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Spare time specks: spotted seatrout, the answer to your busy schedule.

You have to pick your seasons for tarpon, your calm days for the grouper grounds, your tides for snook ... and good luck figuring out when red snapper will open next.

Spotted seatrout? Here's a good-eating fish that fits into your schedule. Abundant in most coastal waters of Florida, seatrout tolerate wide ranges of water temp and salinity. They also have an apparently round-the-clock appetite, offering convenient windows of fishing for those of us juggling schedule demands of careers and family.

Each spring, as water temps nudge back into the 70s, I'm reminded that finding time to catch trout won't be hard to do. With the first few warm nights and southeast breezes, you can count on it that seatrout are spreading out from their winter haunts.

Sunrise Shallows

If your commute is like mine, a predawn start and a short detour might take you to a stretch of water where you can wade for seatrout. Forage fish such as mullet typically move into very shallow water at night; often, that translates into right along the shore. Where I live, on the Indian River Lagoon, I have a couple of spots where I can bank on a few trout strikes to wake me up, sometimes with a bonus snook or red thrown in. Some days, I need the jolt; after that, the foamy, tail-thrashing wallow of a gator trout on the hook hits my bloodstream faster than a Dunkin' extra large.

This sunrise wading business is big-trout fishin', neither the setting nor the time for an ice box. That also means catch-and-release. Topwater lures with treble hooks get bites, but sometimes also get in the way of returning that fish quickly to the water. Pinching the hook barbs flat with pliers is good practice. Soft-plastic jerkbaits or flukes with a single offset worm hook make for a good compromise--you can fish these kinds of lures with a tight line and high rod-tip to produce topwater-style commotion, or allow a little more slack to fish subsurface.

The ideal springtime wading spots have a mixture of terrain--a sandbar, some seagrass growing along the edge of it, and most importantly, a slightly deeper, elongated, grass-bottom slough through which tidal current runs, ft. The current doesn't have to be strong--just enough to carry along bits of grass and keep the bottom clean. Dead-end coves, with a buildup of mangrove litter and soft bottom, are seldom productive for trout, with the exception of very cold days when the fish might seek refuge over the dark, sun-warmed bottom.

Trout like those sloughs and depressions with moving water, places where they can ambush baitfish and shrimp. And like most fish with square tails, they also gravitate toward structure: docks, rockpiles, jetties. Trout aren't very good at chasing open-water baitfish, not in the way that a forked-tail Spanish mackerel or mahi-mahi is. But trout are also much better at sitting still than these fish; they aren't compelled to constantly swim about to catch food or evade predators. Squaretail fish don't move far. Spotted seatrout have the camouflage they need to conceal themselves, and the canine teeth they need to grasp their meals. Big ones are outfitted with the equipment and the attitude of a gag grouper.

Midday Magic

Okay, so you've made it through the workweek. It's Saturday, and as usual you're launching your boat late with your kids or neighbors. You're well past that sunrise bite, and you have a crew whose skills and attention-span is in serious doubt. Yet, you're itching to catch trout. If you've done your homework, you've located a broad sector of the bay with seagrass bottom in water deep enough to accommodate drift fishing. Three to 5 feet is a good range, most days. April and May are probably the best months of all for this type of fishing, as there's generally some breeze. Staying on the move helps you find fish--and staying quiet helps keep them biting. Running your outboard over the fish is a sure way to send them scooting.

Outfit your crew with spinning tackle and 1/8--or 1/4-ounce jigs with bright plastic bodies. There are a couple of successful ways to fish the jigs while drifting. Jig bodies with straight tails, such as the fluke or the classic grub, work best with a jerk-and-reel cadence: Cast, let the lure fall, reel up the slack, pull the rodtip, reel and repeat. Some of your crew might prefer to simply cast and reel. Jig bodies with curly or paddle-shaped tails produce enticing vibrations with a straight retrieve. What's also nice about these action-producing jig bodies is, they catch trout just fine with monofilament fishing line. "Do-nothing" lures such as the aforementioned flukes and the many kinds of shrimp-shapes tend to get eaten on the "nothing" side of the retrieve--you get a bump, you set the hook, you hope you have no-stretch braided polyethylene line. Trouble with poly braid and new anglers, is your team spends more time untangling wind knots than fishing. Mono is easier to manage.

Another alternative is to rig up a live shrimp or a soft-plastic model about 20 inches beneath a cork--either the traditional popping cork or one of the rattling cork assemblies. This rig, with somewhat unpredictable pendulum effects, can be a little tricky for novice anglers to cast; one key is to encourage them to start the cast by bringing the rig back slowly, and then make a steady forward stroke. The nice thing about the shrimp-and-cork is that once it's in the water, fishing it is practically a no-brainer. Have your crewman pull the line now and then by sweeping the rodtip, which makes the concave cork scoop water, or animates the beads and brass rattles. A bite is impossible to miss: Cork disappears. Angler reels. Angler smiles.

