Speckled trout fishing has been very good so far in 2018. I have been running fishing charters in Sarasota since 1991, and the one constant is change; each year is just a little bit different. This year the speckled trout fishing has been very reliable with both good numbers of fish along with quality size as well. It should only get better as summer approaches and the large schools of baitfish move into the passes and bays.
Most speckled trout are caught by anglers fishing the deep grass flats. By this I refer to submerged grass beds in 4 feet to 10 feet of water. Grass is the primary cover here in Sarasota Bay as there is very little rock or other structure. Shrimp, crabs, and baitfish hide in the grass, which in turn attracts gamefish. Anglers choose a flat by taking the wind and tide into account and then drifting over the grass until fish are located. The boat can be anchored while that area is worked thoroughly. Or, anglers can continue to drift and when the bite slows idle back around and drift the flat again. Some days you can make the same drift multiple times with good results.
Sarasota Bay is blessed with many, many acres of pristine submerges grass beds. The bay north of Siesta Key is particularly good in this regard. The flats off of both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass are very reliable spots. Marker #5, Marina Jacks, Bird Key, Radio Tower, and Middlegrounds all fall into this category. Further north, Buttonwood Harbor and the flats off of Stephen's Pt on the east side are also reliable trout producing spots. At the extreme north end of Sarasota Bay is Long Bar, which is a terrific area for trout, along with redfish and snook.
Sarasota Bay changes a bit south of the bridge going over to Siesta Key. Grass is less revalent, though there are still some nice flats, but oyster bars and mangrove shorelines are the dominant structures that hold fish. Anglers will not usually finf the larger schools that hold on the expansive flats, but often times these trout will average larger in size. The “Little Bay” as we locals call it, run from Siesta Drive south to Blackburn Pt Bridge. The trout fishing will be better there in the cooler months.
Trout can be found in shallow water as well, and while it sounds like a contradiction, these are often larger fish. Big trout are loners and will reside in potholes in shallow flats and along mangrove shorelines and edges of oyster bars. Wading can be a very effective technique when targeting shallow trout, especially in the winter. Extreme low tides will concentrate fish into potholes and depressions, there is not enough water anywhere else to hold fish.
One cool aspect to trout fishing is the many different methods that anglers can use to target this species. A live bait fished under a noisy float is a time proven technique and still catches a ton of fish to this day. Shrimp are the most commonly used bait though small pinfish, grunts, and shiners work well, too. Some anglers replace the live shrimp with an artificial shrimp and still catch plenty of fish.
Artificial baits produce a lot of speckled trout with the jig and grub combo being the most popular lure on the Gulf Coast. There are many different manufacturers of soft plastic bait, I prefer the Bass Assassin line, but all can be effective. A ¼ ounce jig with a 3” to 4” plastic shrimp or baitfish grub works best. Colors are subjective but the old theory of “light color in clear water and dark color in dark water” is a great rule of thumb. Glow, chartreuse, pink, olive, and rootbeer are great colors. Spoons and plugs can also be effective, though the treble hooks can result in more fish damage than the single hook lures.
Fly fishing produces plenty of speckled trout as well. The best outfit is a 7wt or 8wt with an intermediate sink tip line, an 8' leader and a Clouser Minnow pattern. The same colors that work when using soft plastic baits work as flies. Chartreuse/white, white/white, and olive/white are great colors to start off with.
Another benefit of drifting the deep grass flats in search of speckled trout is that many other species will be caught along with the trout using the same baits and lures. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, ladyfish, jack crevelle, gag grouper, mangrove snapper, flounder, sea bass, cobia, sharks, and more will be landed by anglers.
Night fishing around lighted bridges and docks is yet another method to take trout and is a great option in the heat of summer when daytime temperatures can be unbearable. Live shrimp or shrimp imitating artificial baits work great.
While there are plenty of speckled trout around, it is VERY important to protect the resource. Is it OK to keep a couple of slot trout, but it is imperative, in my opinion, that the larger female trout are carefully released. We need those big girls in the water to spawn and keep the numbers good. I release all trout over 20” on my charters, Capt Jim