Winter is in full swing in south Florida and these fronts have brought some record temperatures along with snow in parts of north Florida. These freezing temperatures have made fishing somewhat difficult for certain inshore species. Unfortunately, there were small fish kills throughout parts of Florida but thankfully it wasn't anywhere near the devastating freeze we had a few years back. The population of a lot of the inshore species have come back stronger then ever since that freeze years ago and it’s awesome to see the juvenile snook and tarpon flourish. FWC has done a great job since that major fish kill by implementing tighter restrictions among the species who were affected the greatest. While most inshore species this time of the year are looking for warmer, deeper, darker water, Trout and Redfish control the inshore flats. This time of the year is known for big gator Trout and tailing Redfish pushing on the flats during negative low tides. Also with this winter weather comes super clear water and this creates an anglers dream while fishing the flats. The pursue and the sight casting opportunities are endless for these monster gator trout.
The Sea Trout also known as “ole yellow mouth” is an inshore species that is available year around. A very vibrant and colorful species the Trout size ranges from a few inches to over 30 inches. Arguably, one of the most beautiful inshore fish, the trout, is by far the most targeted species during the winter time. The record Sea Trout, which was caught on the east coast of Florida was a whopping 17lbs. The size limitations are anywhere between 15-20 inches and you're allowed to keep one fish over the limit. For a Trout to be labeled as a “Gator trout” most anglers say the fish has to be over 25 inches. Targeting these big fish is no give me and they require some work. However, as winter approaches and brings the cold air and water temperatures to south Florida this species becomes more abundant then most other species. You can find trout all over the grass flats, mangrove shorelines, canals and by residential docks. They are very plentiful and are a fairly easy species to target when smaller. I say this because Trout are a very aggressive fish and eat most live baits and artificials. The smaller trout, less then 20 inches, are known to be schooling fish. This simply means that catching one fish out of an area usually means there are more fish in that same spot. For anglers, it is important to recognize that, anchor down, and get ready for a consistent Trout bite.
Although, the trout size ranged from 15-20 inches are fun and can keep any angler busy all day, the
real prize for saltwater fishermen are gator Trout. Trout in general can be caught on any side of the tide. With the super negative tides this time of the year it is almost predictable where these fish will be laid up. If there isn't enough water on the grass flats then trout like most species will move to an area where there is more water to stage up while the tides are changing. These areas can be right off the grass flats and are canals, residential docks, potholes, troughs and mangrove shorelines. Thats why most of the time these fish will be in schools because when the flats are dried up they congregate to an area with more water. With the bigger trout, they are normally solo fish and aren't afraid to be in super skinny water. I have caught some monsters in 12 inches of water and have seen bigger ones in less. Trout are an ambush prey and use the grass flats to there advantage. These bigger gator trout didn't get big for any other reason then being the ultimate predator. These fish like to be laid up in potholes and troughs and give themselves the ability to ambush prey from the surface to the sea floor. Like mentioned earlier, since the water is super clear during the winter time anglers and fly fisherman have some awesome days being able to pick out monster trout laid up in sandy potholes. Skiffs that can get into 12 inches of water or less is a must if an angler wants to experience this rush. However, for myself and for a lot of anglers, wading this time of the year and utilizing kayaks and paddleboards can get the job done even more so. The ability to be stealthy is key but also making sure you have a good pair of optics to not only spot these big solo fish but to see the potholes and troughs where there could potentially be fish. Also when fishing the flats for these Gator Trout try to come up with patterns. For example, remember where you have had initial strikes or caught a solo fish, whether thats in potholes and troughs or simply just in the grass. These fish will also hang around bait schools and large schools of mullet, waiting for an easy prey. This just gives the angler more specific areas to target when on the flats. To add to this keep an eye out for blown out fish and pay attention to where they spooked from. Doing this always gives me the upper hand when I target these bigger fish. I can now make up a pattern while fishing and I will have an idea in my head of where these Trout will be laid up.
My favorite way to target bigger Trout is by throwing topwater lures sun up and sun down. This fish is aggressive enough during the winter time and won't hesitate to hit a bait on the surface. I will throw a topwater lure 100% of the time during low light conditions and to be honest the cloudier it is the better. With topwaters you have the ability to almost sight cast in a way. What I mean is when working your topwater you can work the bait slow, medium and fast. Trout are extremely aggressive and if they miss a lure on the initial strike depending on the speed of the retrieval, Trout usually follow and strike again. So it is important to always be consistent with your lure retrieval and always pay attention to your bait. I also use a ton of soft plastics and for most anglers it is preference with favorites. However, Zman baits are my go to year around for every species especially Trout. I tend to use paddle tails, jerk baits and of course a soft plastic shrimp. These soft plastic choices mimic a wide variety of Trout prey and they also have the ability to work in every water column. Since I'm targeting these bigger laid up fish and I know I am fishing shallower water I usually throw a weedless bait. This just allows my soft plastic to look realistic through grass and of course not snag any weeds. However, I probably throw jig heads an equal amount, especially if I know I am targeting sandy potholes and troughs. Jig heads give me a better casting distance and allows me to be accurate. Also if I wasn't able to sight cast for whatever reason and I know I am in an area where I am seeing a lot of bigger trout around I can always fan cast confidently with a jig head. When deciding a color it depends on the weather conditions and the environment around me. I usually always start off with a white or pearl color and then if the water changes to darker or muddier I will throw a new penny or olive color. It is always about trial an error and having a few rods rigged up with different baits. These big Trout are aggressive and really fun to pursue during the winter time.