While drifting, make sure someone casts downwind to cover water you haven't already passed over with the boat. Keep an anchor handy--or have your controller ready for your Power Pole or Talon stake. When a rod bends, slide the anchor quietly into position. Land the fish and direct your crew to make some more casts in the area. Seatrout in this environment are usually social critters.

Sunset Spoils

Lengthening days and the return of daylight savings time gives a nice window for trout fishing in the late afternoon. Some days this time of year, I'll launch my boat after work at 5:30 p.m. and fish through sundown. It's a magic time, that midweek escape. Flukes, jigs, corks--all the traditional trout lures are worth trying. But If I can find a pod of baitfish gathering over a shoal to seek refuge for the night, topwater lure fishing can be dynamite. If there's a seabreeze rippling the shoal, and the water temp is upper 70s, give me a great big stickbait. I'll cast that lure as far as I can and bring it around the bait pods with a quick twitch-and-reel, making it swim side-to-side. I'll make a few dozen casts while the sun packs her bags for the night. Yes, you'll be catching schoolie trout and I won't, but I won't give up. Around the time the light is off the water, some big ol' seatrout is going to get annoyed and take a swipe at the plug. Stuff like that happens this time of year, and the thought of it gets my heart thumping as that 5 o'clock whistle nears.

Night Shift

Trout fishing doesn't stop when the sun goes down. And that's good news for those of us who like to rest up after the workday, eat dinner and spend time with our families. Fishing for seatrout after dark is a treat. Lighted docks attract schools of minnows and illuminate shrimp passing on the tide. Trout station themselves amongst the dock pilings or just outside the lighted area, waiting to ambush meals.

Small, light-colored, floater-diver crankbaits in the 3- to 4-inch range are excellent here, as are lightly weighted soft-plastic shrimp. In the lights, trout are usually focused on small prey and simultaneously wary of loud, water-displacing intrusions. They might get up the nerve to take a larger lure, but smaller is usually better. Best of all docklight trout lures? Probably a tie between a streamer fly and a live shrimp.

Most nights, my money is on the streamer fly, but if you want to entertain a few friends on a moonlight cruise, get a bucket of shrimp before the bait shop closes and keep those babies on a battery-powered aerator to keep them frisky. Hook a shrimp sideways through the tough, transparent horn on its head and cast upcurrentofthe lighted dock. No float, no weights. Very light leader, 20- or 30-pound test max. Allow the bait to drift with the tide and do what shrimp do--which is swim and dart reflexively when under attack.

If you aren't seeing fish popping baits at a lighted dock, make a few casts and then move. If you get into them good and they quit biting, that may also be your cue to move along--at least for a half-hour or so until the fish calm down.

About Seatrout

Spotted seatrout are fun to catch and great to eat. The fillets are mild and very delicate. It's best to ice the fish immediately after catching them to ensure the meat is chilled and firm before filleting. This preserves the best flavor and makes it easier to remove the skin after filleting. Fried, sauteed, broiled, grilled in a mesh grill basket--it's hard to go wrong.

Some trout fillets may exhibit tiny, white "spaghetti" worms in the tissue. Simply remove them with the tip of your knife and thumb.

There's no indication that these worms are harmful to humans; cooking kills them, anyway. What they are, in case you're wondering, are larval stages of a kind of tapeworm whose adult form lives in sharks. Sharks pass segments of the worms containing eggs, and these are consumed by lower levels of the food chain, eventually finding their way to seatrout--and back to sharks.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission divides spotted seatrout regulations into 4 regions. On the Atlantic coast, north of the Volusia/Flagler County line, the bag limit is 6; south of there, it's 4. On the Gulf coast, north of Fred Howard Park Causeway (near the border of Pasco and Pinellas County), the trout bag limit is 5 fish; south of there, it's 4. In all areas, the slot limit is 15 inches minimum, 20 inches max. One fish over 20 inches may be retained as part of the bag limit. Season is open year-round.

The primary spawning season is April through August. Older, larger females (which may reach 8 years in age and well over 30 inches) are thought to contribute more to the total egg production, as they spawn more frequently.

It's best to handle seatrout with either lip-gripping device (don't put your fingers in there!) or a very soft, knotless, fine-mesh landing net. Minimize their time out of the water, and do what you can to avoid wiping off the protective slime coating. A trout that appears to be dazed and unable to swim may recover if you hold it upright in the water for a time. Porpoises will claim many released seatrout in some areas; when they're on the prowl, it's better to stop fishing and move elsewhere.

Also note that seatrout tend to school by size. If your goal is a few fish for supper, and you're mostly catching sub-15-inch fish, that's also a good indication to move.

The state record is 17 pounds, 7 ounces. That fish was caught in Fort Pierce in May 1995 by Craig Carson, who was fishing a topwater plug.

By Jeff Weakley, Editor
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Author:Weakley, Jeff
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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