Grand Isle trout fisherman Terry St. Cyr is competitive on and off the water, but his passion is catching speckled trout.
Big-time speckled trout.
In this excerpt from Trout Masters: How Louisiana Anglers Catch the Lunkers, St.Cyr talks tackle and shares his equipment preferences for catching lunkers.
One thing he doesn’t stop for are feeding slicks on the water’s surface. If one pops up nearby while he’s fishing, he’ll cast to it, but otherwise he ignores them.
St. Cyr fishes with spinning reels because he feels he can cast farther with them. Also, since he fishes with croakers of different sizes, he doesn’t have to adjust any settings on the reels to avoid backlashes. Most of his reels are Diawa BG-20s, although he has a couple of Okuma Bait Runners, mounted on 6½- or 7-foot Ugly Stick rods.
He spends less than $120 per rod-and-reel combo. His tackle box is simple too, consisting of a box of treble hooks, a pack of swivels, some beads, some sinkers, a few sliding corks and a spool of Ande monofilament line for leaders.
St. Cyr puts his croakers on the hook one of three ways. For best action in modest currents, the fish is hooked either behind the dorsal fin or in the anus. In strong currents, the croaker is hooked from the bottom to the top of the upper jaw.
When he uses a Carolina rig, he doesn’t just let the bait lie in one spot and soak. He slowly but constantly moves the bait along the bottom. Sinker sizes vary from 3/8-ounce to 1-ounce depending on the strength of the water currents. Adding his own touch, he strings plastic Mardi Gras beads between lead weights and between the weights and the leader swivel. The beads prevent the line holes in the weights from becoming deformed by constant metal-to-metal contact.
St. Cyr also freelines a great deal with a rig that is essentially a Carolina rig without a sinker. Freelining allows the baited hook to sweep a large area as the current moves it.
“Freelining is a great way to fish,” he said. “I can feel all the action, including the croaker getting nervous.”
St. Cyr showed little patience with catching small trout, reeling them in so fast they bounced on the surface. He weighed anchor and moved after landing a couple of small specks in a single spot.
It was clear he didn’t want the moment frozen in time.
“I don’t like getting my picture taken with a small fish,” he said after eyeing my camera. “I’d rather catch three fish over 4 pounds than 25 trout that run 1½ to 2 pounds.”
He didn’t have a lot of patience with hardhead catfish either. A hooked hardhead was placed deliberately on the platform between his outboard motors that is sometimes used to stow his trawl. Wham! He whacked the fish with a metal baseball bat hard enough to shake the heavy boat.
“I’m a firm believer in tag and release,” he said with a smirk. “I love to catch big fish, but I can enjoy myself without catching fish.”
St. Cyr fishes with stout lines. In the winter, he uses 18-pound-test monofilament. On the beach, he uses 65-pound-test green PowerPro. When he fishes the Mississippi Delta, he upgrades to 85-pound-test PowerPro. With strong lines, if a fish wraps on something, he can just hold the line taut, and often the fish unwraps itself.
“Plus,” he added, “I’ve never won a rodeo with a fish I lost.”
St. Cyr varies his use of leaders as well. In winter, he hooks direct, using no leader. On the beach, he uses 30- to 40-pound-test monofilament, and on the delta, he rigs with 50- to 60-pound-test monofilament. All leaders are 24 to 30 inches long.
St. Cyr fishes exclusively with treble hooks. Early in the year, when bait croakers are small, he uses No. 4 trebles. Later in the season, he shifts to larger hooks, No. 1 and 2 treble hooks.
As he picked at the fish, St. Cyr discussed his favorite fishing conditions. His favorite tide ranges are from 0.8 to 1.5 feet. With very strong tides, baits don’t work properly. But he quickly added that he fishes all days under all tidal conditions.
As to moon phase, his years of records indicate that he has caught his biggest trout from three days before to three days after full moons. He added that he is convinced that the best full moon for big fish is the June moon.
St. Cyr has a clear preference for wind direction. “West is worst,” he firmly stated. It muddies the water, which contributes to fish not biting. North winds behind a front are associated with poor fishing as well, but the day or two before a front are usually very productive. The best winds for speckled trout fishing are south to southeast. Wind direction doesn’t have as much of an impact on fishing the Mississippi River delta as it does elsewhere.
Winds can directly affect water clarity. St. Cyr is convinced that more and larger trout can be caught in clear water. But, he added, water can be too clear and the trout can become spooky from fear of being exposed to predators. Again, the Mississippi River delta is a little different. The surface water there can be very muddy, with the water beneath being very clear.
St. Cyr finds that the best big trout fishing is early in the morning, and then again, later in the day when boat traffic dies down. St. Cyr doesn’t fish in late afternoon or at night.
When he fishes a spot in which he has confidence, he displays remarkable patience. When asked how a newbie to big trout fishing can find the spots to have confidence in, he replies, “by pot luck and persistence.”
St. Cyr also does a substantial amount of “rig fishing” at oil and gas platforms, usually less than 10 miles offshore. Fishing the platforms in 15-35 feet of water becomes productive in July and August.
“At that time of the year, big trout become loners,” he said. “That’s what you’re looking for at the rigs.”
Typically, St. Cyr will anchor upcurrent from a rig and let his bait go under the platform with a slip cork, freelined or with a Carolina rig. He first sets a sliding cork to fish at 3 feet off the bottom, and if he doesn’t catch anything, he moves it shallower and shallower. For unknown reasons, St. Cyr said, every platform has a particular hotspot that is consistently better than other spots at the platform. These are also found by trial and error.
Learn more about how the best guides and anglers across the Louisiana coast catch trout day in, day out by purchasing the Trout Masters Tool Kit, which includes a special package price for Trout Masters: How Louisiana’s Best Anglers Catch the Lunkers and Trout Masters Too: How the Pros do it.