If reports of solid speckled trout in the surf at Elmer’s Island and Grand Isle have you considering abandoning your boat and hitting the beach this summer, there are a few key tips to consider to make your trip a success.
So Louisiana Sportsman contacted two veteran surf-fishing anglers — Sammy Romano and Jared Pennison — and picked their brains to come up with their Top 10 keys to success from the sand.
Romano, a manager at Chag’s Sporting Goods in Metairie, and Pennison, who lives on Grand Isle and works for Schlumberger in Fourchon, have more than 10 years of combined experience landing big-time trout from the surf on Elmer’s Island. And they’ve proved it this year with some astounding catches.
Their advice on what to do — and not to do — will definitely improve your chances of landing a solid stringer of specks from the beach.
Here’s their top 10 recommendations for success:
1. Find clean water
Trout feed by sighting in their prey, so locating pockets of clean water on the beach is crucial. Pennison said a good pair of polarized sunglasses comes in handy for this task.
“I look from the bridge at Grand Isle and see if the pass has pretty water,” he said. “If it does, I know somewhere on the beach will have some (clean water). If not, I’ll park my truck on the beach at Elmer’s Island and stand on the back and look for clean water.
“Sometimes there’s pretty water for a mile — and sometimes you just have to find it.”
2. Fish the tides
Romano and Pennison both prefer incoming tides.
Romano said ideal conditions for him are clear water with an incoming tidal range from three-quarters of a foot to about 1.2 feet, with about 1 1/2- to 2-foot waves.
“If it’s 6-foot surf, don’t go,” Romano said. “Just because they’re killing fish at Elmer’s Island doesn’t mean you need to be down there in 6-foot waves. That’s just not going to catch you any fish.
“And if you have no tide, the fish aren’t going to feed.”
He believes the biggest trout feed in the first and last hours of a tide.
“That’s your best shot for a big trout,” Romano said. “It goes back to the law of conservation of energy, and every predator uses it. That’s the time they can run around and be the big dog. They don’t have to fight current to feed, but the tide it still strong enough that the bait is piled up. When that tide starts to slow down, those big fish come out of those depressions and start running around like a wolf pack, and sit there and cut up the bait.
“People who don’t fish in the surf can’t appreciate how hard the fish hit and how hard they fight, because they’re just in a frenzy. There’s nothing meek about them. They’re not bumping a bait — when they hit it, they almost pull the rod out of your hand. You don’t have to be a magician to feel the bite.”
3. Look for bubbles
Fishing in the surf is about trying to locate where speckled trout stack up waiting to ambush baitfish slammed by the breaking waves. And deep troughs beyond sandbars are good places to target.
“You want to cast out to that deep trough and retrieve it through the suds from the wave that just broke because the trout are coming from that deep trough into the shallow water where the waves are breaking to eat all the disoriented bait,” Pennison said. “A 5- to 10-mph south wind where you get some good, spread-out rollers is ideal —especially if you have clean water, because the trout have enough time to come from that next wave and eat all that disoriented bait.”
Romano, who described himself as a “technical fisherman,” said he considers things like wave action, tidal range and wind direction, as well as sandbar and trough location, when selecting a spot to fish.
“You always have to think about why a fish is where he is. He’s not just out there for no reason. If he’s in an area, it’s because something is different,” he explained. “They always key on structure, no matter if you’re fishing bluegill or blue marlin. So if you go out there and just amble around, you might bump into a few fish.
“But you want to find the feature that’s the most different than anything else out there, which typically is a cut or a trough or a sandbar — somewhere that trout can lay out of the current and ambush baitfish.”
4. Don’t be in a rush to leave the beach
Romano said one mistake he sees people make regularly is trudging through the surf early in the morning to head out to sandbars and troughs farther out. Many times, they’re walking right through schools of trout hanging closer to the beach.
“In the morning, I typically start in the first trough,” he said. “The big trout like to get right up on the beach in the morning before all the people walk out in the water and disturb them. I always fish from the shoreline out.
“A lot of people pass fish up. They’re so anxious to get out there, they walk right through them. Fish from the beach first; then work your way out.”
5. Use the right equipment
Pennison recommends a medium-heavy 6-foot, 9-inch rod spooled with 30-pound braid. He uses a 24-inch fluorocarbon leader tied to his topwater lures with a non-slip loop knot, and he inspects his line regularly.
“Every time I catch a big trout, I run my index finger and thumb on my leader to check to make sure there are no frays. If there is, I chop it and retie it,” he said. “Those teeth on those big specks will slice right through it.”
Pennison usually takes along a net, one tackle box strapped to his chest, a 20-foot stringer and a bait box, which comes in handy when the action picks up.
“I’ll use my stringer if it’s slow, where I’m catching fish every five or six minutes,” he said. “But if I’m catching fish back to back in a school, a stringer slows it down a lot. You want to get your bait back out in the water as soon as you can, so I’ll just put the fish in the basket.”
