John N. Felsher
Everyone hears stories of novice anglers throwing something ridiculous and landing a trophy speckled trout. Sure, that happens occasionally, but so does winning $100 million in a lottery. Just don’t count on it!
“Anyone can get lucky every now and then,” said Capt. Eddie Hernandez of Golden Hook Guide Service (409-673-3100, www.goldenhookguide.com) of Port Neches. “People can catch some good trout in schools, but to really catch big trout consistently, anglers need to specifically target big trout. We usually get fewer bites, but bigger bites when intentionally trying to catch trophy trout.”
People who consistently land large specks know how to fish specifically for them. Fishing for big trout requires patience, determination and a plan, about 90 percent of which occurs before the boat leaves the dock. After deciding to tempt lunkers instead of chasing more numerous small fish, stick to the plan.
To catch trophy trout, anglers must first find them. Ranking near the top of the food chain in most estuaries, huge solitary trout roam their hunting grounds without fear. Get away from the crowds. Go to isolated reefs with access to deep, salty water and abundant forage. In addition, fish odd hours and go during the week on non-holidays when fewer people head out onto the water. Many anglers report the best action for big trout comes around mid-day, usually between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
“I usually find bigger trout in the shallower water up along the shoreline, almost like a redfish,” explained Chad Verburgt of Rockport Red Runner Fishing Guide Service (361-463-6545, www.rockportredrunner.com) in Rockport. “Big trout don’t really hang with redfish, but they often stay in the same territory and eat the same baits. Nine times out of 10, big trout are loaners. Most will have their own little area where they like to hang out. They might be next to another big trout in its own little area, but they don’t really hang out together. Big trout like shallow flats with many potholes and grass pockets along the shoreline.”
When chasing trophy specks, avoid following the flotilla casting at small school specks feeding upon shrimp. School trout tend to run smaller. Anglers occasionally catch monster trout from a school feeding upon shrimp because bigger trout hang below and off to the side of the schoolies, eating small trout instead of shrimp.
While all trout eat shrimp, trout exceeding three pounds generally prefer to eat fish, usually mullets, menhaden, pinfish, croakers and even small trout. In addition, a big trout doesn’t need to feed nearly as often as a smaller trout. Instead, it conserves energy by occasionally grabbing one big, easy meal rather than chasing a bunch of tiny morsels. A 5-pound trout can easily swallow a 12-inch mullet. Imagine what a 10-pound trout might gulp?
Since larger trout mainly feed upon finfish, large topwater baits often produce the best bites. Most topwater baits resemble crippled baitfish, especially “walk-the-dog” type baits. With short wrist pops, they slash irresistibly from side to side like mullets or menhaden swimming near the surface.
“Bait is the key to catching big trout,” Hernandez advised. “When targeting big trout, I look for big bait. Smaller fish go to the shrimp, but big trout eat a lot more finfish than shrimp. For big trout, I like to use big topwater baits like Super Spooks. Early in the morning, I like to throw topwater baits in protected areas with access to deep water. I also like to use slow-sinking baits fished really slowly.”
Large live baits also work very effectively for tempting Texas-sized trout. Avoid shrimp and popping corks. Instead, pick a good hole known to produce monster trout and wait. Sometimes, fishing for giant trout resembles watching ice melt as anglers wait for those one or two really big bites while nearby boats load ice chests with smaller trout. Anglers may need to wait in the same place several hours until that magical 15 minutes when big trout feed that day arrives.
Pick a spot with easy access to both deep water and shallow feeding flats like a point or channel edge and wait. Place several rods with various live temptations at different depths. Rig a live menhaden, mullet or croaker about six inches long on a Carolina rig. The slip sinker keeps the bait near the bottom, but since line pulls through it easily, a wily big trout won’t feel any resistance when gulping bait. Below the slip sinker, tie a swivel. To the swivel, tie a 24- to 48-inch fluorocarbon leader tipped with a circle hook. Even in the right spot, anglers may only experience one or two bites in a day, but any bite could produce the trout of a lifetime.
While waiting for that one bite, keep quiet. Keep talking to a minimum and don’t play the radio, drop things against the bottom, bang locker lids or make any other unnecessary, unnatural noises. Sound vibrations telegraphed through the boat hull into the water can spook fish.
For even stealthier operations, many Texans prefer wading to eliminate boat noises entirely. Waders also create much lower surface profiles. Grab a few favorite topwater or slow-sinking lures and move slowly across prime feeding flats casting toward any potholes, structure or grass pockets.
“Wading is a very effective method for catching really big trout,” Verburgt recommended. “Look for something a little different in the shallow water. Usually big trout lay in potholes near bait activity. Many people lose trout while wade fishing. When wading, hooked big trout try to run between the legs of the angler and shake the hook. To keep trout from shaking off, I turn my body so they aren’t running directly at me. I lead it around in circles to wear the fish out.”
Although one female speckled trout may produce millions of offspring, very few live long enough to approach trophy size. Don’t keep any extremely large trout and handle each fish as little as possible with great care. Photograph them and release them to breed and fight again.