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Tutorial: Chasing Gators in the Cold

This post was originally published on Coastal Kayak Fishing (sister site) on 12/4/2014

29 1/4″ Speckled Trout caught on a Paul Brown Fat Boy

Let me start this out by saying that I love Kayak Fishing.  Its in my blood, whether its fishing open water for monster fish, long paddles to wrecks and reefs, or working the flats for your inshore slam species.

For the past two years, I have been chasing a 30″ Speckled Trout.  This number is stuck in my head because, in my mind a 30″ Speck is considered a true trophy anywhere you can find them.  I have probibly had a few fish at that 10 lb mark, but not the “dirty thirty”.  In this chase, two things have become apparent though.  First, I have become what my friends call the stereotypical Speck fisherman.  Come the fall, Gators consume all of my free time.  Second, I have become pretty damn good at finding, and getting the big girls to bite when most people can’t.  With that out of the way, I will first start off with the areas I target.

Locations:

In the fall and winter, when these fish become lathargic, I fish where I can find any amount of baitfish.  This generally equates to warmer water which are typically shallower flats.  Now when most people think of a flat, they think of an area with a set depth.  This is not always the case.  On these flats, even a 3-6″ depression is enough for these fish to feel comfortable and ambush their prey.  I also focus on grass lines, submerged structure, and choke points.  For you hunters or military folk, think of a place that you would set up an ambush.

The next type of area I focus on is what I consider an intermedate area… Dropoffs.  These big specks dont want to expend a lot of energy chasing down their prey, so if the current is sweeping bait off a flat or over a ledge, you can bet that youll find a speck or two waiting for an easy meal.

The final area is the depths.  These areas are sanctuarys for fish in the winter because they can find the most consistant water temperatures here.  Mainly, these fish will be suspended, and tougher to target, unless you have the right tools.

Other considerations can be made given the time of day you are chasing these fish.  For example, at night I enjoy fishing dock lights and light lines.  These are areas where something as simple as light can create artifical structure that hold prediator and prey alike.

Baits and Gear:

Tactical Angler Clip

I am not freezing my behind off, fishing every waking hour for some spikes.  I am looking for the gators, and with that being said, I prefer gear that I don’t have to worry about losing the big one.  The following is gear that works well for me.

Leader – I fish with 20-30 lb Seguar Red or Blue Label, prefering the 25 lb Blue Label over all.  I only downsize my leader if I am having an issue getting the presentation I desire.

Connectors – This is a must for a quick lure change.  I tried in the past the snap section from a swivel, but have had some heartbreaking losses because of tackle failure.  Also, they are a pain to work when your hands are cold, which happens to be 80% of the time.  Because of this, I have switched over to the small Tactical Angler Clips.  These don’t seem to bother the fish, and facilitate quick and easy lure changes, even on jigs and ewg’s.  Finally, I have yet to break one, even on fish well above the advertised breaking strength.  Without these, I don’t think I would be getting the numbers of big fish i am fortunate enough to find.

 

27″ Speck Caught on a TA Crossover Stalker

Photo Credit – Joe Underwood

Topwater – Keep these handy, because you never know when you will get that magical topwater bite in some of the craziest conditions.  High pitched baits like the Mirrolure He-Dog work well for active fish, while your one knocker spooks work well for more timid fish.  Personally, I love fishing the Rapala Subwalks, and the new crossover series baits from Tactical Anglers.  The bait pictured below got me my PB topwater speck at 27″ just last week.

Tactical Angler Crossover Stalker

Soft Plastics – These can become extremely versatile baits that can quickly and easily be worked at either the top, mid, or bottom of the water column.  Again, go with the mantra of “Bigger is Better”  For me this means throwing a 5″ Power Team Lures Swinging Hammer.  I will throw this on a 1/16 or 1/8oz EWG when I am fishing the flats, or pair it up with a 1/4 to 3/4 oz jighead or bucktail when I am fishing structure in excess of 15 feet.  The Swinging Hammer has a very large paddle tail on a fairly small body profile, with an action that can be best described as thumping.

PTL Swinging Hammer on a Weighted EWG and Jig Head.

