12 WAYS TO CATCH BIG TROUT by Marlin Stevens

Yes, it is the Christmas season but it is also the month when water temperatures cool and speckled trout move into their winter patterns.

Some of the biggest trout of the year are caught during this period so we thought in the tradition of the “12 Days of Christmas” we would give you 12 legitimate and often underutilized methods for catching monster trout beginning now.

Here we go…

The largest trout eat the largest prey. Researchers in Texas and Mississippi have found mullet to be the preferred food of the biggest trout. Frequently the mullet is half or two-thirds the size of the trout.

Fishing a large, mullet (or croaker) imitating lure is a great way to find big trout. You will get fewer overall bites but the chances of one of those bites being the elusive 30 inches goes up greatly.

Sight and sound combined in a lure can make a huge difference in catching big trout. Trout have a layer of tissue that allows them to see in low light conditions and be superior night feeders. Fishing the pre-dawn hours and using lures or baits with a glowing quality or that create a stark silhouette can help you exploit this quality and score on big trout. Sagittae are the sound receptors in fish and trout have large ones. They are very keen to sounds made by humans and other fish. Of sound in fish.  Throwing lures delicately and working lures and popping corks in a fashion mimicking natural sounds can go a long way to helping anglers catch bigger, wary trout.

Big specks have big appetites… even for smaller specks!

Considering adding tiny rattles to large soft plastics to tap into both the visual and audio workings of trout.

We have all heard of the controversial live croaker for trout bait but what about cut ballyhoo?

Anglers in South Texas claimed ballyhoo worked as good as croaker and even had some people wanting to ban its use because of its effectiveness on big fish. A desire to ban bait is always a sign that it works.

Big trout eat small trout. When choosing topwater or other hard plastic lures consider ones that closely mimic the patterns of a speckled trout. Consider that big trout are attracted to small trout feeding not just to eat on what they are eating but to eat on them. A trout colored topwater which is rarely fished on the Texas coast could help you score on monster specks.

Do not overlook jetties during winter. Few anglers target trout there but there are big fish hanging around the rocks this time of year. Consider fishing on the shallow end of then jetties near the beach on warms days and around boat cuts during the first bit of tidal movement. You will not likely get as much action as other anglers but you might just catch the trout of a lifetime.

Do not set the hook as soon as you get a “blow up”. Big trout will often circle a plug or hit at it once and circle and then take it down. Wait until the lure is under the water. Also consider the biggest trout often “slurp” the plug under which is not quite as dramatic to see. That is until you reel in a monster trout.

Capt. Jim Onderdonk a Baffin Bay guide said he often rigs up clients inexperienced with topwaters with a topwater/Bass Assassin combo. He rigs the Assassin as a trailer for the surface lure and most of the time when the trout comes up toward the surface it takes the Assassin first.

“It works really well, especially for people who just don’t have a lot of experience fishing topwaters. It’s exciting for people to get a blowup but heartbreaking for them to miss one of these fish because down here it really could be the trout of a lifetime.”

This is essentially the same concept Mark Davis of television’s Bigwater Adventures uses with a popping cork.

“I have caught huge trout, 30 inches, on a popping cork and a soft plastic and it never ceases to blow people away.”

The popping action mimics the sounds of smaller trout feeding which in turn brings in larger trout.

A more patient hook set will get more big trout in the net.

A handful of anglers on the Upper Coast report seeing alligator garfish and huge speckled trout together in some of the deeper marsh canals. In fact, some anglers locate their trout by first finding the gar.

Gar go into an almost sedentary mode during winter so they do not pose much of a threat to the trout and while there is no verified connection between the species, the few anglers who have shared this strategy know what they are doing.

Salinity can be a factor in locating trophy trout. Researchers with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission have found that big trout tend to prefer water that is close in salinity to seawater to more brackish water.

Salinity is an important factor as the closer an area is to the Gulf, the higher the salinity, however there are some other factors that come into play with trout here. Big, incoming tides bring warmer Gulf waters onto trout friendly areas like shallow flats along channels and with them come baitfish.

When you have the combination of water that is more saline, a few degrees warmer than that in the upper reaches of the system on top of a high presence of mullet and other baitfish you have serious trophy trout potential. Looking at this research alone helps you eliminate hundreds of square miles of habitat and focus more intensely on the areas where the big trout you seek are more abundant.

As noted in TF&G Editor-In-Chief Chester Moore’s book Texas Trout Tactics, male trout make a “croaking” noise. 

If you catch a bunch of males in an area return there in the evening and prepare to fish late. Males will gather in a spawning aggregation and croak en masse to attract females. This is a highly overlooked time to find big trout at their peak weight. Also consider that many trout particular the big ones do not move far. Of the 477 spotted seatrout tagged in a migration study in Alabama, 58 returns were received, and 53 percent exhibited no movement. If you missed a big sow in a particular spot, chances are she is still very nearby.

Another tidbit from Texas Trout Tactics involves oyster reefs. Many anglers know the importance of oyster reefs in the life cycles but miss the fact you need to get violent with the shell to catch the most and biggest fish.

“The most important thing to keep in mind about reef fishing is to use sand eel imitations and fish them on the right sized jighead. Fishing with 1/8-ounce jig heads is great for shallow reefs with light currents, but you need something heavier that will get down to the bottom and be able to fight heavier current.”

“Drift with the current and let the lure bounce, bump and crash into the oyster reef. Yes, you will lose jigheads but the angler who can discipline themselves to fish this way typically scores on bigger trout. Make sure you have enough line out to where you are not vertically fishing. The lure will not be able to work properly that way. In addition, it is important to keep contact with the lure.”

As winter wears on, warmth becomes increasingly important. Any mud flat adjacent to deep water like the Intracoastal Canal or a ship channel is a great place to find big trout. They will spend most of their time in the deep water with stable temperatures but move onto the flats to feed on warm, sunny afternoons. The dark mud retains heat and even slight increases in water temperature will spark baitfish movement and in turn trout predation.

—story by Marlin Stevens


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