Captains Ray Markham (left) and William Toney show a whopper trout that hit a suspending lure in less than two feet of water near Chassahowitzka Point. FRANK SARGEANT
FRANK SARGEANT/Tribune correspondent
Published: May 11, 2013
Updated: May 11, 2013 at 07:45 PM
May through July is prime time to find big sea trout along Florida's west coast. The fish move into grass flats as shallow as 12 inches to feed on finger mullet and pinfish at this time of year, and on the new and full moons drop off into the nearest channels to spawn.
Just about any shallow area covered with turtle grass can hold big trout at this time of year, but those with a strong flow of clear water and lots of bait will lead the pack.
North of the Bay area, there's great shallow-water action around all the rocky points between Crystal River and Hudson Beach — dangerous navigation, for sure, but once you get into water 2 to 3 feet deep you'll find big spawners in water so clear they seem to be floating in air. The MirrOlure MirrOdine is the best bait I've found to fool these sometimes skittish but often very large fish — it's more a suspending lure than topwater, but works well at depths as shallow as 1 foot.
The shoals and bays around the mouth of the Anclote and Pithlachascotee rivers hold big trout this time of year, and there are big fish around the spoil islands along the Intracoastal Waterway between Anclote Island and Clearwater Beach.
In the Bay area, prime locations include the Pinellas Point shoals, the Bulkhead east of Anna Maria, Rattlesnake Key flats near the mouth of the Manatee River, Miguel Bay southeast of the Skyway, Mariposa Key on the northeast end of the Skyway, Bishop Harbor, the South Shore flats as far north as the Little Manatee River, the Culbreath Bayou flats and Weedon Island flats south of Gandy Bridge.
In Sarasota Bay, Long Bar on the north end and Ringling flats on the southeast side are both productive. Terra Ceia Bay also has plenty of good trout structure along the shores and mangrove edges.
Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound have endless trout habitat, with some of the favorites the waters around Devilfish Key and Whidden Creek, Bull Bay and Turtle Bay, Jug Creek Shoal on the north end of Pine Island, and the flats just east of Captiva Pass, among many others.
In all these locations, there are two distinct approaches. If you want to concentrate of lunker trout, 4 pounds and up, the best bet is likely to be to fish 1 to 2 feet of water; for reasons known only to them, the largest fish often prowl the shallowest water, and this is usually a dawn and dusk bite.
Topwater plugs including the Spit-N-Image, Top Dog and Top Pup are among the better producers. A 5-inch soft plastic jerkbait will also do the job, with white the preferred color. In potholes between the shallows, the MirrOdine is hard to beat, worked in a series of short, sharp snaps of the rod.
Sub-surface lures are also effective and may be the ticket when the topwater bite slows — some good big fish lures include the DOA Baitbuster and the new Airhead soft plastic. The Baitbuster is fished exactly like a live mullet — throw it up-current and let the tide carry it as you take up slack. The Airhead is more of a swimbait — rig it on a big hook or a light jig head and swim it just faster than the tide flow — the wobbling tail does the rest.
Big trout also gather around cuts through the outer bars on falling tides. The water is usually shallow and clear in these areas, thus wading is the best way to approach without spooking the fish. As the tide falls, bait of all sorts pours through the cut, creating a smorgasbord for trout waiting there — and you'll also catch reds and snook on occasion. Cast uptide and work the lure down with the flow of the current — and hang on!