For many years, spotted seatrout have been one of the most popular gamefish in Southwest Florida. Seatrout, along with snook and redfish, are currently closed to harvest while they recover from the devastating red tide event last winter. However, catch-and-release fishing is still permitted, and trout are willing to entertain inshore anglers with aggressive bites on both lures and live bait. Kayaks are perfectly suited for fishermen with light tackle in search of trout. These same tactics also work for snook, redfish, flounder and pompano in shallow water.
We suspect that most trout are caught with live shrimp under a popping cork or other rattling float type. When they are caught by boat fishermen, most of these fish are taken over relatively deep grass flats ranging from 4 to 8 feet deep. Many experienced trout fishers maintain that the average fish over these deep flats are generally smaller than the so-called “gators” that cruise up into the shallower areas in search of baitfish.
It seems that at a certain stage of growth, seatrout change from feeding on crustaceans (shrimp, mostly) to baitfish for a larger meal. That’s what drives these big trout into the shallows to entertain kayak anglers more interested in quality than quantity.
Kayak anglers suffered last year when the red tide messed up our bay waters. We can now enjoy the clear water and healthy fish we are used to on our beaches around Lemon Bay and Gasparilla Sound. We admit we were a bit nervous about fishing this area after last year’s disappointments, but we have been happily reassured by several inshore trips that have been consistently productive again.
If you want to chase these larger trout and other shallow-water predators like redfish and snook, sleep in on cold mornings when the water temps are below 70°F. Wait for the sun to warm the shallows you intend to fish. Find shallow flats that have a dark bottom and are sheltered from north winds. The dark bottom helps the sun warm the water by a few degrees, creating a friendly spot for bait and gamefish. Being sheltered from the wind also helps the water warm up and keeps a kayak angler more comfortable than out on the open bay.
Lures are our go-to choice for this shallow water. The depths here can vary from 6 inches to 3 feet, which makes a cork-and-shrimp combo too noisy for these skittish fish. If there are a lot of floating weeds, it helps to use a weedless lure.
We often rig a soft plastic shad tail on a 2/0 long-shank wide-gap hook with a small bullet weight ahead of the hook, like rigging a bass worm. This combo will slip through and over many weeds that would foul a normal jig and spoil your presentation. One trick we use is to tie the loop knot above the weight so that the knot and short tag end hold the bullet weight in place. It’s tricky to tie but works well.
If you head out to the deeper flats in search of action, some changes to this rigging are needed. For flats in the 6-foot range, the shrimp and popping cork rig can’t be beat. If you run out of shrimp and the bite is hot, simply change to a plastic shrimp or an eighth-ounce jig with a shad tail under the float and carry on. For lures, we rig with a red eighth-ounce jig head with a soft plastic shad tail.
If you’re fishing a lure without a cork, you will have to slow the retrieve way down and might want to change to a sixteeth-ounce jighead that will work slowly without diving into the bottom grass. Lately we have been using Slayer shad tails with bigger “tails” that wiggle at a lower speed.
On a nice day, kayak anglers can fish both shallow and deeper flats. Fishing the shallower flats as the sun warms the water can be productive for larger trout. As the day passes and shallow water fishing slows, paddle out to the deeper flats along the ICW where you can target a variety pack of trout, pompano, ladyfish, mackerel and bluefish. Keep track of your catches and see if you find larger trout in shallower water.
Kimball and Les Beery, authors of the waterproof “Angler’s Guide to Shore Fishing Southwest Florida” and “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida,” contribute these columns to promote the excellent fishing available in Southwest Florida. Their books are available at most tackle shops in the area, AnglerPocketGuides.com, or Amazon as a download or hard copy.