The dog days of summer have arrived, and that means staying on the water for 12 hours to limit out on speckled trout is about as much fun as hitting your thumb with a hammer. Twice.
The problem is that you can’t just zip out of the marina and stop at the first big bay for some quick action.
No, the trout have moved out — at least those that you don’t have to measure.
So the beaches, rock jetties and barrier islands are the places to be.
But how do you ensure you’re heading home before you wither away from heat stroke.
We turned to some of the most-consistent trout catchers in Louisiana to pick their brains.
Here are their tips to put limits of trout in the boat quickly, even in the heat of the summer.
OK, so anyone who knows me understands I have a lifelong distaste for fishing live bait. And Venice Charters’ Capt. Brent Roy is on my side.
But this veteran guide said he finally capitulated — and now he never leaves the dock during the summer without a stock of live shrimp in the well.
“I’ve gotten away from everything else,” Roy said. “I tell (my clients) they can stick with (plastics), but if you want to actually participate in the catching, they have to use live shrimp.”
That’s not really a huge surprise, but there’s more to his live-bait fishing than just hooking a lively shrimp on and chunking it out.
So bear with me.
First, he predominantly uses popping corks. Again no surprise.
He determines leader length by the depth of water.
“The main factor is how deep the water is,” Roy said. “In the summer, trout are generally suspended.”
There are actually times when his leaders are longer than the water depth, but he said it’s never a bad thing to start about halfway down.
How important is paying attention to leader length?
“We were fishing a rig the other day, and the fish were suspended about 6 feet down,” Roy explained. “We had two boats come in, and they were fishing regular 20 to 24-inch leaders, and they weren’t catching anything. One of the boats actually left.”
Meanwhile, Roy’s clients were hauling in the meat.
“You’re just laying that shrimp in their faces,” Roy said. “They’re not really hugging the bottom.”
But here’s the real magic to his cork rig.
“I use a split shot on the leader,” Roy said.
It’s not a huge chunk of lead — barely larger than what you’d use when crappie fishing.
The results, however, can be shocking.
“It gets that shrimp down faster,” Roy said. “If we throw a live shrimp without a split shot, it’s going to slowly make its way down.
“The split shot forces the shrimp down to where the fish are.”
He positions the lead well above the hook, with a foot being the rule for long leaders.
“It allows that shrimp to still be able to move freely,” Roy explained.
He rounds out the rig with a No. 4 treble.
His general approach to hooking a shrimp is to thread the treble through the horn, but Roy said he sometimes turns the bait around.
“If we’re kind of looking for the fish, I’ll hook them in the tail,” he said. “And then when we find them I’ll start hooking them in the horn.”
His reasoning is pretty simple.
“You get more bites when you tail-hook a shrimp,” Roy said. “But you’re not going to hook as many.
“I think you’re hookup ratio is better when you hook a shrimp through the horn. Trout like to eat shrimp head first, so you will definitely hook more fish if you horn hook them.”
Tommy Vidrine is a Grand Isle fixture, specializing in catching lunker trout when others are struggling just to get bites.
A large part of his secret is free-lining live shrimp, but more importantly is how he approaches his chosen fishing holes.
“I see so many people run right up to where they’re fishing and shut down, and then throw out an anchor,” Vidrine said. “If you get too close with the big motor, you’re not going to catch those fish.”
Instead, he comes off plane at least 30 yards (preferably farther) away from where he plans to fish.
“I quietly troll into position so I don’t spook the fish,” Vidrine said.
This angler has stepped up to a Minn Kota iPilot trolling motor, which he believes has allowed him to be even more effective.
“You don’t have to even put an anchor out,” Vidrine explained. “I just push the button, and my boat stays put.
“My ability to get into the spot quietly has increased dramatically.”
Now, some folks don’t even have trolling motors — and Vidrine fished for years without one.
That still doesn’t change his thoughts on stealth; it just means you have to do things differently.
“I would just start upwind or upcurrent and drift into my spot,” Vidrine said. “That way you don’t make any noise.”
If you own a trolling motor but not one of the newest models that offer Spot Lock, anchoring is a necessary evil.
But Vidrine said that also should be done as quietly as possible — don’t just heave it out like you’re competing in a hammer throw.
“Ease the anchor overboard,” he said.
By taking a few easy precautions, you’ll be able to slip up on spooky trout and put them in the boat before the sun gets too high.
“In the bays (stealth is) even more important,” Vidrine said. “If you’re in there where it’s 3 or 4 feet of water, you just can’t make a lot of noise. I just see so many people who think they can pull up and just throw out an anchor.
“You might catch those fish an hour later, but people don’t understand trout are sensitive to sound.”
Acres and acres of bait
Capt. Nick Poe spends most of the summer fishing the edge of the Gulf of Mexico south of Big Lake, searching for big trout.
And he said the one thing he’s always looking for is bait.
Not just a few flicks here and there, though.
“You’ve got to have the presence of bait,” he said. “I’m not talking about a little bait; I’m talking about a lot of bait.”
That’s still a little ambiguous, so the Big Lake Guide Service captain got a little more concrete.
“I’m talking acres of pogies and acres of mullet,” Poe explained. “If I see that, I’ve got the utmost confidence that I’ll find trout.”
Of course, he also is watching for any activity by predatory fish, a certain sign that the feed is on.
How he finds these telltale signs of speckled trout depends on exactly where he’s fishing.
On the beaches and along the rock jetties, the water is shallower. So he’s putting eyes on the rafts of baitfish.
“On the jetties, it’ll be blatantly obvious when there’s that much bait,” Poe said.
If he doesn’t find what he’s looking for there, he moves to the beaches. He stays on plane, watching for baitfish scattering.
“A lot of times I’ll run the beaches on my way to fish the (nearshore) rigs,” Poe explained. “A lot of times, I won’t make it my No. 1 spot.”
If he makes it to the rigs, bait is often not visible.
“You’re in 25 to 30 feet of water, so a lot of times you don’t see it on the surface,” Poe said. “So I’m looking for the bait on my electronics.
“I’m looking for the whole screen to light up.”
Now, simply finding a huge raft of bait doesn’t necessarily equate to trout in the box. In fact, competing with the masses of swimming groceries can complicate the whole affair.
“Sometimes it makes it hard to catch fish because there’s so much bait,” Poe said.
So what is this accomplished guide approach?
“I just throw everything in the tackle box until we find what they want,” he said. “Then we stick with that.”
Often working the edges of the bait will pick off trout, but don’t be afraid to throw into the thick of things.
“If I’m throwing a jig, I try to let the lure fall under the bait,” Poe said.
This can elicit strikes from trout that believe the lure is a struggling baitfish.
He also said he changes lure color to grab the attention of hungry specks.
“I’ll throw a crazy, off-the-wall colored bait,” Poe said. “It’s something different that (trout) haven’t seen.”
On the beaches and jetties, topwaters also can work.
“Make a bunch of racket working a topwater through the bait,” Poe said.