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Tackling Trophy Trout.
When you speak of targeting speckled trout on the fly, you are almost addressing 2 separate subjects. Juvenile, or schoolie trout, and trophy trout, because so diverse are they in habits that they may as well be 2 separate species. When speckled trout, or Cynoscion nebulosus, are juveniles, under 14 inches they feed almost entirely on invertebrates, such as shrimp, and worms, with the occasional sand eel thrown in. These feeding habits often drive them to congregate in schools to more effectively corral and feast on shrimp as they move out of the marsh and into lakes and bays. These fish are often accompanied by birds swooping and diving to eat the shrimp the fish push to the surface. As the trout reach sexual maturity and grow within a range of 14 to 17 inches, they begin to incorporate more finfish such as minnows, shad and mullet into their diet, however they will still quickly make a meal out of shrimp, and often still school and attract the birds and observant anglers that the juveniles do. It is the belief of many biologist that once a speckled trout reaches a length of over 17 inches, its diet consist almost exclusively of finfish such as shad and mullet.
The truly big trout, those exceeding 25 inches and 5 pounds are less social then their smaller brethren, and become solitary predators. Since these fish are no longer traveling in large schools, corralling bait in a cooperative effort, they are generally going to be found in areas where the bait is forced to move by them. There are many different types of structure that present the opportunity for large specks to let the tide and current bring a meal to them. Cuts in a shoreline draining a marsh, points that extend farther into a lake or bay than the surrounding shore line and perhaps the most productive, reefs. All of these features are appealing to big fish, because not only do they cause a channeling of tide and or current, but they are also all bait holding features, either providing directly or through access the kinds of areas that provide food and cover for bait.
When targeting big trout on the fly, you have to be willing to ignore the allure of birds working over schooling fish, and concentrate on fishing the areas likely to hold that big solitary beast. I had a good lesson in this early last October. I ran my boat into the North end of Calcasieu Lake, near a bunch of old petroleum platforms where the birds had reportedly been working. The birds were there, indicating the presence of fish, an as expected so was an army of boats. As I started trying to set up to join the fray, I became aware of a trolling motor problem, it wouldn't work. Not wanting to enter an area that crowded with boats without a trolling motor to keep me out of harms way, I cranked up and headed to a reef that is best fished with a South to North drift. I knew the light South wind and incoming tide would give me the appropriate drift without the use of a trolling motor. I was the only person within a quarter of a mile. By days end I had only caught 3 fish, but in comparing notes at the dock with the guys who had been under the birds, my 3 fish outweighed 15 of theirs.
While the early spring months are in all likelihood your best opportunity for a truly heavy speck, the number of large specks being caught year round has been steadily on the rise since the banning of gill nets in our waters. Even in the midst of winter, big sows will move onto shallow flats on warm afternoons. If you get a bit of Indian summer for 2 or 3 days in a row, it's time to inspect the shallow reefs and flats that are in close proximity to deeper areas. The biggest specks I have caught, and the biggest specks I have seen caught have all come in less than 2 feet of water. There is a particular reef, in a particular body of water that I like to fish, that meets the most ideal definition of a big speck spot I can think of. Located in a productive estuary, the reef is long and shallow, and has sort of a horse shoe shape. There is a flat on the inside of the horseshoe that averages about 2 feet deep, and just off of the back of the reef the depth of the water quickly drops to over 12 feet. The reef itself extends so near the surface that much of it is out of the water at low tide. Because of the way the reef is situated, an incoming tide pushes water into the open end of the horseshoe, as baitfish are pushed onto the flat inside the horse shoe they have no where to go, and the big specks sit in ambush. On one afternoon toward the end of this past winter, Capt. Chuck Uzzle and I caught 12 fish over 4 pounds off of this reef.
Just as you have to move away from the schooling fish and birds if you expect to catch big trout, you have to fish different baits too. While a little number 2 or 4, sparsely tied Clouser can be just the ticket for schoolie fish, the big specks want a big meal. A large Lefty's Deceiver, Clouser Minnow or Seaducer tied on 1/0 or even 2/0 hook will represent the large shad and mullet that big specks find irresistible. Of course throwing flies that big in the wind can make you wish you had a helmet. Productive colors are White and Chartreuse, White and Olive, Pink and White, Pink and Yellow, and my favorite, a color combination showed to me by my friend Danny Williams, White and Blue with a little Chartreuse. Because of the size and bulk of these flies, and persistent wind, a 9 ft 9wt rod is the ideal choice. Another thing Danny has taught me about pursuing big specks on fly is to use a sink tip line. Even when fishing relatively shallow water, the sink tip keeps the fly from riding up toward the surface when you strip it, keeping it in the strike zone. Another good option is to fish a shooting head/running line setup with a clear intermediate sinking head. Shooting heads allow for much longer cast so you will cover more water. The only trade off is line management. With a shooting head/running line setup, you will most likely want to use a stripping basket.
When targeting big specks on a shallow reef, a stealthy approach is required. Excessive boat or trolling motor noise will spook these fish. Try to set up so that you will drift with the wind and/or tide, using the trolling motor for corrections only.
you decide you want to hunt big specks, skip the schools and park it on a reef
or point. Try to avoid crowds, and
be as stealthy as possible. Then
sling big flies and hang on.
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