Trophy Seatrout Of Summer

Catch the biggest seatrout of the year as the mercury soars.

Capt. Bert Deener | July 1, 2008

Seatrout like this 24-inch trophy caught by Chad Bowling of Lake Park will be primed to pounce on topwaters this month. Chad caught the fish in April while on a trip with his wife, Carrie, at Crooked River with the author.

After launching at my favorite trout location, Crooked River State Park, we ran to our first spot to kill an hour before the tide got right for our target for the day… trophy seatrout. My partners for this Father’s Day adventure were my father, Herb Deener of Waycross, and my brother-in-law, Ron Johnson of Viper, Ky.

During the last hour of the incoming tide, our Cajun Thunder Floats went down time and time again. We missed some and caught some. We managed 11 trout with the biggest measuring 17 inches, but the 20-plus- inch fish eluded us on the incoming tide.

Electric-chicken-colored Saltwater Assassin Blurp Sea Shads seemed to be the ticket for the day if we wanted numbers of seatrout. But, little fish were not our target. As the tide slowed to a standstill, I grinned and declared, “It’s time,” and off we sped.

We dropped off plane at my favorite gator-trout spot and idled toward the submerged oyster shell mounds I hoped would hold some cooperative trophy trout. During the next hour, I flung topwater plugs hoping for a big bite while Herb and Ron cast their Cajun Thunder-Blurp Sea Shad offerings. Not far along the shore- line my prop bait got sucked under as if someone dropped a cinder block onto it from 20 feet in the air. The fight did not last long, as the behemoth shook its head and powered its way into the shell mound, severing my line. A little farther down the bank another cinder block fell from the sky onto my walking bait, and I was again hooked up with a trophy trout. After a couple head shakes and a few runs, this one pulled off. Just a few more yards down the bank a third gator trout hit my walking bait three times before I hooked it. But, the result was the same as my first bite: a breakoff when the big fish dove into the shells. All the while, Ron and Herb caught several 16-inch or shorter fish on the plastic rig. After that magical hour, my hits from trophy fish were over for the day. I was 0-for-3 on big fish, but I had three good chances. And as the summer wears on, the number of hits from trophy trout should only increase.

Patrick Pierce (right) and the author on a good day last July.

During my first decade in south- east Georgia, I fished other places than the wide-open estuaries during the heat of summer. My summertime fishing trips usually involved finding a shady bank on the Altamaha River and pitching worms for largemouth bass, figuring that in full sun, the seatrout had to be lethargic and uncooperative. All of my angling buddies stopped fishing during summer because of the heat and the unavailability of their favorite bait, live shrimp.

Because of my bass-fishing background, I am bent toward fooling seatrout with artificial lures. With the aggravation of finding a tackle shop with live shrimp, the difficulty keeping them alive (which is a formidable task in the summer), and having to rebait after a pinfish or other baitstealer does its duty, I have only a slight interest in fishing live shrimp. This matches well with the habits of trophy trout, as they have only slight interest in eating a live shrimp. As trout grow toward the 20- inch mark, their diet consists primarily of baitfish, which just so happens to be what most of my artificials imitate.

With the influx of mullet, croakers, pinfish and the myriad other baitfish that inhabit our estuaries during sum- mer, seatrout feast in the backwaters when not spawning in the surf. Until the last few summers, I only fished for trout on the beaches of Cumberland Island, overlooking a tremendous inshore trout bite. I discovered the potential one summer day several years ago when a beach trip had to turn inland due to a forecast of high winds. Thanks to what I discovered that fateful day, the last several summers have produced dozens of seatrout longer than 20 inches, all on artificial lures. You too can catch trophy seatrout, if you are willing to invest the time to find them.

As summer progresses, schools of mullet slosh back and forth into and out of the marsh grass flats with the tides. Seatrout, efficient ambush predators, lay in wait for these mullet in the shallows. If you can figure out where the trout’s ambush spots are, you can intercept them and have a blast.

