- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
When it comes to inshore species in Gulf and Atlantic waters, redfish and trout have to be considered the best one-two punch going. They may not be the biggest or the toughest, but they come pretty close. And for sheer sport on relatively light tackle, both top many an angler’s list.
The Lowdown On Trout
Trout—spotted sea trout—are known by many names: specks, speckled trout and yellow mouths, just to name a few. (They’re actually in the drum family). No matter the moniker, the name is synonymous with great fishing and fine eating.
Reasonable restrictions on creel and size limits, as well as concerted efforts by conservation organizations and government agencies, have led to an explosion in the speckled trout populations in coastal waters. While I have caught specks as far north as Virginia and as far south as south Texas, the greatest extent of my fishing has been in the Gulf of Mexico along the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts. By all standards the fishing in these waters is very good, and the tactics used are usually effective for trout in most other places. Texas and Florida also have excellent speckled trout fishing, with pretty water.
Conservation efforts have gone a long way to restore populations to healthy numbers.
The methods used for trout are as simple or as elaborate as the taste of the angler. Wade fishing along the beach is popular in the late spring and summer, and following the specks into the marsh, canals and rivers by boat is a chosen method in the fall and winter. Needless to say, where riptides, strong under-currents and other natural dangers exist, it's best to stay out of the water.
The much publicized shark attacks of 2001 took a noticeable "bite" out of the number of wade fishermen I saw on the barrier islands and beaches of the Gulf Coast.
On average, specks can be handled on the same tackle as freshwater black bass. More often than not, open-faced spinning reels, loaded with 10-12 pound test line are the order of the day. Fly-fishing for trout has enjoyed a rapid growth in the last few years. Again, the same equipment an angler would use for bass can be used for trout.
Specks are not as finicky of eaters as trout found in cold mountain streams, though they do prefer live bait to dead. Live shrimp rigged Carolina style and fished on the bottom is just one method of attracting a strike. Where the bottom is too rocky or is covered with oyster shells that can shred a monofilament line, the shrimp can be rigged under a popping cork. Either way, give the shrimp enough line under the weight to allow it to jump and swim. The popping action of shrimp is one of the things that will entice a speck to strike.
Another live bait popular with speck fishermen is the cocahoe minnow. Minnows will live longer than shrimp on hot days and are generally easier to find in the fall and winter months. Rigged the same way, minnows are an outstanding choice for old yellow-mouth.
At the Sand Dollar Marina on Grand Isle, Louisiana I learned a valuable lesson about fishing for "trophy trout," as called by the locals. At the cleaning station, I was filleting a limit of 16- to 20-inch trout (the legal limit in Louisiana is 12 inches, and varies from state to state) taken on live shrimp. A local came in with an ice chest filled to capacity with trout in the 8- to 10-pound range.
I had seen him fishing very near me and just had to ask how he caught such fine fish compared to mine. The answer was simple: he used bigger bait. Large trout, as do many larger fish, figure that expending the energy to feed on small morsels is just a waste of time and usually go for the big bait. This man was using live porgies, 4 to 6 inches long.
In the late spring and summer, specks can be found in the warmer waters along the beaches and in the edge of marsh. They will also hang around structure, such as rocks, oyster beds, ship wrecks, and piers where bait tends to gather. They bite best when the tide is moving. Catch a rising or falling tide in a place where the moving water delivers food to the waiting fish and the chances are good that hot action awaits. Where one speck is caught, there are generally many more.
Artificial baits can also be a good choice for the speck fisherman. Mir-O-Lures have been a favorite of trout fishermen for years. They come in a variety of sizes and colors. The chartreuse top-water jumping minnow has worked well for me, attracting some very explosive surface strikes. In the south, tandem-rigged lead-headed jigs are very popular. The rig has two jigs with plastic cocahoe minnow bodies tied on separate tethers so that they swim a few inches apart. This rig will catch two at time quite often when used on schooling trout.
In Virginia I had good luck with a soft plastic-bodied bait called the Mr. Whipple. Darker colors with gold glitter impregnated in the body were just the ticket. The savvy angler will talk to local bait shops and other anglers to find just what the specks are taking.
In winter the speckled trout head for deeper water. The canals and rivers provide good cover and a food supply. The key to cold water trout is to slow down the presentation and expect a less hammering strike.
No matter the time of year, speckled trout are fun to catch and make great table fare.
Reading Up On Redfish
Another fish that has benefit from the increased conservation effort is the red drum, or redfish. In many respects the information given for speckled trout can be dittoed for reds, only redfish will grow far bigger, necessitating somewhat heavier tackle.
Once a redfish grows over 30 inches in length, they acquire the status of "bull reds" and may reach weights of over 60 pounds.
Not quite a "bull," this "puppy drum"--as smaller reds are called--was taken on medium action gear.
The redfish has a less discriminating taste than the speckled trout, and will eat a variety of things trout will not touch. One of the best baits I've found for big redfish is a small blue crab. Pull off the pinchers and remove the hard back, hook it with a stout hook tied to 20- to 30-pound test line and fish it on the bottom. Live pinfish, finger mullet and croakers will work as well. Bull minnows fished on the bottom are excellent for smaller reds. (Let it be said here that smaller reds are 18- to 24-inch fish and, in my opinion, the best size for eating).
In the autumn months, redfish will gather in the marsh and patrol shallow pools for crabs and baitfish. Some of the pools are too shallow to enter with a boat and are best fished from the banks. Sight-fishing for reds is easy, since they often chase bait into water so shallow that their tail fins become exposed. Using a lip-hooked minnow in these cases will almost always attract a strike.
Artificial baits for redfish include gold spoons, lead-headed jigs with white or smoke gray bodies and the D.O.A Bait Company’s artificial crab.
Like the trout, winter finds the redfish in the marsh and rivers, where they will feed in shallow water on mild days and gather in the deep holes when the weather gets cold.
Sportsmen have fought long and hard to see the speckled trout and redfish populations rebound. Enjoy the fruits of their labors. Plan a trip to the coast and enjoy tangling with one of these fine sport fish.