Short-Rig Specks

Fish the Cameron-Sabine “Golden Triangle” to boat big summertime speckled trout.

Draw a line on a map between the Cameron Jetties and the 18-mile light out of Sabine Pass then back to the Sabine Jetties, and you have a triangle.

Within that triangle, anglers can find some of the biggest speckled trout in Louisiana.

That region is loaded with oil and gas platforms, which anglers call the “short rigs” due to their close proximity to shore.

These “short rigs” are magnets for speckled trout during late summer, and for anglers who know how to fish them, they are flat-out fantastic.

“I’ve been fishing the rigs for a few years, and never cease to be amazed with the size of the fish and their numbers out there. These are really overlooked hotspots,” said Capt. Mike Denman. “Some of the techniques are a little unorthodox, but once you get the hang of them, the short rigs are hard to beat in the summer.”

Good electronics are essential in short-rig fishing because many times these fish will be tightly stacked together.

Several times, I’ve found them in a 10-square-foot area on huge rigs. If you cast beyond this spot, the fish would not hit. Cast into it, and the lure never had a chance to hit the bottom.

Old-timers tell me they stack in such tight groups because of the presence of sharks. They say it is the old safety-in-numbers thing.

Another reason for electronics is it’s important to look for subtle structure around the rigs.

“It’s very important to look for little parts of the rig that might be holding the fish. Sometimes its one pipe, while other times it might be something sunk at the rig. You never know what’s going to draw them,” Denman said.

When looking at a rig, it’s obvious there is a lot of structure around the legs and support bars, and trout are often caught there.

“There is usually plenty more structure and trout around the perimeter of the rig. Rigs have cables, underwater support bars, capped-off well heads and other obstructions so consider all of that when fishing,” he said.

Many times trout will hover around one small piece of this structure. At one of my favorite rigs, they gather around a small boat wreck that sits about 10 yards away from the rig itself.

I know one angler who routinely fishes a capped-off wellhead in the area. The only structure there is the wellhead itself, which sits under 35 feet of water, but it harbors many trout during certain times.

Bass anglers often talk about fishing the “secondary points” of a reservoir. They are talking about fishing the points that are not visible to the naked eye, but are obvious underwater. I think of these small pieces of structure as “secondary points” and look for them first.

If there are not trout there then I can always back off and fish the “main point,” which would be the visible and obvious parts of a rig.

The last time I fished the rigs in front of Constance Beach, most of the trout we caught bonded to a small pipe stand located 150 yards from the main rig, which was quite large.

We could not catch a fish on the big rig to save our souls, but the little pipe stand was stacked with trout. This has also happened at rigs around the Chandeleur Islands.

There are not very many special tackle needs for fishing trout at the rigs. I prefer to use a medium-heavy popping rod like my 7-1/2-foot Shakespeare Ugly Stik and one of my All-Star popping rods.

Any good casting reel will get the job done.

The most important tackle consideration is the proper lures to use. In terms of soft plastics, I like the Culprit Rip Tide shrimp tails, Berkley Power Mullet, DOA Shrimp and any large-bodied luminescent-colored grub. In addition, it is important to have a wide range of jighead selection.

I carry everything from 1/8-ounce to 5/8-ounce. Current can be killer offshore, and when trout are belly to the bottom, the 1/8-ounce is not going to get the lure where it needs to go.

Silver spoons can also be real trout killers. Some friends of mine have used the Charlie Slab, which is popular with white bass but works like a charm on trout. They like the white/yellow version.

The Hoginar is another good one.

Sometimes cutlass fish, also known as ribbonfish, are thick around the rigs, especially the ones out of Sabine Pass, and trout will absolutely gorge themselves on them.

Good cutlassfish imitations include Bass Assassins, Slug-Gos and Slimy Slugs.

Water conditions during summer range from off-colored to murky to just plain nasty, so bring a variety of colors along. Tomato and fire tiger are good for bad conditions, whereas glow and chartreuse are standards for sandy-green water.

No matter what lure you’re fishing, make sure to keep contact with it. Sometimes short-rig trout are not overly aggressive, and they often lightly hit soft plastic lures. Use a super-sensitive monofilament or braided line for best results.

