Tampa Bay Trout Bite!
Marching through spring we have been plagued with yet a few more, late cold fronts and windy days. Fortunately, the fishing hasn’t suffered nearly as much as I would have predicted. The key for us has been getting our bait early and fishing protected areas as much as possible. Undoubtedly, the highlight of the month has been the speckled trout fishing.
Speckled Trout are one of the bays most beautiful fish and recently we have been catching good numbers of slot fish (15-20”) as well as a fair number of large breeder fish (20+”). A majority of the bigger aggregations have been in the deeper areas of the flats. Four to six feet of water has been the target depth, fishing areas of broken grass and sand bottom. Lower tides can be very productive as long as the wind isn’t too bad to fish the outside sand bars. My preferred rig is a freelined live pilchard. If the baits are staying on the surface and not going down, there are two things to try. First, try belly hooking the bait near the pectoral fins. Pilchards in particular have an air bladder that when punctured will help keep the bait below the surface and often times cause them to swim closer to the bottom. If that doesn’t work, more than likely you are fishing in a heavier current. Add the appropriate pinch weight (split-shot) 8-10” above the bait – on the leader. The idea is to keep the bait in the strike zone as long as possible. Sometimes the fish are feeding on the surface and others they are mid-column. Throwing out some live chum will help locate where you need to be fishing. Once you have located some fish, let the catching begin.
I recommend loosening the drag substantially when fishing for trout. Too much pressure will most always end up in the fish getting off. In most areas, there are no obstructions to be worried. Keep constant, light tension on the rod and you will be more successful. When targeting the bigger gators, use a bigger bait.
Trout exceeding 24” will take a bait up to 6”; no problem. However, if you are looking for some fish for dinner take a picture of the 20”+ fish and let them swim free. There are plenty of 17-18” fish to harvest. The big females are full of eggs and extremely valuable to our fishery. In our area, the legal size-limit for speckled sea trout is 15” minimum and the bag limit is (4) per angler with only (1) fish being over 20”.