Our area is one of the top nursery areas in the country for these beautiful and tasty fish. If you are a Yankee used to catching weakfish in the Delaware, Jersey and Chesapeake Bay areas, you might have trouble adjusting to the southern sea trout’s much smaller size.
During the peak years, the northern weakfish would average six pounds or so with specimens more than 12 pounds common. It’s one of the most beautiful fish in the bays all dressed up in pink, silver and purple iridescence, with a huge yellow mouth and double yellow canines.
The typical trout in our waters may average a pound or so, but what they lack in size is made up for in sheer numbers. A trophy trout here would be a five-pounder. The larger “gator” trout (seven pounds-plus) are caught farther north in this state.
The recent falling water temperatures turn on our resident “angler friendly” trout and they will be active all winter long and willing to bite. Although they are not one of our glamour species, such as reds or snook, a winter day on the water catching a boatload of these beautiful little kid-friendly fish sure beats being snowed in watching fishing shows on TV and waiting for spring to wet a line.
The tools: Most anglers “over tackle” trout. I fish two rods, a 5- to 5 1/2-foot ultralight spinning rod and a 6-foot light action rod, both using small, lightweight reels. Cast small jigs and plastic baits with the ultralight, and the light action 6-footer for my popping cork or top water rod. The light action 6-footer should have a flexible tip with some backbone toward the handle. The longer rod allows you to throw your corked bait long distances and cover lots of water. The trout can be spooky at times so keep boat noise to a minimum.
I’m a huge fan of the braided lines for all of my fishing. Super strong with tiny diameter makes these lines a winner. For trout, we usually fish 10- to eight-pound braid, which has the diameter of two-pound monofilament and allows you to make super long casts and still have a strong, supple, line. Tie on a three-foot piece of fluorocarbon leader.
n The baits: Trout are suckers for all types of jigs bounced, hopped, or slowly swimmed through the water column. Always a great choice, all year long. A typical jig size would be a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce dressed with a million varieties of soft plastic jig bodies. White or gold sparkle are my go-to colors. For bait slingers try the time tested rattling popping corks with a live shrimp hanging a foot or more below your cork depending on water depth.
A jig or fake plastic shrimp below a cork is a killer rig. Don’t forget to start and end your day with a topwater lure. The biggest trout of the year are caught on topwaters, such as a Zara Spook.
Where: Look for trout over grass flats in two to eight feet of water all winter long. During really cold periods look for them to bunch up and move into deeper channel areas. Fish suspended in a channel will come up and feed on a flat during a nice sunny winter afternoon.
A dark-bottomed grassy area warms quicker and holds more trout snacks than a sandy bare bottom. Fish accordingly.
Handling: Trout have fine scales and are delicate. Handle gently with (wet) hands for a good quality live release. Once scales are removed the fish becomes susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections and can die later after release. Please handle with care.
Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at email@example.com, or (239) 282-9434.
Capt. George Tunison