On calm afternoon in mid-April, my partner in crime, Capt. Mike Conner, called me from the water.
Mike’s an excitable guy, but he sounded just about breathless. He’d invited me to go pompano fishing with him that afternoon, but duty called on my end. He muttered a string of numbers into the phone: “Twenty-nine, twenty-seven, three at twenty three . . .” Until I stopped him.
“Mike, quit thinking with your stomach. The limit on pompano is six fish.”
“Not pompano. Trout,” he said! “That’s how big they were.”
From Jacksonville to Stuart, inshore fishing experts like Mike catch some humongous speckled trout this time of the year. Like largemouth bass, most anglers consider any fish over eight pounds worth bragging about and fish 10 pounds or heavier real trophies. The big female fish are aggressively in pre-spawn feeding mode each April.
Mike used his PowerPole to stake out in position to “pepper” the golden potholes in the vegetated bottom with a local favorite, the D.O.A. Shrimp. That lure works well on every inshore species, whether you’re fishing for trout along the oyster points in the St. Johns River marshes or in the vast seagrass meadows of Florida Bay. Mike works the area within casting range methodically. Then he uses the trolling motor to reposition in range of un-prospected potholes.
The big females like to conceal themselves in inches of calm water. The trout’s scientific name is (Cynoscion nebulosus), or the “nebulous drum” because of the purple-hued constellations of spots on their backs. Those gorgeous markings allow the fish to blend in with the bottom with virtually no outline so that they are better protected from fish-eating birds such as ospreys.
They can see really well, especially in the clear shallows and they can feel vibrations easily as they’re transmitted through the skinny water. Thanks to their stealth, wading anglers and anglers fishing out of kayaks or Standup Paddleboard usually catch the biggest trout.
Speaking of wading and kayaking, the Indian River Lagoon complex is 156 miles long and there are hundreds of places where you can access the water on foot or launch a kayak, canoe or SUP all along it.
The world-record trout was caught near Fort Pierce. But there are future world records to be caught by boat or from land near Titusville, Sebastian and Jensen Beach. I got a report that pier anglers were catching them the other day from the Sebastian Inlet jetty.
If you’re really serious about catching a record or at least a personal best, here are some of the best guides on the East Coast.