He also has a rod holder over his back so he can work with both hands when he’s landing a fish or changing a lure.
“That way, when I catch a trout I can stick my rod in it without it getting dunked under water, and I can unhook my trout and put it in the basket or retie my bait, or whatever I need to do,” he said.
Romano favors straight 20-pound fluorocarbon for sinking baits, but he uses braid with a mono leader when working topwater lures.
“A topwater bait is moving so fast, I don’t think they focus on the leader,” he said. “And the mono tends to float a little more, so you don’t tend to foul that front hook as much (as with a fluorocarbon leader).”
He also has switched over from the loop knot to a Palomar knot when tying on his topwater baits, a move he thinks saves him money from lost lures when random jack crevalle get hooked up in the surf.
“I think a topwater bait works a lot better with a loop knot, but you do sacrifice some knot strength, so I’ve pretty much gone to a Palomar because it’s so strong,” Romano said.
6. Use the right lure
Pennison has a stash of topwaters, jerkbaits and other lures ready to go, making specific choices based on what he sees in the surf.
“If you’re seeing pogies, obviously you want to use a big old Super Spook or a big topwater bait,” he said. “First and foremost, if you see pogies around getting chased, they have big trout there because small trout don’t feed on pogies.”
To imitate big pogies, Pennison favors 5-inch topwaters with three treble hooks. If he sees minnows or croakers, he might opt for MirrOlure suspended jerkbaits or Super Spook Juniors.
“And if I see mainly shrimp, I’ll either fish with an Unfair Lures shrimp or a Vudu Shrimp free-lined,” he said.
In calm water, Romano prefers Paul Brown’s Corky in either pink or chartreuse because it’s so versatile.
“I love that bait. We just really do well with it,” he said. “It suspends, and you can fish it up high like a topwater. You can fish it like a sinker or do a little bit of everything with it.”
He also likes the Rapala Skitter Walk for topwater use in calm conditions. His favorite color combination has a black back, silver sides and a white belly. The Skitter Walk is a 5/8-ounce lure that is 4 3/8 inches long and has double treble hooks.
“I don’t think color is as important there because the fish are mostly seeing the belly, but use something with a white belly if the water is clear and a chartreuse belly if it’s real muddy,” Romano said. “One of my favorites is white with a red head, which doesn’t look like anything in the water.
“The most-important thing on that is the cadence you’re working on.”
His stand-by confidence bait in rough or calm conditions is a red-and-whte MirrOlure 52MR or TTR.
7. Alter your cast and retrieve
Just facing south and heaving your lure as far as you can and then retrieving it straight back through the surf might not be enough to fool a wily old trout.
Instead, be aware of currents and how a wounded fish might really move through the water, Pennison said.
“Big trout are smart,” he said. “Sometimes, even if they’re there, they won’t bite your lure because they know it’s not the right direction or angle. Be aware of the current — if it’s going east to west with a south wind, those trout know that and set up to ambush where those fish will be.”
Fan-cast in multiple directions as you work a specific area, he said.
“If you catch a big trout when you cast to the southeast and retrieved it back to you northwest, keep fishing that same angle,” Pennison said.
8. Be aware of slicks — and know where to cast when you see one
Slicks are created when the oils from baitfish rise to the surface as trout feed. They’re a sure sign fish are being eaten, but you need to consider the prevailing conditions when you see one.
“Usually you want to cast 5 or 10 yards behind it and work it directly under that slick,” Pennison said. “But you have to account for the wind and the current: Sometimes the fish won’t be directly underneath it.
“If the current is moving strong, the fish might actually be 30 yards to the right or left of the actual slick. If you’re just casting to the slick, you’re missing them by 30 yards.”
9. Be observant
When you’re in the surf, it’s easy to focus solely on the immediate spot you’re working. But Romano keeps his head on a swivel.
“I’m looking for birds; I’m looking for slicks. I’m watching to see if someone is catching fish down the beach,” he said. “I won’t go in their spot, but I’ll work that way. You want to be respectful, but certainly schools of trout are following bait up and down the beach. If you watch, they’ll come down the beach and eventually just work your way, but at least you know which way they’re coming from.
“You have to have eyes in the back of your head when you’re surf-fishing.”
10. Be patient
You can be rewarded with some really nice trout in the surf at Elmer’s Island and Grand Isle, but it takes time. And if you’re targeting trophy specks, be prepared for even fewer bites.
“Don’t go out there surf-fishing expecting to catch a 6-pound trout in an hour,” Pennison said. “Sometimes they’re there and you can’t do anything right. Work the bait slow, work it fast. Try something different.
“Keep moving. Keep casting and retrieving. Patience is key.”
And resist the urge to jerk a topwater lure away from a fish when you have a blow-up, Romano said.
“Just maintain your cadence, because in the surf they’re hitting it so hard they’re going to hook themselves nine times out of 10.”