Seatrout Without The Shrimp

Capt. Bert Deener hasn't bought a live shrimp in 20 years, and with good reason. He's a master at catching seatrout on artificial lures.

Spotted seatrout are one of the most popular species along the Georgia coast. They are plentiful, excellent table fare and pretty accessible to anglers. Ask almost anyone in southeast Georgia, and they’ll tell you the best way to make them bite is with a live shrimp dangled under a float. The classic “trout rig” has been around forever, and most trout anglers use it. It simply works.

Capt. Bert Deener, of Waycross, is a region supervisor for the WRD fisheries section, and he loves to catch trout. I met him and his fishing buddy Wyatt Crews, 17, at the Crooked River State Park in mid November for a trout trip. As we pulled away from the ramp, I noticed that all of his rods were rigged with artificial baits.

“I bought my last live shrimp for trout in 1995,” Bert said.

And he told the story about getting hooked on artificials, suspended under floats. On a trip in November of that year, he used the artificial rig against his partner who was fishing live shrimp and defeated him soundly. He has never looked back.

Bert has been fishing the Crooked River area since he moved to Waycross in 1994, and he knows the marshes very well.

“This time of year the trout begin to bunch up in schools as the water temperature cools into the 60s,” said Bert. “When it gets into the 50s, usually in December, they will be tightly packed in large schools, and you can catch a limit in no time.”

The trout will be on that pattern until the temperatures drop into the 40s.

Areas To Fish

“Trout love a combination of flowing water near channels and oyster beds,” said Bert. “I like to target the mouths of creeks where they meet the main river.”

Bert says the oysters, which are plentiful in the area, tend to stack up on the corners of these creek mouths and form large beds in about 3 to 6 feet of water.

“You’ll find schools of trout hanging around these beds when there is enough water over them,” said Bert.

Current is a key element in the feeding patterns of the trout. They almost always feed more aggressively when current is present. Bert prefers to fish the last two hours of the incoming tide and the first two hours of the outgoing. There is plenty of water over the oysters, and the current turns the fish on.

“When the tide moves out, so will the trout, and they will likely be on the edges of flats bordering the creek or river channel,” said Bert. “Working along the channel edge is a great approach.”

We fished the North and South prongs of Crooked River as well as spots along the Intercostal the day we were out and caught fish at every stop.

The Rig

Bert’s rig consists of a float connected to a jig with 18 to 24 inches of 20-lb. test fluorocarbon leader. He uses two specific floats that are similar to popping corks and make a ruckus on the surface.

The Equalizer is an unweighted float that comes in various sizes. The Cajun Thunder is similar except it incorporates a weight to aid in casting. Both floats slide on a stiff wire about 6 inches in length and have a set of beads on each side, which also slide on the wire. The Equalizer must be matched with the size of the jig to ensure proper action, while the Cajun Thunder can be used with very light jigs since it has a weight built in. As an example, a 3-inch Equalizer balances well with a 3/16- to 1/4-oz. jig, according to Bert.

You can see examples of these floats at: http://www.academy.com/shop/pdp/equalizer-unweighted-oval-click-float/pid-20363.

Bert makes his own jig heads (Captain Bert’s Lures). One is a straightforward jig, and one (The Flashy) has a small spinner attached. These jigs are available in many local tackle shops, or you can by them directly from Bert over the telephone.

Bert finishes the rig with an Assassin Sea Shad soft bait. He has tried a variety of trailers, but the Assassin always works well. He also finds their color selection is more than adequate for his needs. As a rule, he uses clear colors on bright days and clear water conditions (glitter bug and gold fish are two of his favorites) and brighter colors like cantaloupe when skies are cloudy and the water is murky. In either case, he keeps a variety of colors on his rods to isolate what the fish are taking that day.

Bert will also tempt the trout with a Bite-A-Bait Fighter jerkbait or a Captain Bert’s Flashy Jig without a float on long stretches of deeper banks.

The Gear

Bert fishes the rig on light to medium spinning tackle spooled with 20-lb. test braided line. The braid and spinning outfits work well together to produce long casts, and the braid is abrasion resistant and doesn’t stretch on the hook set. For that reason, Bert recommends a rod with a soft tip, so you don’t rip the jig out of the trout’s soft mouth.

Technique

The float rig is fished in much the same way as you would a popping cork. Make long casts to the creek mouth or ledge, and allow the bait to settle. If the rig is set up properly, the float will stand vertically with the top half out of the water.

“If the Equalizer float lays on its side, the jig is either resting on the bottom or the rig is fouled on itself,” said Bert.

Pull it into slightly deeper water, and it should correct itself.

The retrieve is a jerk/pause motion that causes the float to make a disturbance on the surface and the float and beads to clack together.

The cadence matters, according to Bert. Twitch-twitch-pause-twitch-pause is usually his most productive cadence, but he will mix it up if he doesn’t get any response.

“Pay attention to the cadence, and duplicate what works,” says Bert.

Strikes usually come during the pause when the jig is descending. Long casts give you plenty of distance to work the bait.

Bert plans his day by picking out about a dozen likely spots and fishing each of them in rotation.

“If you find fish on a spot and they stop biting, they have likely moved out of the area,” said Bert. “But the fish will usually come back later in the day, so return to the spot and try again.”

Bert said that in December the schools are large and tightly packed, and action can be fast under the right conditions.

Of course, live shrimp will also work on the trout if you prefer, but the float and jig method really does work. And the frequent casting allows you to cover a lot of water.

“Keep the boat moving, and cast to a lot of spots,” said Bert. “Once you get one fish, there will likely be plenty more.”

We boated 49 trout on our trip, and the action hadn’t really gotten hot yet. Most of the time the jig doesn’t hook the fish deeply, so the non-keeper trout can be easily released. Trout must measure at least 13 inches to keep.

If you would like to learn more about this method or are interested in Captain Bert’s jigs, give Bert a call at (912) 288-3022. He is passionate about catching trout, and he’ll gladly share his knowledge with you.

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