Learning to “Read”

Learning to “Read”
A welcome sign for anglers seeking speckled trout; a perfect slick has appeared along a shoreline – the rounded shape indicates it is fresh.

A pair of 10 pound redfish slid down the grassy shoreline with their backs and tails exposed for all to see, shrimp and little baitfish showered across the surface hoping not to be the last one in line or the first on the menu. As I stood on the poling platform and watched these fish going about the business of finding something to eat it was easy to tell they were almost oblivious to anything but their next meal. My fishing partner for the day readied his 8-weight fly rod for a cast as the boat eased into position and he placed the fly a couple of feet in front of the pair and began an erratic retrieve. As the pair closed the gap you could see they were gaining speed and in a flash they both charged the fly like a couple of second graders fighting for the last ice cream bar at lunch. The commotion they caused was insane and more than my angler could take as he pulled the fly away in a hurried reaction instead of waiting for the fish to eat the fly. “That was incredible, they were so aggressive,” he exclaimed from the front deck, with a smile that signaled both delight and amazement. Aggressive doesn’t do those fish justice, when they really want to eat there is almost nothing you can do to stop them.

The “aggressive” mentality is probably the one most fishermen associate with redfish and they certainly deserve that distinction, but that’s not the only facet of their personality. As aggressive as these fish can be they can be equally skittish and spooky, and these attributes are what make this fish so appealing because you never know which redfish is going to show up.

I have seen fishermen make absolutely perfect casts to cruising redfish, only to have the fish break and swim off like lightning just struck beside them. The many different actions of redfish and their body movements will often tell you exactly what kind of mood they are in, and even what they are feeding on. Just like the two big fish mentioned here, cruising fish tend to be eating baitfish or shrimp while fish that remain stationary and “root” the bottom are likely to be eating crabs. The stationary fish will often stick their tails completely out of the water, waving like flags, tempting anglers to try their luck. The sight of redfish tails in the air is one of the ultimate thrills for shallow water anglers, the stalk and the presentation are just icing on the cake.

From day to day it’s so interesting to see just exactly how redfish are going to act and react, they seem to either be turned on or turned completely off. In virtually any marsh pond or back lake the redfish is the “baddest boy on the block” and has no fear of any predators. Yes, the occasional cormorant or pelican may pick up a smaller redfish but for the most part they have no enemies, especially the upper-slot and beyond fish who are at the top of the food chain. These fish at times can be so sloppy and carefree it’s virtually impossible to not see them. The sight and sound of them herding bait down a shoreline is one of the greatest events one can witness from the bow of a boat or poling platform. The sheer intensity and single-mindedness of these fish at that particular moment let you know that they are only worried about one thing, and that’s the meal in front of them. On the other end of the spectrum are the days when these fish can turn invisible and seemingly disappear in the blink of an eye. I marvel each time I stumble upon an oversized fish that gives no clue that it was anywhere near, and then leaves the area with not even a trace of its presence left behind. One client so aptly described the feat as, “Making a firetruck disappear in an empty parking lot.”

Now redfish aren’t the only species that offer visible clues to their personality and mood, speckled trout will often give you some clues as well. Unlike down south where anglers often get opportunities to sight-cast trout, fishermen on the upper coast are seldom lucky enough to see fish in our bays. I’ve been able to sight-cast some big trout over on Calcasieu during the winter when the water gets ultra clear, but those opportunities are rare in our part of the world. The lack of contrast provided by the dark mud bottom really hampers any chance you might get to see these fish compared to other venues with lighter, sandier bottoms.

On the other hand, trout do not have to be seen in order to be read; easily the most obvious sign they offer is the “slick.” That shiny spot on the surface of the water caused from the oils of baitfish that trout feed on. A speckled trout is a voracious feeder and will often regurgitate bits and pieces of what they are feeding on, and that point is when the slick appears. Not only can fishermen see slicks, they can also smell them. The aroma is typically sweet, most fishermen compare them to watermelon, and quite similar to the pogeys that crabbers use to bait their traps. If you see or smell a slick you can often get upwind or up-current from the area and locate fish.

A word of wisdom on the subject of slicks, don’t be fooled by slicks that originate from
crab traps. When you locate a slick be sure to check the area for crab trap floats, if none are present then it’s a good idea to investigate. Also, when fishing these slicks, it’s better to target the smaller ones as these are the freshest. The oil that produces the slick will spread rapidly downwind once it reaches the surface and look like a much larger target area, when in all reality the fish are in a smaller more specific spot.
This pattern is particularly good in warmer months, especially on relatively calm days, but it certainly works throughout the entire year. If there is any drawback to fishing slicks, it’s got be that gafftop can also make slicks and will often fool even the most veteran angler. Regardless of the risk of catfish, it’s always worth checking a fresh slick because you might just find a really good concentration of hungry trout.

By reading the signs that redfish and speckled trout often give, you can understand what they may be feeding on and/or where they might be most concentrated. The visual keys are there for all anglers who take the time to look and judge what they have discovered. Take initiative to read your fish next time out on the water, and be sure whenever possible to bring a kid along and share the passion with our next generation of anglers.