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The undisputed best way to catch specks is to fish live shrimp on a float rig

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

For Southern inshore saltwater anglers, speckled trout can be a frustrating fish. For one thing, there is the speckled trout’s infamously fickle nature, which means specks tend to hit in runs that can start suddenly and end just as quickly. It also means trout will often strike a particular bait or lure one day (or one hour) and want something else the next.

For surf and pier anglers more familiar with bottom-fishing for red drum or sea mullet, the biggest challenge in catching trout is that the best techniques utilize simple but specialized equipment and a slightly different approach. This approach is used because trout cruise through the water column instead of just sucking up food on the bottom like drum.

Though folks do occasionally catch speckled trout on standard high-low bottom rigs or the same rigs anglers use to target flounder, the fishermen who catch trout day-in and day-out don’t often use those approaches. Speckled trout are a celebrated lover of artificial lures, and trout lovers often use lures, but the undisputed best way to catch specks is to fish live shrimp on a float rig.

A float rig is the No. 1 way to catch speckled trout, assuming you have live shrimp to use with it. If you go fishing with a trout guide, chances are that live shrimp on a float rig is their go-to method if other fishing methods haven’t worked out.

A float rig is designed for several important functions: to present the bait high up in the water column, where trout feed and it can easily be seen by the cruising predators, and to prevent the rig from being snagged on bottom debris or pecked away by pesky bottom-dwelling bait-stealers, like pinfish or small croakers.

A float rig also serves other useful purposes as well, such as signaling bites to the angler, not unlike those long-ago tiny red corks signaled the bites of bream when you learned to fish on little farm ponds. If you use the popping cork style of float, the float even has the extra-added benefit of actually attracting trout to the rig through sound and sonic-vibration.

Inshore fishing around hard structure like bridges, piers and docks, or over trout-holding areas like oyster bars or rock formations, can be very productive. Anyone who fishes these areas for long, however, quickly notices the same structure that attracts trout also is home to pinfish, blue crabs and a host of other hungry but unwelcome shrimp-loving critters.

Fishing these areas with standard bottom rigs, containing heavy lead that sinks your hook right into the bait-stealer zone, can be expensive due to all the lost bait (not to mention the rigs lost as you hook up to the debris). It can also be unproductive because the bait isn’t around long enough for the speckled trout to find it and you spend a lot of time tying new rigs.

Float rigs offer an easy solution to this problem, allowing a shallow-water angler to fish trout-holding structure off the bottom and in the feeding zone. This won’t keep pinfish and other bait-stealers off your hook forever, but it does increase the chances that the first fish that sees your rig will be a trout and not a pinfish.

Float rigs can be purchased at most saltwater tackle stores (and even Walmart these days) but the ones you make at home are more effective. You need a relatively large saltwater float or popping cork, anywhere from 2.5 to 6 inches in length, depending whether you are fishing in the creeks or out off a boat or an ocean pier. Any kind of float can be used, though you need a conclave popping cork if you want to use it as a fish-attractor.

To make the rig, thread the slip-knot bobber-stopper onto the running line from the rod (line from 6- to 12-pound test is common for speckled trout fishing) before the float, which will allow you set the depth on the rig. Thread or dental floss are good material to use.

You can buy thread bobber-stoppers in the store (they come attached to small glass tubes and are very cheap), but tying your own thread or dental floss on the line is pretty simple. Add a small glass bead (red is the most popular color) on the running line after the bobber stopper and before the float. The glass bead prevents the float from sliding over the bobber-stopper. Meanwhile, you can actually reel the thread or dental floss onto the reel for easy casting.

The key to the float rig is that you can adjust the bobber depth up and down based on the amount of water you are fishing in and the place in the water column you are getting bites.

After the bobber-stopper and float are on the rig, you only need to add the hook. I don’t add any additional leader material when fishing for trout, since specks are not going to bite you off with their tiny teeth. Some folks use a heavier monofilament or fluorocarbon stretch of line for a leader, but it’s really not necessary and may reduce bites. You will actually find a lot of float rigs made with very heavy lines and even black wire for sale in the stores, and these should be avoided for trout fishing.

If you are using a conclave popping cork to attract trout, resist the urge to “pop” the bait too much. Once every few minutes is fine.

For the hook, you can use a small treble hook, a Kahle-style hook or a circle hook. All of these are better on float rigs than old-style J-hooks. You want to use a thin, wire hook, so the shrimp stays alive and jumps around more naturally in a frantic manner. You’ll know when a trout hits, as the float will simply disappear.

Set the hook quickly on a float rig, as the trout will sometimes spit the hook out when it feels the drag of the float. Don’t attempt to horse the fish in, as the family name weakfish come from the paper-thin yellow mouths specks and their cousin gray trout have, which can easily lead to lost fish. Many trout get off in an informal catch-and-release style by folks who haven’t set their drag light enough, or as they are coming up out of the water.

Float rigs work in a variety of situations for speckled trout, and they are the undeniable champs of fishing rigs when it comes to specks. They are equally effective when tossed from an ocean pier or around creeks and marsh grass. The only place float rigs aren’t useful is from the beach, because they don’t work well in the breakers.

Over oyster beds, around bridges and docks and in shallow waterways, however, float rigs are simply deadly on speckled trout when used with live shrimp. There are even places where wildlife officials have considered banning the use of live shrimp on float rigs for specks because of its effectiveness. You won’t find a better method for targeting and catching speckled trout, one of the South’s most beautiful and tasty gamefish.

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.