Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

For most fly anglers, trout fishing means waving the wand over lake or stream for one of the many species of salmonids we collectively call trout. And as we all know; wild trout fishing is a cold-water fishery. Except for isolated pockets of high-mountain trout in the southern Rocky Mountains or southern Appalachians wild trout can be found for the most part in suitable water in the northern half of the US into Canada and the Arctic. We tie all sorts of flies to entice trout–Diminutive flies to resemble aquatic insect larva, tiny winged editions to replicate tiny adult insects, baitfish patterns, terrestrial adults and on and on. We fish with what ranges from delicate cane and graphite rods in those diminutive weights like 2 and 3 to robust wands of the 6 and 8 weight variety. Fly fishing for wild trout has so many permutations that it makes opportunities to do something different almost unlimited. The dedicated trout angler has so many opportunities that they need never look beyond their favorite salmonid, unless they want to.

m1For the trout angler that find themselves anywhere close to the Gulf of Mexico or southern Atlantic coastline, another kind of trout becomes the opportunity to leverage your salmonid skills in different territory. The spotted seatrout, also known as speckled trout (Cynoscion nebulosus) is a common angling target throughout its range. The average size of spotted seatrout is one to three pounds, not unlike our favorite salmonids. Larger specimens, which aren’t all that uncommon are known as Gator Trout. They look remarkably like a sea run brown trout-silver with black spots except for that toothy grin. They are good to eat and most importantly, what they eat—small baitfish and crustaceans like shrimp—are easily replicated by flies. And, equally important, where they live and feed—shallow estuarian flats covered in grass make them eminently accessible to fly anglers. Although most of my direct experience fly fishing for spotted seatrout has been on the Central Florida and Alabama Gulf coasts, in the heart of their range, anywhere you find extensive grassy flats, you are going to find good populations of seatrout. If you want to fly fish for them, it won’t be a big transition from fresh-water trout, especially if you already toss a few streamers once and a while. So imagine you leave your cozy home in New England in mid-February to escape what seems like an endless winter and head south. Armed with a decent rod and reel, a box of suitable flies and other bits of essential gear, the trip to Florida takes but a couple of hours. Your plane lands in Tampa, Sarasota, St. Petersburg or any Florida coastal city. You want to go catch some seatrout, you didn’t bring a boat with you. How might you prepare?—gear, flies, finding trout.

Gear

Generally, a fast, six weight or higher rod is necessary for saltwater flats fishing. Not so much that you need a six weight to subdue seatrout, but there are other potential critters on the flats that will test a six to the limit. Plus open flats can be windy. Reels with good drags suitable for saltwater use abound. Load them with quality floating and sinking lines and you are ready to go. Reels don’t need to be high-end, but clearly need sealed drags and parts that won’t corrode in the salt. Making long, accurate casts is essential to successful seatrout fishing. You might be in as little as 6 inches of extremely clear water and the flats are a dangerous place for fish of all sizes. Seatrout are cautious, wary of dolphins, pelicans and other predators. If they see you, your chances of catching them is gone. Tippets of 1X or 0X fluorocarbon are more than adequate. Seatrout aren’t leader shy. The water along the Florida Gulf coast rarely gets below 60 degrees so wet wading is comfortable. A lot of wading anglers wear waders in the winter, but that’s really not required if you are used to fishing in cold water. But most essential however is a good pair of wading boots, preferably a pair designed for flats fishing. You don’t want to be walking in the grass with flimsy tennis shoes because you never know what you are going to step on. Some of those things like small sting rays can cause painful wounds to exposed or unprotect feet. Along with those essentials, the same polaroid glasses, packs, accessories etc. you use on rivers and streams work fine on the flats with one big exception. Anything that might rust ought to be left at home. Nippers, ,forceps, zingers, pliers, etc. ought to be of the rust proof variety otherwise they won’t remain functional long.

Flies

The really fun part of preparing to fish for spotted seatrout is the fly tying. The only difference between tying saltwater flies and freshwater flies is in materials. Any decent fly tier with the right materials can throw together a functional saltwater fly box in a matter of days. Deceivers, Clousers, Crazy Charlies, Bendbacks and generic baitfish patterns are all very easy to tie and don’t require any huge investment in new or different materials. Feathers, hair, flash and synthetics needed for a good saltwater fly are already staples in most fly tier’s hoard of material. However, if you have never tied specifically for saltwater applications, hooks are another story. Durable saltwater flies should be tied on saltwater hooks—either tinned or stainless. Normal freshwater hooks will rust within hours of exposure to the salt and can render an entire fly box full of flies useless before you know it. For the beginning saltwater tier aiming to catch a few seatrout, I would recommend loading your box with three patterns in a wide variety of sizes and colors. Deceiver, Clouser, and Gurgler patterns in sizes 8 through 4 are all you need for spotted seatrout. Start with the classic chartreuse and white combinations then branch out into the more subtle browns, blues or greens. On any given day, Chartreuse flies seem to be the most productive, but there are no rules here. Keeping your fly in productive water, regardless of its color, is the best way to connect with a spotted seatrout. Deceivers are unweighted, and unless you are fishing with a long sink tip, these styles are very productive in very shallow—1-3 feet of water and at the top of the water column. Clousers on the other hand are most useful as the depth increases. Clousers have the advantage of sinking to the bottom and stirring up puffs of sand when fished along sandy edges. In the warmer spring, summer and fall months spotted seatrout are aggressive top-water feeders and the Gurgler is the perfect top-water pattern. Here are few examples that I will always have in my saltwater flats box when hunting spotted seatrout.

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An effective saltwater fly box for targeting spotted seatrout
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Deceivers – traditional and synthetic. The traditional buck tail Deceiver is a very effective fly, although not as durable as a synthetic version (Steve Farrar SF Blend).
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Clousers – traditional and synthetic. Similar to Deceivers, buck tail versions are effective but less durable than synthetic versions.
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Gurglers – The Gurgler is an all-around effective saltwater fly anytime trout are feeding on or near the surface. They are especially effective on a calm surface around the edges of potholes.

In part two of this post—Another Kind of Trout (Where to Find Them) I’ll talk about how the traveling angler can go prospecting for spotted seatrout with just a little of forethought and preparation.

Read part two here: https://blog.jsflyfishing.com/another-kind-of-trout-where-to-find-them/

2 Comments

  1. Phil, you really should give it try. Am just returning to Bozeman this morning from a long weekend in Apollo Beach on Tampa Bay. Lots of my new flies proved themselves on a lot of trout. Although I was working more remote flats with my kayak, most of the time I was still wading knee deep casting to likely holding water along the edges of grass, potholes and cuts. Because the water is pretty clear you begin to get a real sense of the locus of structural elements that are favorable to trout. Add the subtle surface water movements caused by rising and falling tides and you quickly learn how to “read” the grassy flats. It really doesn’t take long to apply your freshwater savvy to the salty flats. Plus, tying all those saltwater flies is a great winter diversion.

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