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After absence, speckled trout are hitting

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By Jeffrey Weeks, Fishing Correspondent

Fall fishing is here, and that means for Brunswick County anglers it is time to gather bait and head to the water. The change in the weather became apparent last weekend when the first real cold front moved through and fall officially arrives tomorrow.
Reports are good for redfish and flounder, and there have been some spot runs on our local piers. Most encouraging, some nice speckled trout have been caught after a long summer when they were mostly absent.
When the speckled trout are hitting, many anglers drop everything else, as trout are a favored fish to pursue. You can fish for specks with scented soft baits or MirrOlures and other plugs, but the number one trout bait is a frisky live shrimp suspended underneath a big float or popping cork.
The tactic is indeed deadly in the hands of those who know how to do it correctly. Current, winds and bait-stealers all factor into trout float fishing. The key is to find the depth the fish are feeding at and put the shrimp over the right spot long enough for them to find it.
Work the float rig around the jetties, bridges, creek mouths and over oyster beds. The trout action will occur when the tide is moving one way or another, not on a still tide. The hours just before and after low tide are usually good inshore.
Traditionally, many folks used a treble hook with their float rig, and many still do. However, with the current size limits at six fish a day more than 14 inches, with no two greater than 24 inches, anglers are doing more catch and release with trout.
Most local guides and trout experts have gone over to using circle hooks, which work as well as treble hooks but are far less likely to gut hook a fish you may release. I can tell you by experience circle hooks take just a little getting used to, as the fish hook themselves and you don’t set the hook (which will only pull it out of the trout’s mouth).
Folks raised on largemouth bass or ocean drum fishing have to practice at circle hooks for a bit. Once you get the hang of it though, it is a far better method of fishing, as it takes less time to get the hook out of the fish’s mouth and either into the cooler or back to the water.
Trout do love to hit artificial lures as well. Plugs like MirrOlures and other minnow-imitators will take speckled trout, and you can cast them in the surf or work them around inshore areas where there are not too many hangups.
For the early morning trout bite, there are great topwater plugs made by companies like MirrOlure and Rapala, and topwater trout fishing is terrific fun if you can get into it.
The scented soft baits like the Gulp brand and plastic grubs such as Bass Assassins on lead jigheads will catch plenty of trout. Jigs about 3/8 or ¼ ounce are called for, depending on the current.
Just remember to work trout lures slowly. Trout will not chase your bait as much as a freshwater bass or even a saltwater redfish. Slowly, with some hops and pauses, is the best method.
With today’s size and creel limits, some anglers are fishing larger grubs and bigger plugs targeting large trout. The catch is that this means more of the fertile large females trout are caught (big gator trout are all females), which is why the 24-inch slot limit is in place.
Speaking of trout size limits, those who love to catch them should pay close attention to what is going on in fisheries management right now. The state Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) is under orders from the legislature to reduce the take of trout, which the state considers an overfished stock.
Options include more limited commercial seasons and possible closed seasons and net restrictions, but also on the table are severe recreational limits that could cut fishermen back to as little as two trout per day. North Carolina has difficulty managing inshore fish stocks because, unlike most of the other coastal states, we still maintain commercial netting and trawling in our inshore waters.
This means the fish are hammered hard by both recreational and commercial fisheries, even though speckled trout are not one of the top commercial species in the state, such as flounder or blue crabs.
This decision on future trout rules will be made in early November and the MFC is gathering public input for it now. If you want to contact your MFC members about the upcoming trout regulations, their email and phone numbers are listed at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/north-carolina-marine-fisheries-commission.
I have been to the last few MFC meetings and I can tell you that if you are a recreational fisherman, your best bet is to contact one of the three recreational members, the at-large representative and the scientist seat.
All of them are very considering folks who will have important votes on this issue and will listen to your concerns.
You can also follow this issue on my blog A Dash of Salty, where I have more information about the proposed trout limits and the fisheries debate.
On a final note, some of the piers to the north have seen some strong yellowbellied spot runs and there have been some on Brunswick County piers as well.
If you are going to a Brunswick County pier and get into a good run of spot, send me an email about it at saltyweeks@gmail.com and maybe a picture if you have one. After two disappointing years for fall spot fishing, we are trying to pay real close attention to what happens this season.

JEFFREY WEEKS is a fishing columnist for the Beacon. You may reach him at saltyweeks@gmail.com or follow updated fishing reports on his blog at http://saltyweeks.blogspot.com .