Tuesday, January 25, 2011

St. Joseph Sound - Seatrout Mecca

   I was born in Mease Dunedin Hospital and have spent at least half of my life fishing the beautiful St. Joseph Sound. Fishing in St. Joseph Sound has always been good but has improved even over my life time. The ICW here is wide and there are expansive grass flats that are home to essentially all of the coastal species including redfish, snook, and especially seatrout. Of all the areas I have caught seatrout here on Suncoast, the waters around Dunedin have always produced the largest and most numbers of trout. Fishing competition can be pretty serious here on a weekend but that doesn't mean you can't get up on some gator trout. Knowing a few things about trout biology as well as what baits and conditions are best will help you hone your trout fishing skills. This article is intended to help you be able to put trout in the boat here SJS in any season.

                               A solid Seatrout taken just north of Dunedin Marina in December of 2007

   Perhaps the most important thing to remember when targeting Seatrout on open grassflats is that they DON'T MOVE FAR. Most all trout are going to live their entire lives within a few miles from where they were born. On top of that about 90% of seatrout's movement is in an East-West direction. The direction will depend on a host of factors including wind, tide,and season. This little piece of knowledge can help tremendously when trying to locate trout. If you were on them yesterday and come back the next day and they are not there, your best bet is to move almost directly east or west and you will likely find them. Generally speaking, trout fishing is a factor of the seasons so here is a general break down of St. Joseph Sound trout fishing for the whole year.




  •  Winter-Perhaps the best time to get on a gator trout in the Sound is in the peak of winter. Cold weather seems to concentrate fish in areas where food is abundant. The key to winter fishing in St. Joseph Sound is getting out of the wind. If you are not being pummeled by a 15mph NW wind your winter options for trout are bountiful. Winter brings very low tides to St. Joseph Sound and anglers can take full advantage of bottomed out low tides to get on some monster fish in potholes. The first few spoil islands on either side of the Dunedin Causeway are surrounded by these sandholes that usually have at least a few trout in them. Now this might sound crazy but if you really want to know the secret to catching the biggest gator trout in the winter time in SJS, fish at night. Yes, that's right when the sun is NOT out. This is against much "common knowledge" of winter fishing but I can tell you the biggest spookiest trout feed on calm winter nights with high tides. My personal best trout of 33" was taken on a bitter cold, foggy night in early February of 2007 off a dock in Dunedin. The name of the game is to fish SLOW. When I say slow I mean each cast and retrieve should take at least 2-5 minutes with very small twitches of the rod tip with slow intermittent reeling. If your fishing shallow flats that are less 2 ft the best lure for this is a texas rigged Berkely Gulp Shrimp or something similar. Smelly lures like a gulp give you a big advantage when fishing very slowly. The more moon and skylight you have the lighter the color of the bait and vice versa. For night time fishing in depths greater than two feet perhaps the best trout lure out there is the all white 12-fathom SLAM-R or "Ghostlure" with a 1/8oz. Mission Fishin jighead. Try the flats on the Eastern shoreline north of Dunedin Marina. Also from Dunedin Marina to Stevenson's Creek along Edgewater drive is a great place to catch big trout from land during night-time highs. The water is shallow here so go with the texas rigged gulp shrimp or Exude DART. Fishing during the day time can also be very productive. Look for calm days with EXTREMELY low tides. Kayak anglers and those willing to put on a pair of waders can have banner catches of seatrout during mid day lows. Fish with small weedless jerk baits for the biggest success. Look for fish laying in pot holes or on the edges of channels or flats. Some of the biggest fish can be in less than 1 ft of water so don't be afraid to go shallow
  • Spring-Early Spring is an excellent time to fish for trout in St. Joseph Sound. Spring is when you have the most options trout fishing. Flats that are 4-6 ft in almost any grassy area of the ICW will hold small to medium sized trout most of the day. However, most fish will be near the spoil islands and Eastern shoreline this time of year. Many of the same winter flats are going to hold lots of trout in the spring. If you took advantage of winter low tides to find deeper areas of flats hit these areas thoroughly. In the Spring, days get longer days and higher, bigger tides make these areas prime deep-water escape routes and staging areas at the beginning and end of moving tides for big fish. When the tide is up they may still be in these deep areas but are more often on the edges of sand patches in 2-4 ft of water as close to the main shoreline as possible. These deeper areas may only be 6" to 1.5ft deeper but that makes a big difference for ambush predators like trout that can use 6 extra inches of water to hide effectively. When the water hits about 65-67 degrees in the spring trout start spawning. Some of the best days are just before this spawning activity begins. The fish tend to congregate before they move out to spawn near the passes. Look for calm days with some good sunlight and a high tide and toss jigs around the docks one the Eastern shorline in about 4ft of water. Top lure picks here are Exude Dart in Natural shrimp color or pumpkinseed with 1/8oz Mission Fishing jighead. Equally deadly is a DOA CAL paddle tail minnow in greenback or baby bass or Exude RT Slug in the same colors with 1/8 oz CAL jighead. The spoil island to the North of Dunedin Causeway are all PRIME spring trout spots with 20+ fish days with few small enough to keep are not uncommon.
  • Summer- Summer time trout fishing is an early and late affair (MOSTLY EARLY). Some real gators are caught in June and July in the pre-dawn hours until about 7 AM on Topwater plugs. Hurricane Pass and the beaches of Caladesi and Honeymoon within 2 miles of the pass can hold schools of 18-22" fish in late May and June. A topwater plug thrown in the surf just before dawn is a great way to catch a fat keeper trout and maybe a nice snook as well. When beach fishing for trout wading is sometimes necessary because they often sit on the far side of the bar as opposed to being in the swash channel. The pass it self will hold lots of trout in the morning too. A good swimbait in a whitebait pattern fished near the bottom is best in this situation. If you have live white bait, even better. Some of the best summer trout action in St. Joseph Sound is going to be on the back side of Honeymoon and Caladesi Islands as well as 3-rooker and Anclote key. Most fish are going to be concentrated on the flats just inside of the passes. These are good places to fish after 7 AM until about 9or 10ish.
  • Fall- The summer spawning seems to stop abruptly near the 4th of July and fish linger near the barrier island until the beginning of October. Come that time fall starts to be in the air and the fish usually take a pattern that is a mirror image of their spring time movements. Fall is the time when there is the most bait and food available and is the time to fish with big baits. Big sardines are deadly on trout schooled up in flats sandholes on the Eastern shoreline of the ICW. Dock fishing can be very productive this time of year with live bait and trout are just one of the many species you will run into along with reds and snook. The same tactics for spring trout are deadly for fall trout. Look for water temperatures around 70 degrees with clear relatively calm days with high tides to be your best bet. Overcast days in the late fall can be made topwater fishing on the flats. The fish are still active enough to hit the baits and the winter winds haven't yet scoured the grassflats and created and a perpetual topwater seagrass salad to foul up the lure. Topwaters are deadly because they are excellent search baits and can be cast nearly twice as far as many other lures making covering water easy. Don't overlook night time docklight fishing in fall. On top of trout you are likely to run across a snook or red as well. The light on the fender on the south side of the big bridge at the Dunedin causeway usually has hundreds if not thousands of trout on it in the fall. When fishing around lights at night, look for smaller fish directly in the light and the gators to be shadowing the edges of the darkness.

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