My best big-fish spot is a large (probably 300 acres) embayment with 2 to 4 feet of water on the edges and slightly deeper water (only about 6 feet at the deepest) in the middle. Live oyster shells line the marsh grass edges and oyster mounds dot the periphery, providing current breaks, the perfect ambush spots. Current across the flat is slight, but is enough to position seatrout in the current breaks. Because of the slow current across this large flat, this area typically has clearer water than the river channels.

Joe and Gina Rogers of Waynesville pose with a trophy trout that Joe pulled from the oyster shell mound in the background. The fish ate a Bite-A-Bait Fighter jerkbait.

Another consistent spot I catch gator trout is a two-tiered mud flat near a deep channel. The area is only about 10 acres, with the shallowest rim actually going dry at low tide. Just outside the extremely shallow area is a slightly deeper flat that is strewn with oyster pods and is about 2 feet deep at low tide. During the outgoing tide, the oyster mounds provide excellent ambush spots for big trout to feed before they drop off into the channel to wait for the next tide cycle.

On all of my spots, the most productive tide for oversized trout (more than 20 inches) are those around the high tide, with the first hour of the ebb tide being prime. I generally can get a couple bites from gator trout as the tide floods, but their location around shell mounds is much more predictable as the water pulls out of the grass. I have seen similar looking spots all along the Georgia coast. If you put in the time, you too will learn when and where the trophy trout in your area feed.

I have caught more trout longer than 20 inches on topwater baits than any other lure type. The vulnerable action of a topwater mimics a weak mullet, thus triggering a big, wary trout to hit. My top four topwater baits are a MirrOlure She Dog, Bite-A-Bait Top Walker, MirrOlure 5M Prop Bait and a Bite-A-Bait Fighter.

The She Dog is my choice when there is chop on the water. The high- pitched thumping of the rattle inside draws vicious strikes when you “walk- the-dog” across the surface. This lure has not been effective for me when the water is slick calm as it often is in the summer, but it really shines when a strong afternoon sea breeze kicks up. In the morning and on cloudy days, I choose a black version, but under sunny conditions, gold/orange belly, bone/orange throat or silver/black back are my choice.

The oyster shell mounds in the background provide a perfect ambush spot for trophy-sized seatrout. The author (right) flings a Bite-A-Bait Top Walker to the right-hand side current edge while Ron Johnson fishes the opposite side.

Baitcasting equipment is best for throwing this large lure, with a long, medium-action rod getting the nod. A 7-foot Team All Star Inshore graphite rod (TIS-TR2-SH) paired with a Pflueger Contender reel gives you the advantage to get a big fish to the boat. The short handle on this rod is perfect for fishing She Dogs and other topwaters where you need to point the rod tip down to properly work the lure. For walking baits, I spool up with 14-lb. test Sufix Siege monofilament. I believe the stretch in the mono gives the walking lure a much better action than no-stretch braided line. But, because of this stretch, you have to use more pressure when fighting a big trout.

A Top Walker is an excellent walking bait when the water is relatively calm and the fish want a subtle presentation. This lure does not have a hard-thumping rattle, so you do not spook fish in shallow, calm water. Just as with the She Dog, rapid, short twitches of your rod tip will cause the bait to dance back and forth across the water. My most productive colors are gold/orange belly and silver/black back. I use the same equipment for the Top Walker as that mentioned above.

A 5M Prop Bait is deadly on slick calm and light-chop days. The propellers put off a sound that to the human ear is a perfect replica of a school of finger mullet flushing when attacked by predators. The most effective retrieve for me is letting the lure sit for about 10 seconds after splashdown and then making a subtle “swoosh” by pulling it toward you about a foot with the rod tip. After letting the lure pause for several seconds, repeat the pull. The colors that work best for me are red back, yellow belly, gold scale (color No. 28) and black back, white belly, silver scales (color No. 21).

