits. Along the Gulf Coast they are often referred to as “specks,” around East-Central Florida they are generally just referred to as “trout.” What differentiates the “gator” trout is her size. Spotted sea trout can live up to 15 years, if they are lucky, but most don’t make it past 5. Here along Florida’s east coast, large sow females, known as “gator trout” can reach lengths upwards of 40 inches and weigh as much as 17 to18 pounds. Locals in Florida debate as to what the true definition of a “gator trout” is. I believe a female over 25 inch equals a “gator.” Regardless, the Florida spotted sea trout record, as well as the world record spotted sea trout, was caught in along the Florida east coast (Ft. Pierce) and weighed over 17 pounds.
But catching big, or “gator,” trout isn’t as easy as it seems. It takes a special commitment to target super-spooky “gator” trout effectively; few are willing to do it. Once you hook up, you will experience a great fight.
Here are a few tips that help me catch the big ones:
Trout prefer water temperatures that range from the low 60s to the low 80s. During the summer, I find early cooler waters bring the trout to the shallows and when mid day approaches, they move to deep drops off into cooler water temperatures. In winter months, trout move to deeper water in the evening and into shallow water midday to warm up and feed in potholes whether it’s a dark mud bottom or sandy. They are also able to see in low-light conditions so don’t skip by a location that has some dirty water. Most baitfish don’t have this type of vision and are thus more susceptible to predation during those times.
Stealth is key
Kayak fishing is the best ways for you to become the stalker. Paddle as quietly as possible around your trout location. Trout have good vision and hearing. Once you put her on alert, she is not likely to eat, however, spooking a trout out of her resting place reveals her position. If you spook a trout or any other large fish, never take your eye off of them. They will eventually sit back down or move back to the same hole giving you time to approach in supreme stealth mode and position yourself to make a long casts to her location increasing your chances for a hookup.
Look for grass flats with sandy potholes
Flats with dense grass and few potholes generally hold juvenile trout, which need the cover to hide from their greatest predator, the adult trout. While I stand in my Native Watercraft Ultimate 12 or 14.5, I am able to sight these monsters swimming in or near the potholes. Gator trout have lighter colored backs, and tend to frequent the edges of sandy potholes where they can lunge out and grab any hapless baitfish that moves through the open area.
Big baits catch big fish
Gator trout don’t feed as frequently as the smaller fish because they eat larger food items. They are very lazy and wait for dinner to come to them. Larger 5 inch mullet (cut or whole), larger pinfish or a large shrimp can be a meal to a big fish. I like using 10 pound braid with 12 pound fluorocarbon leader and a 2/0 circle hook. I cast into potholes and wait 1 or 2 minutes. If there isn’t a strike, I move to the next pothole. This also works for free lining live baitfish and large shrimp. A popping cork works wonders as well. I like the Cajun Thunder Float Rig. The noise makes the sounds of a wounded or dying prey and they know this meal is easier to snatch than a mullet swimming in a school. Don’t pass up the top water plug. Since big trout are looking for mullet or other baitfish in large sizes, I cast what they are looking for. This is where the Heddon Super Spook Jr., Mirr-O-Lure Top Dog or Top Dog Jr. surface walker or other large surface lures come in. Whatever your fancy, fish slow. Remember, they are lazy.
A common misconception about large trout is that they travel alone. That’s usually not the case. When you catch a gator trout, it often makes enough noise to put the other fish on guard. If you stick around and let the fish settle down, you will probably catch another big one. Whatever attracted that first trout will likely attract other large trout as well. This could be comfort, abundance of food in the area or spawning behavior.
Now that you have hooked up on your gator trout, be gentle. Setting the hook can be a trial between getting the hook properly set and ripping it out of the fish’s mouth entirely. They have very soft mouths and like a tarpon or ladyfish are able to shake loose almost instantly. To land, use a rubber landing net, a lip gripper or your wet hands to hold the fish gently to avoid rubbing away the protective slime coating. Releasing a gator trout healthy ensures that she will be around for many years and produce more trout.
Dee Kaminski is a Native Watercraft endorsed guide and is associated with Orchid Island Bikes & Kayaks in Vero Beach, FL. Dee can be reached at www.reelkayakfishing.com , firstname.lastname@example.org or 321-394-6874.