Pro Tips: May 2008

Pro Tips: May 2008
An angry shallow water fatty.
May is already upon us and it seems only yesterday I was donning my winter undergarments and pulling my Simms wading jacket overtop for the first cold day last fall. Water temperatures are running in the low to mid-70s and most of the northers have passed, it is time to start thinking about fishing shallow.

I fish shallow whenever conditions warrant, but especially this time of year. Yes, I am still talking about trout fishing; redfish are not the only inhabitants of the shin deep brine. I have anglers ask how we catch so many nice trout in such clear, shallow water. Well, it is probably easier than you think, but it does require some shallow water education.

I am going to talk this month about fishing for trophy springtime trout. We'll discuss locating them, approaching them, and the actual techniques I employ when trying to trick one of the wisest of shallow water species. It would be impossible to list everything but hopefully we can cover the basics and get you off to a good start.

First you need to need to understand that May is spawning time. When water temperatures rise to the magical 77-degree mark, mature speckled trout will hold tight to shorelines and the preferred structure is hard sand with submerged grass. A good supply of mullet and menhaden are also required. Female trout, I'm told, need plenty of oil in their diet for egg production and spawning success is increased when the eggs are buoyant when released and disperse widely in the current. If they sink, biologists say the fertilization and hatch rate will be reduced due to the amount of predation that occurs close to the bottom. Mother Nature takes care of all this, directing them to feed on oily baitfish.

The peaks of spawning activity fall somewhere around the full moon. Shortly after sundown the female trout head to shallow water to dump their eggs and the males follow. Studies show that a normally non-active fishing area can literally spring to life this time of year under the veil of darkness. I know this is starting to sound like we need to be fishing these areas at night and this may be a good plan. However, many of us have other responsibilities, so we fish when we can.

Knowing where the trout go to spawn is a big factor in setting up your daytime shallow water assault. The water temperature will be right and the bait will be abundant. The bottom structure will be suitable for ambush as well. These are three factors that any angler should be searching for at all times. Remember, trout are predators and predators need cover to hunt.

OK- we have the area and feel confident the fish are somewhere close. But is there anything else that makes the shallow water so attractive to larger trout?

The way I see it, the shallow water over the structure that holds preferred forage affords the easiest hunting. Trout can snake their way through thick seagrass, popping in and out of small potholes or depressions in their quest for food. Never think that a trout does not know where the baitfish like to hide, and where their best eating opportunities are going to present themselves.

For many years I have watched large trout cruise from one grassbed to the next searching for bait. Most of the time, she never makes even the slightest ripple in the water. Even when pushing toward a school of baitfish the wake is minimal. I am always amazed at the illusiveness of these great fish. The older I get the more in awe of them I become.

I think the main attraction that leads them to feed in shallow water is the simple fact that it is easier to find and catch prey in one or two feet versus greater depths. As I work on this article I am reminded of the fish we caught today in calf-deep water. I saw several very large fish that did not bite, but the ones that did were impressive.

Over the past few weeks I have spent the majority of my time in water less than knee deep. I think a lot of anglers fall victim to the mindset that their time is better spent making waist-deep wades adjacent to deeper water that harbors good structure. Granted there are times and places for this pattern, but not in my area at this time of year.

Now that I have you fishing shallow and we are on some fish, let's talk about what it takes to get these fish to eat. First, I like baits that are mostly clear. If using topwaters, I prefer smaller versions that click, not the loud ones that clack. I like lures that enter the water without disturbing the surface. The 5-inch Bass Assassin in bone diamond, opening night, and Cajun croaker are excellent choices for my area. The MirrOlure Top Dog Jr in clear gold or clear silver is also a killer choice. Baby Spooks in clear chartreuse and baby bass pattern are also top choices for the clear, skinny stuff. If the winds crank, and they have a tendency to do so this time of year, you can get away with larger baits and a little more clack.

I locate my casting targets as I enter an area I intend to fish. These should include every grassbed and every depression on the flat. Depressions that have submerged grass along their edges or out in the middle of them should never be overlooked. The submerged grassbeds act as islands. Trust me; every trout familiar with your flat has them plotted in the onboard navigation system.

Watch the body language of the baitfish. Mullet that continue to jump or flip as they approach individual grassbeds are indicating predation in the area. Trout do not have to be feeding aggressively for baitfish to be wary of them. Multiple casts at multiple angles to each piece of structure should be made to increase your odds of receiving strikes.

I have stood with Jay Ray during trout tournaments working depressions on the flats for the entire day to get only four or five bites. Most of these bites came from fish in the 4 to 8 pound range. It is also important to note that when you hook a fish the commotion will most likely alert the other fish in the area. This can slow the feeding process so you now have to really put your movements into slow mode. I always allow 20 to 30 minutes for the action to pick back up or before giving up and moving to another spot.

Understanding that this game is designed to produce higher quality fish and not big numbers can make the slower pace more bearable. If you're a track star when wading, you'll have to train yourself to slow down or you'll not only be frustrated but you'll be missing out on some of the year's best big trout possibilities.

Now let's talk rigging. I always attach a clear monofilament leader of 17 to 20 pound strength to my main line. I do not use fluorocarbon; it seems too stiff for my liking. I prefer Sufix 20 pound Titanium mono and use the double uni-knot for connection to my 6x20 Power Pro braid.

When casting plastic in shallow water I never use anything heavier than a 1/16th ounce leadhead on the 2/0 Mustad hook. I like the accuracy of the leadhead when casting and I like to be able to pop the leadhead off the bottom. The hop off the bottom leaves a mud puff and that tiny puff often sells the presentation. Real bait makes a mud puff as it flees for safety. I believe the vibration the jig creates is also critical at times in the selling of the presentation.

When the winds are light and the water calm, I will opt for the weedless/weightless setup. The Mustad Ultra-Lock worm hook in size 3/0 or 4/0 is ideal for this application. When rigged with a 5-inch Bass Assassin this setup casts like a dream and can be worked just like a small topwater. I have shown this setup in more than one article in this magazine.

Never is it more important to pay attention to your tides and solunar tables than when fishing shallow feeding trout. I ALWAYS know when the solunar major and minor feeds are occurring and when my high and low tides will occur. Tidal movement is everything to shallow springtime trout. I have excellent records that back up the importance of being in the right place when the right time approaches. It's like a light switch has been flipped to the "on" position when it starts and then to the "off" position when it stops.

Fishing smart has always be my motto, but to be honest, for about 10 years or more I was not smart enough to truly understand and predict this shallow water pattern. Once I finally got it down, though, I have used it day in and day out to improve my fishing.

A question that I get asked often is, "how do you manage to catch large fish on the exact day you need to catch them?"

The answer is simple, "I fish for them." I fish where they live, with techniques that are proven to work. Now I know that sounds pretty cocky, but in truth, I say this out of confidence built over many years of fishing, not cockiness. I have learned what it takes to catch these shallow water fish, and guess what? Now you do too!

May Your Fishing Always Be Catching,
Guide Jay Watkins