Saturday, September 10, 2016

Grey Trout - North Carolina Sportsman Column June 2016

***  This was first run in NC Sportsman Magazine June 2016  ***

Several years ago I was on one of my first attempts to kayak fish along the coast. I chose not to go too far away from land as I was still gaining my confidence in the stability of the craft. I kept the fishing simple, using a double drop bottom rig commonly used in bottom fishing for croaker and spot.
That particular trip I was catching a vast assortment of species on cut shrimp and bloodworms. Strange creatures of the deep such as oyster toadfish and lizard fish were hooking up. Of course, pinfish and sea mullet and pufferfish were plentiful, but in the mix I would occasionally bring in a gag grouper or some other unexpected entry as well.
One particular hit proved interesting. The fish hit with a quick series of pops and then bent the rod over. I thought maybe I had hooked into another toadfish, something that deserved to stay on the bottom. The strength of the fish was pretty good but it did not make the run I would have from a small shark for instance. I managed to keep the line tight without overpowering the fish.
Once the fish neared the surface I could make out a long body. I reached for the net from beneath the kayak seat and in doing so allowed the line to go slack. That was all it took for the fish to make its getaway.
Since that time I have become enamored with a certain species. Its cousin is much more sought after by both boat anglers and kayak anglers along the coast. After all, the speckled trout, once found, can be easy pickings. Speckled trout also have larger creel limits.
The grey trout, or weakfish as it is also called, has its own merits as well.
The weakfish lives in a different habitat than the speckled trout, preferring deeper and cooler waters. They also school like the speckled trout, but the schools are not as large in numbers or size.
The speckled trout can be found chasing schools of baitfish, especially in small inlets of shallow water where the baitfish cannot escape. Because of this, the speckled trout is commonly targeted at the same time as red drum and can be sight casted.
The greys are harder to locate. Because they dine in the deep, it pays to have a fish finder on board the kayak. The search is not necessarily looking for the trout themselves, but rather the schools of baitfish. If you can find the baitfish, you can the fish the prey on the baitfish. The grey trout is one of those predators.
When grey trout are feeding, you can bring them in on a variety of baits. The common bottom rig baited with cut shrimp will catch them. The problem is there are so many other fish the grey trout has to beat the pinfish, pigfish, croaker, spot, sea mullet, puffer and everything else to the bait. For this reason, it is best to use something that will weed out the other potential catches when targeting the weakfish.
A popular choice is a jig head with a buck tail and grub bouncing near the bottom. Even with this though, the pinfish will try to eat the grub tail.
Another, and my favorite is a Stingsilver. Depending on the current and wind, the weight will vary in order to keep it on the bottom. Stingsilvers come in multiple weights and also with and without buck tails.
I like to keep a variety at hand when going after grey trout. For example, on a recent trip I was having little success with a silver Stingsilver. I swapped over to one with a buck tail and still, the only thing I was catching were black sea bass (all under sized). I was about to move on to another area when my bottom rig took a good hit. I reeled in a 14 inch grey trout on a piece of shrimp. The rule is, if there is one trout, there are many, yet I wasn’t catching any on the Stingsilvers. The shrimp was not a good bait because of all the other competitors.
I then switched to a red and white Stingsilver. I dropped the lure to the bottom and on the bounce I felt a hit. Sure enough, there was another grey trout, this one 12 inches long. For the next 30 minutes I probably brought in 20 more weakfish mixed with a few black sea bass. All but one of the trout were legal size to keep.
North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries currently has a creel limit of one weakfish per day and it must be over 12 inches in length. If you plan on keeping one for a future meal, but want to keep the largest you can land, make sure you have a way of keeping the fish living. I have used float baskets attached to an anchor trolley on one side of the kayak.
Also, the fish gets the name weakfish due to the soft nature of the fish’s mouth. No need to set a hard hook. A lift of the rod is often all you need to embed the hook in the lips. When landing, a rubber net is the preferred method. Lifting the fish with rod, hook and line may tear the lip to the point of losing the fish.

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