Flats fishing for cold water trout

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For my inaugural column I’d like to highlight the inshore fishing from our big bend region as we draw near to the end of winter, in what proved to be the most unbelievable trout fishing I’ve ever experienced. Every fall, eager fishermen wait for the transition to the winter fishing from Suwannee to Keaton Beach. It’s typically marked by boats dotting the river entrances and creeks like screaming girls at a Luke Bryan concert, as the inshore species such as redfish, trout, and even sheepshead transition from the flats to the protection of the creeks.

Typically, anglers have their “go-to holes” where they anticipate the fish stacking annually, and year after year these same holes produce. Sometimes they’re stacked with redfish, other times trout make an appearance, and as most anglers have experienced – their bite can turn on, and turn off on a dime, as the water slips below 60 degrees. Other species known to inhabit these same holes are mangrove snapper, black drum, sheepshead, flounder, sea bass, and more.

This year, I experienced a new way to fish the winter months. A traditional pattern would be to anchor up-tide and fish the bottom with jig heads tipped with shrimp in these holes, river mouths, and oyster bars. It’s a technique that has been tried and true for decades on our coast. This time Captain Brent Lyons decided to challenge me with a new way to fish the colder water temperatures. I admittedly grew up a live bait guy, so I was eager to learn new techniques for winter artificial fishing.

On my first trip with Captain Lyons, we left at 5 a.m. with temperatures so cold that I thought we might hit an iceberg en route to the first flat. Perfect for flats fishing? Not even close. Or, so I thought…

I began by throwing my favorite topwater lure, and he started with a pink soft plastic bait. It’s my typical pattern; I love throwing the biggest topwater I can find from sunrise until mid-morning, while the sun is at a low angle. It typically produces action – at least when the water isn’t 54 degrees. On this particular morning, Captain Lyons had four strikes on his first cast, and then proceeded to catch three nice trout on the next three casts. I stuck with my topwater out of pure stubbornness, like a dog with its favorite bone.

In under an hour he had produced 9 trout between 18″ and 23″, and I didn’t have single sniff. The scoreboard read like the halftime score at this year’s Super Bowl blowout. Fortunately, I didn’t have Richard Sherman taunting me throughout this annihilation. Instead, Captain Lyons took me under his wing and taught me his Jedi mind trout tricks.

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This is where a skilled guide can change the way you fish. Brent was fishing with a Shimano CI4+ 3000 reel equipped with 10lb spiderwire invisi-braid, 25lb fluorocarbon leader, and a custom MHX light 7’6″ rod. If that’s too much technical jargon think light – light reel, light line, light rod. I watched as he seemingly made the lure dance in slow motion, and I eventually switched to the same combination. It took about 15 minutes to break every habit I had with artificial lures – fast, violent, aggressive, and I eventually slowed it down to a mind numbingly slow pace. Within minutes I had a solid 21″ trout, and then one after another.

This continued throughout the day as we boated more than 100 trout using this same technique. Cast. Work slowly. Hook Fish. Catch Fish. Rinse hands. Repeat.

There were a few key points to our success. The retrieval rate must be S-L-O-W. I’m talking as slow as one of those Twilight movie plots (no, I’ve never watched one). When you think you’re working slow enough, add more time. The unspoken secret to fishing on the flats this time of year is there’s virtually no bait on the flats. So, if you can keep it in their strike zone long enough, you increase your odds ten fold.

A sensitive rod is also instrumental. Sometimes the trout bite in the winter is so subtle, you don’t even know it’s a bite. Think about how slow fish move in cold water, there simply won’t be aggressive bites. A light rod, with so much sensitivity you can feel a fish breathe, will change your flats fishing. At one point, utilizing these new techniques, I caught five consecutive trout on five consecutive casts, and on the sixth cast I had a big trout pop the lure – all captured on video! The footage can be viewed below.

Captain Brent Lyons is located in Lake City and fishes out of an 18’ 9” Action Craft from Jacksonville to Cedar Key to Keaton Beach. He can be reached at 386-623-7625.

 

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