Advice on catching speckled trout

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Speckled trout are among the most popular and sought after inshore fish in Brunswick County during the winter. Because they stay inside all year, most trout anglers have just really begun to go after them.
So far there have been encouraging numbers locally, although the trout have been on the small side. They will get larger as they make their way into their traditional winter holding areas.
One of the most prolific and respected outdoor writers and photographers in the nation, North Carolina’s Mike Marsh, is a man who knows speckled trout. In his recent book “Fishing North Carolina,” he gives anglers many tips and locations for finding and catching trout, as well as all of the other popular freshwater and saltwater fish of the Carolinas.
Few people have the experience hunting, fishing and documenting in the outdoors that Marsh does. With Carolina speckled trout season really just getting under way, I asked him some questions about the beautiful specks and the allure they hold for inshore saltwater anglers.
Weeks: Why are speckled trout such a popular saltwater fish in the Carolinas?
Marsh: Speckled trout are such a hit with anglers for several reasons. First, their spotted flanks and torpedo shape make them one of our most beautiful inshore game fish. They are very aggressive biters and good fighters. Their willingness to strike lures is probably the main reason for their appeal. Anyone who was introduced to fishing through bass fishing or similar types of fishing that require lots of casting is soon addicted to fishing for speckled trout.
Weeks: Although they are around all year, many folks equate trout with winter and cold water. Why is that?
Marsh: The reason anglers like fishing for them in winter is that many other game fish species have migrated from the state’s coast. Trout can form incredibly dense, large schools that stay in the same spot for weeks or months, making them easier targets in winter.
Weeks: Do you prefer to fish for trout with bait or lures?
Marsh: I prefer fishing for smaller speckled trout with lures. However, when I am trophy-fishing, live baits are more likely to catch specks weighing greater than 5 pounds. Occasionally, I catch some large fish with lures. Yesterday, I landed a 24-incher using a lure.
Weeks: Quite a few anglers have gone to the scented baits like Gulp lures. From what you have seen, does the scent make that big a difference?
Marsh: I have always scented my speck lures. I began using sardine oil, from canned sardines, or menhaden oil from a menhaden processing plant that used to operate at Southport long before there were any commercially available scents. I dabbed a drop of fish oil on a lure with my fingers and wiped my fingers on a towel looped through my belt. This was done every four casts, with amazing results.
Berkley Gulp and similar scent-impregnated soft plastics are the main reason that anyone can catch specks in cold weather. Without these newer styles of enzyme-impregnated soft lures, speckled trout fishing was a sport of winter-fishing experts, especially those who could find, catch and use live shrimp, mullet and mud minnows in cold weather. That being said, sometimes a Haw River or Sea Striker, or similar soft lure that is not scent impregnated, can still outfish a scent-impregnated lure on certain days. I think specks have an incredibly fast learning curve in regard to color, scent, lure style and presentation.
Weeks: Trout are known for having soft mouths. How does an angler compensate for that and not lose fish?
Marsh: When stretchy monofilament was the only reliable line available, the line compensated for a hard hookset in the softer membranes of a trout’s mouth. Likewise, a fiberglass rod had more give than the more sensitive graphite composite rods so popular with today’s anglers. The greater sensitivity of a carbon fiber rod and lack of stretch in today’s braided lines can be compensated in several ways. A switch to a lighter action rod helps.
A monofilament leader also takes some of the shock at the strike and during the fight. Another adjustment is in the drag setting. The reel’s drag should be adjusted to a light setting that allows it to skip a little to compensate for an aggressive strike or an overly excited angler setting a hook with too much power.
Weeks: With size limits increasing and creel limits going down, folks are targeting bigger trout. What are some tricks to catching larger specks?
Marsh: If you want to catch bigger specks, go with bigger lures and baits. While some anglers tout croakers, I have found no croakers in the bellies of large specks in my area. I have seen many large specks with one or more pinfish inside them and the pinfish were so big I wondered how the speck ate them. A big pinfish is one of the top trophy speck baits. A big mullet or menhaden is also a good bait. Live shrimp, which are available from tackle shops, are excellent big speck baits. If you use lures, use the larger sizes. If you use average size lures, you will catch average size fish.
Weeks: Where do speckled trout rank as far as your favorite fish to catch?
Marsh: In winter, specks are at the top of the list because they are so available without long runs in cold, rough conditions. The rest of the year, they are among my top1-0 favorite fish to catch.
You can find out more about Marsh and his extensive hunting and fishing writing and photography by visiting www.mikemarshoutdoors.com.
Also, as we move closer toward Christmas, please don’t forget my new fishing book “Surf and Saltwater Fishing in the Carolinas.” You can purchase it by going to www.surfandsalt.com.