By his own estimation, Tommy “Carl” Vidrine has caught more than 100 5-pound speckled trout since May at Grand Isle.
His amazing summertime run includes the first-place speck in the Swollfest Fishing Rodeo, the first-place Swollfest five-trout stringer (20.15 pounds,) and another weekend in June where he had a 26-pound five-trout stringer with no tournament to enter it in.
On two separate trips, he returned to his camp on Peach Lane with limits of nothing but 5- to 6-pound specks.
And in June he caught his personal best so far, a 6.2-pound, 26-inch monster.
“For about a month I was catching 4-pound fish regularly, just flipping them in without a net,” Vidrine, 49, said with a chuckle. “A 4-pounder was like a small one.”
So what’s Vidrine’s secret?
What’s the magical key to his speck success, and how does he consistently land big trout over and over again?
The answer is a simple, yet difficult, technique to master: free-lining.
Check out Vidrine’s Top 5 tips for big trout here.
Vidrine uses nothing but 15-pound green Trilene line, a 2/0 circle hook and the biggest live shrimp he can get his hands on. (If he’s using pogies or croaker for live bait, he switches to a 3/0 Kahle hook with a bigger arch and a split shot about 3-feet above the bait, if necessary.)
No swivels. No extra hardware. No leader. No cork.
“The bottom line is that less is more when it comes to hardware and fishing trout. I see guys fishing with popping corks with big fat leaders underneath them,” Vidrine said. “These big trout see that. And they’re not going to bite anything if you have a swivel on the end of your hook. It keeps the bait down and it just doesn’t look natural.
“The average 5-pound trout is about five years old,” Vidrine said. “They didn’t get caught by being dumb. They’re a smart predator. The big fish are so smart they’re not normally going to bite a Carolina rig or under a cork - most of those fish will be 2 or 3 pounds if you’re lucky.
“If you go in with the right methods, your catch will be much more consistent,” he said.
With live shrimp, Vidrine’s thin 2/0 circle hook not only keeps the shrimp alive longer, but almost sets itself when a big trout sucks down the bait.
“When I throw that shrimp out there, it looks like he’s swimming like he’s free,” he said. “A lot of those big trout are suspended in areas where water is pushing bait. They want the bait to come to them, they don’t want to chase bait.
“If my bait is coming through there looking just like a live shrimp with no hardware on it, they’re gonna’ eat it,” said Vidrine, an independent contractor for Aflac who splits his time between his home in Baton Rouge and his camp at Grand Isle.
Feeling the bite is more difficult while free-lining, but Vidrine said the circle hook is key to his success.
“That hook is the bomb. If you’re fishing shrimp with anything but that, you’re fishing the wrong hook,” he said. “As soon as the string takes off, just lift and reel. You don’t have to set the hook. Just reel down and lift - they really hook themselves by you just putting pressure on them without having to set the hook.
“I feel that little shock when they put that shrimp in their mouth, that little thump,” he said. “I just start reeling up and bang, they’re on.”
Vidrine also suggested a gentler approach once you have a big speck hooked up: he even loosens his drag a bit when he’s free-lining.
“Their mouth tears easy if you put too much pressure. Many people hook up on them, but they don’t get them in because after they get the bite, they blow it by horsing them around and bringing them to the top,” Vidrine said. “He’s splashing all over and the next thing you know he throws the hook.
“You gotta take it easy,” he said. “Keep just enough tension to keep him tight. Let him swim until he gets close to the boat and then you can either net him or flip him in.”
In the summertime at Grand Isle, Vidrine said there are three keys to a successful trip: fishing on structure, finding current and starting out either very early in the morning or around 6:30 p.m.
“The big fish bite early in the morning or late in the evening,” Vidrine said. “At about 9 o’clock in the morning, church is out. It’s over with. If you hadn’t caught by then, you’re too late to the party.”
If shrimp aren’t available, Vidrine free-lines pogies or croakers. But with the 3/0 Kahle hook and the bigger bait, he said you do have to set the hook.
“Pogies are irresistible to the trout. It’s their favorite bait, period,” Vidrine said. “If I’m fishing a tournament and I’ve got 30 pogies 3-inches long, I’ll take that before anything else.”
Vidrine said it’s very important when you’re free-lining with pogies or croaker to hook the bait correctly to create the most natural presentation to the trout.
“If there’s current, hook ‘em thought the lips. If there’s no current, like on the beach, hook him through the back,” Vidrine said. “If you’re pulling him through the current by the lips, it looks like he’s swimming naturally. But if you’re in current with him hooked through the back, you’re just dragging him. It looks unnatural.”
Despite all his recent success targeting large specks, it’s still always a thrill for him to hook up with yet another big one.
“It never gets old. My friends say I’m mad at ‘em, but I do everything with intensity,” Vidrine said with a laugh. “I work with the same intensity that I fish. I give 100-percent to everything I do.”