Trout fishing is easy. Just attach a hook to a bottle cap and cast it out there. They’ll hit it.
Well, it can be that easy, anyway. Other times, you might try and just keep failing. It is fishing, after all. But as local fish go, trout are generally quite accommodating, and that’s not a bad thing.
Trout are one of our very best species for getting newbies or kids interested in fishing. They will eat a wide variety of baits and lures, they’re usually fairly aggressive feeders (until the water gets warm, at least), and they are found in water that’s deep enough you don’t need to worry about getting grounded. Ladyfish also fit that description, but they poop a lot more. Trout usually don’t make much of a mess.
Of course, the most common way to catch trout around this area is with live shrimp under a float. This method works very well most of the time. You’ll want to be in about 3 to 5 feet of water. The shrimp will dangle about 2 feet below the float. Adding a splitshot sinker to the line right above the hook will keep the shrimp from swimming to the surface.
Float styles vary. Some anglers prefer a basic foam or plastic float, but most use a popping or rattling cork which helps attract fish by sound. If you choose this option, don’t pop or rattle the cork too much. Once every 20 or 30 seconds is plenty. Too much noise may actually keep the fish away.
This style of fishing is great training. For kids, watching the bobber will help keep them engaged. Since shrimp are frequently nibbled by all sorts of fish, they should have some steady action with seeing the float go down, even if they don’t hook every fish. (Pro tip: If they’re losing lots of bait, try shrimp chunks on smaller hooks.)
For newbies, the float helps them keep tabs on where their bait is and what it’s doing — a skill they will find useful later on when targeting fish that prefer freelined baits.
For float fishing, you can drift or anchor. If you’re drifting, it’s best to keep the float rigs out behind the boat. This means you can also very easily cast some lures in the direction the boat is going and not worry about lines getting tangled. You might have success with almost anything (including bottle caps), but soft plastic baits are inexpensive and easy to use. They’re cheap enough that you can have multiple colors or styles in your box, allowing you to experiment and see if the fish have a preference.
Trout are schooling fish, but mainly when they’re young. The little schoolies will compete with one another for food and the action is often rapid-fire. By the time a trout reaches about 18 or 20 inches, it’s much more of a loner. So catching a small one often leads to catching more. Catching a bigger one is usually more random, since they are more spread out.
Larger trout also are less likely to eat your shrimp. As they grow, their dietary preference shifts more toward small fish. If you want to target bigger trout with natural bait, a 3- or 4-inch pinfish or pigfish is a much better choice than a shrimp. They may still eat shrimp, but they won’t usually go far out of their way. However, big trout might swim 50 yards or more to eat a pigfish.
Spotted seatrout are nothing like the trout you caught in fresh water up north. Really, the only thing they have in common is the spots. Freshwater trout are in the salmon family. Florida seatrout are in the drum family. They’re related to redfish, not to rainbows.
You probably realized these weren’t like the trout back home the first time you got a peek in one’s mouth. Those long Dracula fangs right in the front tell you immediately you’re not dealing with a cute little brookie. But no worries — they don’t have much in the way of bite strength, so you can safely unhook your fish. I’ve heard of people getting bitten by them, but never had a report of anyone getting hurt.
Still, everything with teeth can bite, and it’s a good idea to use these fish as trainers for how to handle fish without getting chomped. If you can learn to avoid contact with trout teeth, you can probably also deal with mackerel (which absolutely will slice you open).
When you handle those trout, be gentle with them. These fish have a reputation for being delicate, and it’s at least partly deserved. If you can dehook them without touching them, that’s ideal. If you can’t, then wet your hands before you pick up the fish. Please avoid the use of any kind of cloth or rag — it will wipe slime off the fish, and that slime is the fish’s prime defense against disease and parasites.
Trout are also good table fish, but we’re not going to be able to bring any home until the season opens later this year. A fish we release alive and healthy now is one more that can be harvested when the closure is finally over, so be good to the trout you catch — and have fun out there.
Robert Lugiewicz is a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Longtime manager of Fishin’ Frank’s in Port Charlotte, he is now planning to open his own shop, Blind Tarpon Tackle. Contact him at 941-625-3888.