As we close out another year, anglers are reporting good catch-and-release trout fishing with plenty of large fish. Anticipation is high as the first of the year is just about here and that means spotted sea trout season will again reopen.
Sea trout are the most popular saltwater gamefish in the state of Florida, and for good reason. They are abundant, eat a wide assortment of baits and lures, are fun to catch for fishermen of all ages and, best of all, sea trout are excellent table fare. We are lucky, the shallow waters around the Pine Island area offer some of the best trout fishing in the state and they are caught year round.
When January's winter weather drops the water temperatures, trout will likely be in deeper inshore waters that offer some protection from the strong north winds. Deep creeks, pot holes, deep pockets around oyster bars, natural channels in protected areas and canals are all good places to begin your hunt. It's common for trout to come off the flats and seek shelter in these areas and are often stacked up to stay warm. They tolerate the cold well, much better than snook. If you recall, we lost a large number of our snook population in January 2010 due to the cold conditions. To tolerate the cold a sea trout's metabolism will slow way down as they conserve energy and seek out the warmest water possible.
Shelby Russell of Matlacha with a nice trout caught near an oyster bar in Pine Island Sound. Trout season will reopen on January 1st.
When you think cold water trout fishing, remember low and slow. Low, meaning keep the bait as low in the water column as possible. The fish will be staged on bottom, that's where the water is the warmest. Slow, if you want to catch fish you must have a slow, often very slow retrieve. With a slow metabolism and conserving energy, most fish will not expel a lot of effort to chase down bait. If you are not getting your bait low, on or near the bottom, or retrieving it slow, you just might not catch a fish, even though you are fishing over a pile of them.
My favorite bait rig for this type of fishing is a simple jig and shrimp combination - either a whole live shrimp hooked tail first on a jig head or a bucktail jig rigged with a piece of shrimp. A quarter-ounce jig is the most common and works in most situations. To rig a live shrimp on a jig head, bite or pinch the tail off then thread the hook into the tail opening toward the head until the tail end of the shrimp bottoms out on the hook shaft. The point of the hook should exit on the bottom, where the legs are on the shrimp and it should lay relatively straight. Some jigs are made solely for this application and have small barbs on the hook shaft to help hold the shrimp in place.
For the bucktail rig, a small half-inch piece of fresh-cut shrimp placed on the hooks shaft or curve is all that's needed. Both are equally effective on trout and most other fish that might also be seeking warmer water.
A light to medium fast action rod with line around the 15-pound class and a foot or two of 20 to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader is all that is needed, and, of course, one of the jig rigs attached to the leader. Work the deep water pockets with a long cast and cover the entire area, concentrating near the bottom. A slow jigging retrieve, lifting the rod then allowing the bait to fall back to the bottom, retrieve the slack and repeat is a deadly method for fishing this rig. Don't expect a real hard strike, most of the time the strike occurs as the bait falls and you will just feel the weight of the fish when you begin your rod lifting jig, that's when you strike or set the hook.
Regulations for sea trout in Southwest Florida are four per angler per day and must measure between 15 and 20 inches overall length with one fish over 20 inches permitted in the four fish daily limit.
Good news starting the first of the year, trout fishing in our area will be open all year with no more November and December closure. For more information on trout and other fish regulations visit www.myfwc.com. If you read this article before the first of the year, remember trout season does not open until Jan. 1.
I know a lot of anglers are eagerly anticipating the chance to once again catch and eat some fresh trout. The wait is almost over. When we get some cold weather, try the methods we talked about and chances are pretty good you might start the year with a fresh fish dinner.
Wishing all a Happy New Year!
Have a safe week and good fishin'.