October 04, 2023
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What’s not to love about the speckled member of the drum family? Seatrout willingly take artificial lures as well as live baits, and often come to the rescue to save you from the dreaded skunk on the toughest winter days. Despite their preference for specific salinity levels (17-35 parts per thousand) and lush turtle grass flats, they are one of my favorite species to target no matter what time of year it is.
While they can be quite obliging to a variety of lures and rigs, these five are the best producers—in no particular order—to use during certain seasons for reasons I'll explain based on my experience.
1. Shrimp and Popping Cork Rig
The old tried-and-true live shrimp and popping cork rig does a first-rate job of creating trout-attracting surface commotion with hard, swift twitches of the rod tip. On windy winter days, seatrout are drawn in like a magnet to this sound paired with the scent of a live shrimp in churned-up water. In addition, the brightly colored cork serves to suspend your kicking crustacean at the proper height in the water column where ol' snaggletooth can easily spot it and strike. One key tip for newbies, when targeting seatrout with a shrimp and popping cork rig wait until your rod tip bends over with the weight of the fish instead of reeling when your cork first goes under.
2. Salty Ned Rig
When Florida’s cold fronts blow through, the aftermath means chilly water conditions paired with the lowest of negative tides—don’t be afraid to borrow a move from the bass fishing world—downsize to a finesse presentation. In other words, break out the Salty Ned Rig to keep catching fish even when the conditions turn tough. I generally start fishing a Salty Ned in late December and fish it around troughs, channels, or drop-offs in 2 to 4 feet of water for consistent action.
3. Topwater Walk-the-Dog Lure
Topwater walk-the-dog lures should be a tackle box staple in the late spring and fall months when you start seeing small mullet on the flats and in muddy creeks. While you’ll typically find these types of lures most effective in shallow estuary waters during calm, low-light conditions, don’t hesitate to cast one out during the middle of the day if you happen to see any commotion at the surface. I use a 7-foot medium light, fast action spinning rod and about 1 ½ feet of 15 to 20-pound monofilament leader when walking the dog for trout. Shorter leaders minimize the stretch of the mono and often produce a better hook-up ratio. Two popular topwater lures for shallow-water trout are the Rapala Skitter Walk and the Yo-Zuri 3DB Pencil.
4. Artificial Shrimp
While artificial shrimp can be fished year-round, these soft plastic crustaceans really shine during the winter months when there are fewer baitfish in the estuaries and an abundance of shrimp. In clear water, opt for colors like clear-sparkle, bone or pearl. When backcountry waters are stained or muddy, choose darker shades such as root beer, motor oil and purple that provide a distinct profile. The D.O.A Shrimp is a favorite of mine when fishing across the grass flats and around potholes, although it takes some technique. Hold your rod tip up high and allow the shrimp to swim across the top of the grass, then give the rod a sharp twitch with every couple of turns of the reel handle to mimic the flicking action of a real shrimp.
5. Soft Plastic Paddle Tails
From late spring through fall, when baitfish such as scaled sardines—a.k.a pilchards—and small pinfish are prevalent, stock up on soft plastic paddle tails between 3 to 4 inches in light colors like pearl or white and weighted hooks such as weighted Owner Twistlock hooks. I’ve had some of my best seatrout success while fishing paddle tails along the edges of grass beds, preferably grass beds that are situated near a drop-off.