I like the same baitcasting rod and reel combination as above, except I prefer 20-lb. test Sufix Performance Braid line for this application. Since the lure pulls straight, the lack of stretch does not hamper the action, while the braided line holds up better than monofilament if a big fish dives into shells.

Fighter jerkbaits are deadly on days when big trout will not eat a lure off the surface but only swat at them. After splashdown, I reel several times while twitching my rod tip to imitate an injured minnow. After a second or two pause, the lure floats back to the surface. Repeat this cadence, expecting a bite on the pause. Sometimes they will nail it just as the back breaks the water surface. I like spinning tackle for fish- ing Fighters. A Pflueger Trion, 7-foot, medium-action, high-modulus graphite rod paired with a Pflueger Medalist No. 6035 spinning reel is a premium setup for hard jerkbaits. I prefer 20-lb. test Sufix Performance Braid line for this application so I can feel the take if a trout rolls on it underneath the surface. The Fighter colors that work best are clown, parrott and black back/silver sides.

Hardcore topwater bass anglers ALWAYS have a rod rigged with a follow-up lure for fish that miss a topwater. The same goes for saltwater. If a big trout shows where she is by flashing on a topwater but not taking it, you can fire a soft-plastic jerkbait to the area and usually get that fish to hit. My follow- up lure is a Saltwater Assassin 5-inch Blurp Shad rigged unweighted on a 5/0 J-bend worm hook. I throw this lure on the same outfit as hard jerkbaits. Short twitches of your rod tip will make the subsurface lure dance back and forth. Most trips, an electric-chicken Blurp Shad works best in murky water, while good-penny or golden-bream colors produce best in clear water.

Professional bass angler Patrick Pierce of Jacksonville, Fla., (right) and the author doubled up on gator trout last July. Bert’s 21-incher ate a Bite-A-Bait Top Walker, while Patrick’s 20-incher hit a Bite-A-Bait Fighter jerkbait.

With all topwaters, setting the hook can be frustrating. Trout are notorious for missing a plug, but most of the time you can draw multiple hits, as long as you do not pull the lure away from the fish. The trick is to reel as soon as you see or hear the strike and let the treble hooks dig in. If you feel weight, sweep a hook set. If you do not feel weight, then keep working the lure. Even when hooked, getting a big trout to the boat takes patience, the right equipment and a little luck. Never let slack in your line, keep the line tight, but do not apply too much pressure or you will pull the hooks from the trout’s tender mouth. Experience is the only way to learn the right combination to boat big fish, and even then they frequently get the best of you.

I use snaps with all the topwaters mentioned. Because trout can be finicky about colors or lure styles, a snap allows you to quickly change to dial in what they want to eat that day. Snaps also allow the lures to work more freely than if you cinch a knot tightly on the line tie.

Topwater fishing is such a visual game that you cannot underestimate the importance of good sun- glasses. Polarized sunglasses knock down the glare so you can see a subtle surface strike and also allow you to see how your lure is working. As you approach a submerged oyster-shell mound, you can often see the dark spot in the water. If you do not have quality sunglasses, you will probably miss the mound entirely. I like Tifosi Fototec Open Water Green lenses because they have great polarization, and they also adjust automatically from dark to light according to how much light is present.

Have realistic expectations when chasing trophy trout during summer. On most trips where I target trophy trout, I do not catch many fish. When throwing big topwater plugs, you will not get as many hits as with live shrimp or small plastic lures, so you need to adjust your expectations accordingly. For me, when a huge trout engulfs a topwater with a vengeance, it is all worth it. In my experiences, the best months for trophy trout are July, August and September. Once the cold fronts start making their way into south Georgia, the trophy-sized trout usually move to deeper water.

This summer as the mercury soars, do not settle for sweet tea and a sofa in the air conditioning. Suck it up, slather on sunscreen, get yourself on some flats during the first of the outgoing tide, twitch some topwater plugs and catch your biggest trout of the year… or lifetime!

The sweet tea will be waiting for you at your favorite restaurant on the trip home.

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