Drifting the grass flats one morning, I wondered who was more frustrated, the fishermen or the spotted sea trout that couldn't quite get hold of the bait. Every time a trout took a shot at my shrimp, it missed. Once, twice, three times... enough is enough.
So I waited for the fish to strike again, and when it did, I let the bait sit. Then I hauled back with all my might, hoping to set the hook once and for all. Instead, I pulled the shrimp right out of the poor trout's mouth, let out a series of colorful expletives, then thought back on when my love-hate relationship with trout began.
Like many transplants who now fish in Florida, I began my angling career chasing brook trout in Northern streams. Over the years I have dedicated much of my life to the pursuit of various salmonoids – trolling for landlocked salmon in Maine and fly-fishing for rainbows in the wilds of New Zealand – but nothing gets my heart pumping like a big spotted sea trout slamming a topwater plug.
Granted, the spotted sea trout belongs to the drum family and is not a true salmonoid, but they obviously have the same sick sense of humor as their namesakes through the world. If you have ever tried to catch one of these wily creatures, you know what I mean.
Weather affects the feeding habits of all inshore species, especially spotted sea trout. When the temperature drops, the metabolism of trout slows and the fish aren't motivated to eat. But when the cold front passes, the trout begin to chew again. Sometimes, however, it takes a little while for their motor skills to get back to normal, which probably explains why I had such a hard time catching fish that cool November morning.
Spotted seatrout are the most popular sportfish in Florida, primarily because they can be caught on a variety of live and artificial baits by anglers of all skill levels. Start with a 7-foot, light- to medium-action rod and a long-cast spinning reel rigged with 6- to 8-pound test. Tie on about 2 feet of 15- to 20-pound test leader, knot to knot, no swivel.
Live baits of choice include pinfish, shrimp and scaled sardines. A sharp hook is crucial. Most anglers prefer a No. 4 live bait hook. Using a cork or a float is a matter of personal preference.
Try free-lining bait first thing in the morning, but remember letting a bait swim without a float takes vigilance. A threatened sardine will spend more time hiding than swimming.
A float or cork restricts the bait and makes it appear less natural, but corks help beginners because they give a visual signal when the bait is attacked. It takes a higher level of expertise to use artificial lures.
Seatrout can be found in almost all of Florida's inland waters, and are readily accessible. Fisherman can wade, fish from the shoreline, or pole their boats into the seagrass flats at high tide, targeting channels near the flats. This species ranges the Western Atlantic from New York to the Gulf of Mexico.
These fish love the shallow sea grass beds but will move to deep holes and into canals when the water temperature drops. But come April, when the water warms up, you will catch them everywhere.