Short-rig addict Frank Moore said he prefers using plastics, but goes to live bait when the trout get lockjaw around the rigs.

“In the summer, trout at the rigs will take lures, but I have had tremendous success on live bait,” Moore said.

Croakers are a favorite bait, but he also uses piggy perch.

“There aren’t very many people using piggies, but they are easier to catch on your own. Croaker is my first choice, but it can be harder to get than piggies. I use piggies to about the size of my palm and just a little bigger,” Moore said.

He fishes with a combination of simple fish-finder rigs, and sometimes free-lines the perch on a kahle hook next to the platform legs.

“When rig fishing, I try not to miss out on the fish that are feeding up higher in the water. You can miss a lot of big fish if you don’t try both the bottom and higher,” he said.

The short rigs are good at night, especially when anglers use green lights to lure them.

Proper positioning of the boat is crucial for success. If the seas are not choppy, consider hooking up backwards as close to the structure as possible. Game fish like speckled trout bond to the structure. In choppy waters, get as close to the rig as possible and face the bow into the current.

This may take longer for the bait to be lured to the light, but they will come.

For anglers not familiar with green-light fishing, there are two set-ups to choose from — the floating and submersible lights. Most of my green-light fishing has been with a floater, and it works great. I have caught quite a few fish using it over the last few years. Submersibles, however, seem to be more popular and may be a tad more effective since they are able to penetrate deeper into the water.

A 12-volt battery powers these lights, and they will last many, many hours. In fact, most dedicated green light fishermen will stay out all night or until they catch their limits.

And limits are common at the short rigs with these superior fishing tools.

The first thing to consider for short-rig fishing is wind. If the wind is strong and seas are even fairly rough, you would be better off staying in the bay or in the protection of the jetties.

A good calm day is not only safer to fish but easier as well. It’s virtually impossible to get good lure action when winds are howling and the seas are threatening to throw your boat into the rig.

Water clarity is something else to consider. The general rule I have about trout fishing is if the water is ranging anywhere in the green or blue, the short rigs are at least worth checking out.

Something else I look at is barometric pressure.

I prefer the pressure to be between 30.00 and 30.10. Many of the local guides feel this is the peak biting period, and say anything higher turns the bite off. And there may be some science to back this up.

Recently, the Florida Game and Fish Commission put several species of saltwater fish including speckled trout and redfish in a large observation tank with a controlled atmosphere to study how pressure would affect their feeding habits.

Between 30.00 and 30.10 barometric pressure, the fish started to feed. When they turned the pressure up to 31.30, the fish died. The confined tank did not allow the fish enough depth to equalize the pressure on their body.

Since discovering this information, I have often asked myself if this is the reason when fishing in the Gulf of Mexico on dead calm days, the fish shut off. I like high pressure for Gulf fishing because it calms the seas down, but when the barometers gets too high I’ve found Gulf-dwelling fish don’t cooperate. Now I know why.

Barometric pressure can slightly alter the size of blood vessels. During times of high pressure, there is more physical pressure on blood vessels, constricting the expansion of the vessel wall.

Conversely, during times of low barometric pressure, there is less pressure on blood vessels, allowing the vessel wall to expand.

In humans, these changes may cause migraine headaches, and it is possible that fish also face discomfort under pressure

Regardless of the pressure, however, picking which rigs to fish can be a tough decision.

Any of them can produce, but some areas are better than others. The rigs in front of Constance Beach are probably the all-around best both for numbers of fish and for giving up some of the best fish.

The rigs straight out of Sabine Pass are not much on numbers, but hold some big trout.

The sport of short-rig fishing is growing, so do not be surprised if you find anglers on the rigs you want to fish. If you don’t feel like fishing around other anglers, simply go find another rig.

There are plenty in the area and plenty of fish to go along with them.

About Adam Jaynes 14 Articles
Capt. Adam Jaynes grew up fishing both Sabine Lake and Lake Calcasieu and their surrounding bayous, marshes and rivers. He specializes in light tackle with artificial lures in the year-around pursuit of speckled trout and redfish.

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