Pro Tips: October 2010

Pro Tips: October 2010
Typically I write about patterns as these are what I feel most qualified to discuss. This month I'm going to try something different. We will still discuss patterns, how to identify and take advantage, but I'm going to try to be more creative. We're going fishing together as I explain them. Come join me on a late-August wade in search of better than average speckled trout.

We are leaving the dock in the first grey light of morning. I'm not much for running 40-plus in the dark; we have folks out there fishing at night and one tiny error could spell disaster. Besides, even though I have caught some good trout at night, every 10-plus I have ever taken has been in daylight and many during midday hours. Only one of these came in August and believe it or not, from a school of oversized reds.

August has to be the toughest month to pattern and target trophy trout. While science helps me predict where the fish might be, it's the rod and reel that confirms the educated guess, and since I'm no scientist I stay within the realm of rod and reel. It is true that knowing preferred food sources, structure, and the effects of moon, sun and tide, all play a role in angling success but; bottom line is, can you catch her when you find her? Better yet, do you know when you have found her before you have actually caught her? I have always believed seasoned anglers can sense big fish presence and, make no mistake, they sense our presence too.

The approach must be quiet. I like to give myself at least a 200 yard cushion. Those that fish with me often know that I comment constantly on how far we will be from the boat before we get the first strike from the best fish in the area. It is usually a minimum of 150 yards.

When trophy hunting I prefer secluded areas where trout have easy access to nighttime feeding zones. Quiet coves or pockets, no matter the size, are prime areas at daybreak and we will try one today. During a regular day of fishing I take constant note of bait activity and fish location. Numerous slicks popping in out-of-the-way pockets tell me there's feeding going on. A large push of water minus the mud boil as I hastily wade back to the boat through a pocket stacked with bait, even though I received no bites, is a sure sign she's there. The gull that hovers but never dives is another. Maybe the bird can't make up its mind, or maybe what he sees is too big to tackle, in either case it deserves investigation. Perhaps the surest sign is a great "kawoosh" that leaves a sudsy ring, you can bet something big just found dinner. Any of the above tells me I have an area holding big fish.

Now I am thigh deep, seeking the largest bait concentration over the given structure. Next I confirm wind direction to get a better read on local current that could influence feeding. My science homework already equips me with weather info, tide movement and major-minor feeds. When I am searching for one particular fish I am seldom able to fish more that one location in a morning. This is especially true during our hottest and calmest months.

My casts are many and my steps few as I probe with the best lure for the conditions. It goes without saying that a 5" Bass Assassin on a 1/16 ounce jig is on my line quite often. A MirrOlure topwater or one of their Paul Brown Originals (Corky) might also qualify. Slow and deliberate actions with great concentration on my part are evident this morning. Trophy-sized fish require total concentration and you must be keenly aware of every detail around you. This morning the winds are calm and the water is slick. Suddenly the damp air carries the strong scent of mature trout. I recognize it from the many times I have removed hooks from fish with mouths the size of softballs.

Mullet, menhaden, or maybe the combination of both in their stomach, it's a distinct smell I associate with big fish. It is not the sweet watermelon smell we associate with lesser trout. I can't see the slick due to the mirror surface on the water but I know from the slight breeze on my face it is coming from southwest, inshore from my position. I need to turn into the wind and locate the nearest underwater structure on that line. Grassbeds are today's structure and I have several located in the line of the scent. The long overnight calm has allowed the shallow water along the shoreline to clear but it holds enough algae to remain sandy green. It is the perfect shade of green in my opinion.

I've chosen a Cajun Croaker 5" Bass Assassin; a pale-greenish bait with silver glitter. The base color and silvery shine is the ticket for today's sky and water conditions. Cast after cast are made but no takes.

After ten minutes I ease slightly to the side and parallel to the line I believe the fish to be holding on. More submerged grass ahead; maybe she is easing into the wind searching for one last morsel before slipping back to deeper and cooler water nearby. Two hours later the wind has increased, breaking the surface glare and enabling me to see through the water. I look back about 75 yards and slightly inside my line is a small slick growing with the wind. The fish has not moved far from where I first got her scent. I start back that way. Only a few trout have been caught thus far, all solid 20-plus but not the big fish I sense is present.

Thirty minutes of slowly easing along brings me within casting range of the grassbeds where I believe she is holding. I suddenly feel the urge to check my leader and knot. Tugging sharply I nod to myself that all is good. The cast hits just beyond the grassbed closest to shore and a mullet shoots out of the water. "That's her," I mutter under my breath, "she moved toward my lure and spooked that mullet." As soon as the lure slips to my side of the grassbed I burn it the rest of the way in and fire right back on the same line.

The braid telegraphs the sharp thump and then the line goes slack. "Crank down fast Jay, she's coming right at you. Get the rod flat to the water; keep cranking until it loads up. Now stick her hard, don't worry about the knot, the leader or the drag, you've done this right. Remember it's the hookset lets her know who is in charge."

The surface erupts breaking the morning's long silence with a foam ring and streaking wake as the fish heads for deeper water. "She'll turn back suddenly and try me," I say to myself. Sure enough, she turns and runs straight at me again.

"Rod down if she comes up, up if she goes down, and whatever you do Jay, DON'T let off on the drag. It's her will against yours, break her will and she'll tire quicker and be in hand in no time." I don't know whether I say these things aloud but they certainly race through my mind.

Minutes later I am rewarded with a 30-plus trout, not winter-heavy but still of age and length to be considered a trophy.

She pulls near seven and three-quarters on the Boga and we get her photographed and released as quickly as possible. As she slides back into the water I am overwhelmed with emotion. So many years of trudging these shorelines and so many disappointments why was I so blessed to have this truly magnificent fish allow me this moment?

With my rod across my shoulders and my arms resting on its stiffness I spend a moment to take in all that was around me, knowing a fish like that may never come my way again.

I hope you enjoyed this morning's wade half as much as I enjoyed taking you.

May your fishing always be catching. Guide Jay Watkins