Another plastic that has found a place in my tool box is the PTL JP Hammer Shad.  I like fishing this bait around ledges and in the depths.  It mimics a prevalent baitfish this time of year, the Gudgeon.  I pair it with either a Scrounger jighead for a very tight but aggressive wobble that brings the fish in, or simply on a jig head working the depths.  This bait on the Scrounger tends to trigger very aggressive strikes, whereas a regular head tends to attract fish on the fall, simply picking up the bait and holding on to it.

Another Gator caught on a PTL Swinging Hammer

PTL JP Hammer Shad on a Scrounger and Conventional head.

 

A 26″ Speck Caught on a PTL Swinging Hammer

Photo Credit – Rob Choi

Corkeys – These baits are my baits that I absolutely will not chase big specks without.  From top to bottom, the Devil produces a very erratic and faster fall rate when worked as a twitch bait.  This is great for those intermediate and deeper areas.  The Fat Boy is a great bait for flats and intermediate areas, with a very subtle action when worked.  The large profile screams “Easy Meal” for these larger fish.  It can be worked in deeper water as long as there is minimal current, otherwise it tends to stay near the top of the column.  Finally, you have the Soft Dine (and the Soft Dine XL).  These baits are producing well on the flats and intermediate areas as well, with the XL giving me a faster fall rate.  Both have an action that would fall between the Devil and the Fat Boy.

29″ + Speck caught on a Fat Boy

Paul Brown “Corkeys” from top to bottom:

Devil

Fat Boy

Soft Dine

Hard Baits – As far as hard baits are concerned, I will fish these any time, any place.  Definitely the most versatile baits for speckled trout in my arsenal.  I enjoy fishing the 17 and 18MR’s, 52MR’s, SSTR’s, Catch 5’s and Catch 2000’s.  All of these give you different profiles, actions, sink rates, and depending on the series, colors.  I could go on and on about how to fish these baits, but either watching a tutorial or video would give you the best idea.  Going back to when I first started Speck fishing, I recall spending hundreds of dollars on baits, and not catching a fish on them.  Thankfully, once I learned how to use them I have a stockpile for years to come.  One thing to keep in mind is that you do not need to try to impose a crankbait or jerkbait type action.  Think twitch-twitch-pause, adjusting the cadence for your conditions.  Finally, I will lump the Egret Baits Vudu Mullet in this category because it has a much more aggressive action and faster sink rate than the Corky’s.  With its articulated body, it is a great bait to cast and reel in deeper water, as well as cross current conditions.

52 MR’s

Vudu Mullet and Heavy Dine.

Trolling vs. Casting

There is noting in the world like getting a gator speck to hit a twitch bait you casted to it.  The heavy thimp from the first second is adrennaling pumping.  However, there are times when the fish are scatered and you need to work larger areas to find them.  This is where the great trolling vs. casting debate comes into play.  I for one will utilize either technique on any given outting to help maximize my catching potential.  I will troll until I find fish in an area and/or a pattern, then start casting.  One thing to keep in mind is that you are still working and searching for the fish.  You have to get the right depth, color, presentation, and area to acomplish either.  Trolling also presents the challange of line management. which increases the complexity of this method.

Other Tangables

Current – current is one of the largest tangables that you will face.  The current helps give you an idea where the fish are going to stage, and it also moves bait into and out of areas.  The general rule is to work with the current, whether it be casting straight up current working down, or fan casting to 45* to find your fish.  If you are not catching fish working with the current, do not be afraid to go against common fishing conventions and work against the current.  This method is not a top producer, but going against the current has produced fish for me when going with the current has not.

Lure speed –  I have learned that the bigger fish tend to hit on slower, less agressive presentations.  With that being said, I will start off slow, and work my way towards faster presentations.  Many times, the smaller fish will hammer faster presentations out of instinct.  These reaction strikes are due largely to competition with other, larger fish.  If you’re not catching the size specks you desire, slow down your presentation and hold on.

In closing, I hope that this gives you some insight into Gator Speckled Trout fishing.  Good Luck, go on out, and stick a pig!

28″ Speckled Trout caught on a Fat Boy