But catching big, or "gator," trout isn't as easy as it seems when fishing the flats of the Lagoon system. It takes a special commitment to target super-spooky “gator” trout effectively and not many anglers are willing to do it. Once you hook up, you will experience a great fight.
Here are a few tips that help me catch the big ones:
Fishing times: The preferred feeding times for trout are during dawn, dusk and low-light conditions. They prefer water temperatures that range from the low 60s to the low 80s. During the summer, I find early cooler waters bring the trout to the shallows and when mid day approaches, they move to deep drops off into cooler water temperatures. In winter months, trout move to deeper water in the evening and into shallow water mid-day to warm up and feed in potholes whether it’s a dark mud bottom or sandy. They are also able to see in low-light conditions so don’t skip by a location that has some dirty water.
Stealth is key: Kayak fishing is the best ways for you to become the stalker. Paddle as quietly as possible around your trout location. Never paddle through the sand holes where they love to lie and wait for their prey. Trout usually know you are near before you know they are near. They have excellent vision and hearing. Spooking a trout out of her resting place reveals her position. If you spook a trout or any other large fish, never take your eye off of them. They will eventually sit back down in the next hole or move back to the same hole giving you time to approach in supreme stealth mode and position yourself to make a better cast to her location, thus increasing your chances for a hookup. Be aware, a spooked fish is not likely to want to eat once pressure is put on them.
Location, location, location: Look for flats that have plenty of thick seagrass and lots of transition areas like sandy potholes. As mentioned above, trout love to swim in and around them. Larger trout will sit on the edge of the holes waiting to snatch a hapless baitfish morsel as it swims through. They blend in well with the color of the seagrass but the breeders have a small “give away”. They have a lighter colored back than the juvenile trout. If not on the edges, they like to sit in the deepest part of it. While I stand in my Native Watercraft Ultimate, I am able to sight these monsters from a distance. Making the longest possible cast possible, past the hole, then bring your lure through it slowly, making sure to keep it close to the bottom as you retrieve. Another location is the transition area from where clean water merges with slightly cloudy or murky waters like those coming from creeks.
What’s for dinner: Gator trout are very lazy and wait for dinner to come to them. Larger 5 inch mullet (cut or whole), larger pinfish or a large shrimp can be a meal to a big fish. I like using 10lb braid with 12lb fluorocarbon leader and a 3/0 circle hook. I cast into potholes and wait 1 or 2 minutes. If there isn’t a strike, I move to the next pothole. This also works for free lining live baitfish and large shrimp. A popping cork works wonders as well. I like the Cajun Thunder Float Rig. Don’t pass up the top water plug. Since big trout are looking for mullet or other baitfish in large sizes, I try to “match the hatch” with size. This is where the Heddon Super Spook Jr., Mirr-O-Lure Top Dog or Top Dog Jr. surface walker or other large surface lures come in. Whatever your fancy, fish slow. Remember, they are lazy. 12 Fathom makes excellent soft plastic baits that gator trout love. I have most success with the 4.5 inch Buzz Tails the most. In clear warmer water, I prefer using shrimp or glow colors. In clearer but cooler waters, I like darker colors like root beer gold glitter or Arkansas glow. In low-light or murky conditions, I use clear gold glitter or a gold glitter white combination.
Stick around: Gator trout become the size they are because they are very smart fish. They are always on guard. If you find that you have spooked a gator out of its hole, stick around. They will likely return back to the same hole or move to the next hole. Many times, trout hang with a partner or two. If you get a trout to hit your lure but not hook up, cast again to the same local. The second trout is likely to strike at the same lure. If you hook up and land a gator trout, release it and fan cast the same area after a small wait period. They will return to giving you another chance.
Be gentle: Now that you have hooked up on your gator trout, be gentle. Setting the hook can be a trial between getting the hook properly set and ripping it out of the fish's mouth entirely. They have very soft mouths and like a tarpon or ladyfish are able to shake loose almost instantly. To land, use a rubber landing net, a lip gripper or your wet hands to hold the fish gently to avoid rubbing away the protective slime coating. Releasing a gator trout healthy ensures that she will be around for many years and produce more trout.