Speckled trout are a favorite target for many saltwater fishermen throughout the Carolinas. Fairly adaptable, they can be found from the nearshore ocean through the marshes and rivers to brackish water and sometimes into waters classified as inland. Most fishermen chase them from boats, but there is a dedicated group that catches a lot from the decks of the fishing piers.
“I was lucky enough to avoid much of the learning curve for catching trout because Roger Gates, who I consider the best trout fisherman I have ever met, took me under his wing and taught me well,” said Luke Horn of Oak Island, N.C. “I paid attention, and now Roger and I fish together most of the time. “
Horn and Gates, who is also from Oak Island, use a sliding-float rig that suspends their live shrimp or minnow several feet off the bottom. It uses a bobber stopper to adjust the depth, 18 to 24 inches of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to a No. 6 treble hook. Shrimp are hooked under the horn, and minnows are hooked through the lips.
“While we try to pattern the trout, they are feeding and move in and out with the shrimp or minnows they’re eating,” Horn said. “One day, they will be right behind the breakers and the next day, they’ll be out near the pier’s end. Roger and I usually start at different ends of the pier and work along the pier until we find a school. Once you find them, the deal is on. They are in schools, and unless something spooks the school, they are ready to eat.”
Horn said the rig has a couple of subtle variations. Starting at the business end, there are some days when having a colored hook makes a difference. Gold is typically best, so he begins with a gold hook. There are also days a No. 6 treble hook is too large, and he downsizes to a No. 8 version.
Many fishermen who target trout from piers use a pole or pencil cork on their rigs, and these work well. Horn prefers a Thill Gold Medal Big Fish Slider cork. This is a roughly cigar-shaped cork that floats on its smaller end and will not stand upright if set too deep and the weight reaches the bottom or the leader gets tangled on the cast. Horn prefers a 5-inch cork, with a 3/4-ounce sinker on calm days. He upsizes to a 6-inch cork and 1-ounce sinker in windier conditions.
“I really enjoy catching trout on artificials, too, but there is something special about when the float starts dancing or the bait comes to the surface trying to get away,” Horn said. “When the cork starts that nervous action or goes partially under, you know the bite is about to happen, and it gets exciting. Sometimes, it’s hard to wait until the trout takes it all the way under to be sure it has the hook.”
Allen Lakey of Winston-Salem, N.C., has been fishing at Oak Island for a lot of years and enjoys all fishing on the piers, but especially fishing for trout. He said trout fishing is only from daylight to about 10 a.m. or so, and then again in the late afternoon, so there is plenty of time to fish for kings, flounder and other fish.
Lakey said most pier fishermen are familiar with slide-cork fishing for trout, but he finds it difficult in windy conditions and many days are windy, especially during the afternoon bite. He uses a rig locally called a “sidewinder rig” when the wind gets up. Much like a drop-shot rig, the sidewinder positions the bait several feet off the bottom above the sinker.
“I also like to live-line minnows for trout,” Lakey said. “I prefer mullet minnows, but sometimes they are hard to find early in the year. When Spanish and bluefish are around, I tie a 16- to 18-inch, 30-pound mono leader to my line and add a No. 6 or 8 treble hook at the end. I fish with mono line, and if the Spanish and blues aren’t around, I tie the hook right to the end of my fishing line.
“You just flip the bait out and let it do its thing,” Lakey said. “Some days, it gets busted on the surface, and some days it has to get deeper or even to the bottom. The first tap gets your attention and you’re on full alert when they grab the bait.
Lakey said that while at first, it seems counterproductive, he doesn’t like to use large shrimp for bait. He said he doesn’t know why, but trout seem to prefer medium-size shrimp most days. Because of his preference for smaller shrimp, he primarily uses a No. 8 treble hook on his float or sidewinder rig.
If he switches to minnows and they are large enough, Lakey changes to a No. 6 treble, with gold his preferred hook color. Lakey also feels the water close to the beach is stirred up enough that fluorocarbon leaders aren’t necessary. He uses 30-pound monofilament and catches a lot of trout.
Horn and Lakey said when you find a school of trout it doesn’t take long to fill a 4-fish (North Carolina) limit. Most are 1- to 3-pound specks, but occasionally you catch one of the big sows. Once you have dinner in your cooler, it’s fun to switch over to artificials and catch and release trout. Horn suggested a light jighead and a 3-inch, pearl/white Gulp shrimp. He catches a lot, and the single hook makes it easier to release fish.