Summertime Speckled Trout Tactics
Spotted seatrout, or speckled trout, are one of the most popular saltwater species across the Southeastern United States. However, many anglers believe these fish to be hard to catch during the dog days of summer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Speckled trout can be targeted and caught even on the hottest days of summer, but anglers do need to alter their game plan in order to be successful.
Typically, inshore anglers can think of a summer pattern for specks being the same as a winter pattern, only in reverse. During both summer and winter, speckled trout spend the majority of their time in relatively deep water. However, the times they are shallow and deep are different. From June through September, speckled trout will spend the overnight and lowlight hours on the shallow flats, then back into deeper water during the heat of the day. Quite often, if anglers located fish on the flats first thing in the morning, they will be able to stay on them as they move deeper. The key is being aware of this transition, following the fish and altering lures and techniques as the day wears on.
To find those fish up shallow, an early start is a necessity. Again, even during the hottest months of the year, speckled trout will feed in the shallows. But, they will do so when the water is cool, which means during the pre-dawn hours right up until the sun is high enough to cause the water temperature to begin rising around mid-morning. Anglers hoping for shallow water action in the summer should try to plan their early morning forays following a clear, calm night. When the sky is free of clouds and the wind is nil, the bay water releases a greater portion of its stored heat through a process known as radiant cooling. The result is cooler water temperatures on the flats the following morning, which means more active fish in the shallows.
Of course, this doesn't mean fish will be in every inch of shallow water. During the summer months, fish like to remain relatively close to the cooler confines of deeper water, so anglers should select flats with deep water access and not venture too far from the deeper water when probing the flats.
It is also a good idea to pick spots close to Gulf passes. Although fish will usually feed around the lowlight periods regardless of tidal flow, they will feed more aggressively when the current is moving. This is particularly so when a strong incoming tide brings cooler Gulf water onto the flats. Actually, this is a good rule of thumb throughout the day during summer - whether fishing shallow or deep, situate yourself in an area with good tidal flow and try to hit periods of incoming flow. Quite often during the dog days of summer, an incoming flow of cool Gulf water can trigger a feeding binge.
During the lowlight hours, specks will attack a topwater plug with vigor. However, smaller plugs will generally outproduce larger ones at this time of year. MirrOlure MirrOmullets, Heddon Super Spook Jrs and Bomber 15As are among the best summer surface baits. This is also a good time to throw a lightly weighted or unweighted soft-plastic jerkbait, like a DOA 4-inch jerkbait.
As the shallow water bite begins to wane, move out to progressively deeper water. As a rule, by mid-morning the best trout bite will be in thigh to waist deep water. Deeper flats, the outside edge of grass beds and channel edges are ideal spots to locate specks during this time of day.
During this point in the day, it is usually prudent to switch over to soft-plastics, spoons and sinking plugs. Weedless spoons can be worked in a 'jerbait' fashion along the edges of grass beds and through potholes. DOA Shrimp also work well when dead-sticked in these areas.
As deadly as each of those lure types can be on mid-depth summer trout, perhaps the most overlooked lure type in this situation is the slow-sinking plug. These hard baits can be effective whenever anglers are fishing over deeper flats. However, they are especially effective when glass minnows are present. Among the absolute best lures to toss when fishing around pods of glass minnows during the summer months are the MirrOlure 17 & 19MR suspending twitchbaits. This small baits perfectly imitate anchovies and glass minnows and can be used to effectively imitate wounded baitfish straggling behind the pack.
Once the sun gets high, anglers need to seek out one of two things - deep water or shade. Finding these elements in tandem is a bonus, but having at least one of them is a necessity for garnering a consistent midday bite during the hot weather months. And, again, try to find areas with these characteristics close to a Gulf pass if possible.
Keep in mind, deep water is a relatively term. In some areas, a 6-foot deep channel may be the extent of 'deep water,' while other area feature plenty of deep flats, channels and 'holes' that are in excess of 20 feet deep. In general, the deeper the water, the cooler the water temperature. During the heat of the day, trout will usually drop off into the deepest nearby water and hunker down in the lower portion of the water column.
The traditional method for presenting a lure to trout 'lying low' in deep water is to use a heavy head paired with a small profile soft-plastic. The theory is a heavy head provides the weight, while a small profile is more aerodynamic in order to efficiently cut through the water column. Remember, the stronger the current, the heavier the head necessary to transport the bait to the bottom. Using too light a head or too wide a body of lure will result in your bait being swept down current before it reaches the strike zone.
Although heavy headed soft-plastics produce plenty of fish during the summer, fishing deep water during midday also offers the opportunity to try a few less traditional approaches. Deep diving crankbaits are excellent choices to work along the face of a deep channel or over the top of deep water structure. Jigging spoons and drop-shot rigs can also produce plenty of specks when fishing in water more than 10 feet deep. Although each of these techniques is more closely associated with freshwater bass, they are just as productive in saltwater and worth learning.
Regardless of water depth, shade will create areas of cooler water. Gas platforms, bridges, docks, and range markers are just a few examples of shade producing structures found in many bays along the Gulf coast. Shade-producing structure with a good current flow in or near deep water is an absolute gold mine for summertime specks.
Depending on the depth and current flow, a myriad of lures, baits and techniques will produce good results around shaded structure. Free-lining live or DOA Shrimp around these structures almost always produces good results. Many anglers will also employ a Carolina-rig with a live mullet, croaker or pinfish to get to fish holding near deeper structure. Soft-plastic swimbaits are versatile enough to work throughout the water column and are an excellent choice for structure that spans various water depths.
Beyond time of day, tidal movement, water depth and location, retrieval speed is also a key to producing good catches during summer. In general, fish are not quite as spunky in summer as they are in spring and fall. Use a moderate retrieve at most during the early morning hours. And, as the day wears on, slow it down some more. The cadence of a topwater plug in summer is usually fairly pedestrian, especially after daylight. When it comes to soft-plastics and spoons, the same applies. Move it at a moderate rate during the first half of the morning. From midmorning through mid-afternoon, slow-rolling and dead-sticking are often the best options.
Without a doubt, the biggest downside to fishing the bays during summer is the heat. It's important to keep in mind the heat is just as brutal on the fish as the fisherman. If you're feeling the heat under the midday sun, odds are the fish are too. By and large, uncomfortable fish don't bite much. So, it's up to you to locate areas where the fish will be more comfortable - ie: cooler, deeper water. More often than not, find fish in a comfortable water temperature, properly present a lure or bait and you'll find fish willing to eat. And, though biting fish won't lessen the air temperature, they will certainly make you forget all about the heat - at least for a little while.