On the Hook: Catching trout without the tricks

BILL WALSH

Some anglers are absolutely loco about speckled sea trout. I’m sure that on New Year’s Eve when the ball drops in Time Square, forget about hugging the Mrs. – all they see is the trout season reopen when the horns go off !

For the “trouters” it’s been a tough couple of months. Trout re-energize in late October, but can’t be taken until the New Year comes bouncing in. That’s a long time for them to wait. A couple of years back, I ran into a guy that had to be the Trouter Supreme, and his antics and story eventually turned out to be one for the books.

His name was Harry, and he lived in a small town in the low country in South Carolina. He told me all that on his first phone call in late fall, along with expressing his passion for catching “specs.” He inquired about our trout season here in utter detail; “How big are the trout you catch there? Do they feed on live bait or artificial? What’s keeper size in Florida and how many can you keep? Do you regularly catch trout for your customers?” and so on. The call ended as curtly as it began and I wrote it off as another information inquiry.

A week or so later, Harry called back. “I found a tackle shop just south of Jacksonville online that specializes in trout rigs and lures. Ever hear of squiggly touts or curly tails?”

Politely told Harry that the names were not familiar and that down here the majority of the time we’re using simple shrimp rigs or tipped jig.

“Well I’m not going to leave a stone unturned on a trout trip – but before I order this gear, let’s set a charter date.”

He had to have an morning incoming tide with not too much gusto, so we had to go back and forth to find the right date where I had an opening.

Took another week or so and two or three more phone calls and charter rescheduling, but we finally settled on a date. His parting shot on that final call was his informing me that he was going to bring all his own lures and rigs. “Fine by me, Harry.”

Our scheduled date was a mid-week morning in February. The day had a nice flood tide in the morning and Harry also lucked out with light winds and nice clear water. Harry and his guest brother-in-law knew all this as they arrived on that morning and were so excited they could hardly stand still.

True to his word, Harry brought an assemblage of jigs, touts and rigs that he would use carefully stowed in a bright red tackle box. He set the tackle box on the dock as he continued a non-connected line of banter about anything fishing. Harry was wired and couldn’t wait for the day to begin.

True to his quest for the best of everything, we were heading for the best trout spot off Gomez Point, down in Gullivan Bay. It was at least a 75 minute run from the marina, but the grass flats down there were trout legend. Nothing but the best for Harry.

We boarded on time and were underway as scheduled. Harry never stopped talking. About anything and everything, but mostly about the published capability of his new touts and squigglys. “They get a trout on every cast.”

We arrived at Gomez mid-morning under absolutely ideal conditions. Light winds from the southwest were lined up with the incoming tide and the water was gin clear. There were six other boats there already doing what we were going to do on these trout this morning.

We readied the boat for fishing, broke out the live shrimp and readied the rods, when I heard Harry say in a tone halfway between a scream and a lament “Where’s my red tackle box?” The brother-in-law shuddered – he had left it on the dock!

Harry was devastated. “Captain, can we go back?”

“Not hardly, Harry. It took us 40 minutes to get here. Another trip back and forth will take an hour and a half minimum and you’ll only have 45 minutes left on this incoming tide,” I explained.

Harry was shattered – his famous touts and squiggles would never have a chance to perform today. He was dejected. The brother-in-law was keeping his distance from Harry to save physical violence.

I interjected. “Harry, we have years of experience here working trout with simple rigs like shrimp under a popper and light tipped jigs worked just off the bottom on a drift. We can recover the day. Trust me,”

We moved the boat over the grass flat in about five feet of water. Harry was equipped with a popper rig with a nice lively shrimp set four feet under. The brother-in-law was set up with a small jig tipped with a shrimp tail.

After some instruction on technique, we deployed the baits and started our drift in amongst the other anglers working this flat. It didn’t take but five minutes and Harry was straining against a nice trout that had jumped his popper shrimp. He handled the retrieve very well and was all smiles as he swung a hefty keeper spec over the side.

We rebaited Harry and set him out again. This time he had a lunker take the live shrimp and was struggling with the retrieve until he swung a “gator size” spec over the side. It measured out at 24 inches and Harry knew that this was his “one over 20 inches,” as allowed in Florida. He was smiling ear-to-ear and could hardly remember what squiggles were all about.

It all worked out at the end. We headed home with five nice trout in the box – just enough for a nice trout bake for Harry’s family, including the now forgiven brother-in-law. Tongue in cheek, Harry asked what he should do with the special squiggles and touts as we arrived back at the dock.

“Donate them.”

Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to dawnpatrolcharters@compuserve.com.

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