Targeting Trophy Trout; Angler Insight Across State Lines (Part I)

Over the course of 4 years, Speckled Truth has developed from a concept to a community of trophy trout purist looking to become better anglers. Fisherman followers extend from the northern reaches of Virginia all the way to the cactus laden plains of South Texas and everywhere in between. Yet, despite such a reach, our objective remains distinct – targeting big speckled trout. However, the range in states is almost indicative of the unique challenges each estuary possesses. Too many times, I’ve heard “what works in Texas will never work in the Carolina’s” or a similar variation of this phrase. Although there is some ground truth to that particular statement, I firmly believe we let our state lines limit our imagination. In this 2-part series, we will explore 10 responses from three very successful trophy trout fisherman, and although there is bound to be some diversity, there may be more similarity than we may initially think. However, before we dive head first into the questions, let’s get a better understanding of the anglers behind the responses.

THE ANGLERS

The first is a quintessential southern gentleman who insist on calling me son. Ralph Phillips, a legendary trout angler hailing from the Palmetto state of South Carolina, grew up and still fishes the waters surrounding historic Charleston. Although he’s noted for big trout, he may be even better recognized for the Trout Eye jig head he produces which are sold by ZMan, under his tackle company umbrella called Eye Strike Fishing.

Second, is a young man from the Heart of Dixie - Dane Swearingen. This lower coast Alabama angler hailing from Daphne, which is a stone’s throw from Mobile Bay, grew up fishing this daunting and sometimes unforgiving body of water. Dane made the transition to purely targeting trophy trout years ago. He’s not only a consistent producer of big trout, which is legitimized by his social media, but he’s had some great success in the tournament scene.

Lastly, is a born and raised Texan, Capt Trey Prye. Despite being such a young man, he’s etched a spot among the elite Trophy Trout anglers along the Texas coast. Capt Trey is a licensed charter captain who owns and operates Capt Trey’s Trophy Charters. In addition, he’s placed and won many of the Lone Star states notable trout tournaments. All that said, if you ask him, his greatest pride and joy is being a father of 4.

LET’S GET TO IT

Question 1

With so many lures littering the market, and our fascination to ensure we have the latest and greatest, I asked a simple first question. “What 3 baits do you have confidence in while chasing trophy trout?”

Dane: Rapala Skitterwalk (pink back w/silver sides), MirrOlure MirrOdine (black back w/silver sides), Matrix Shad (Shrimp creole)

Ralph: Rapala Skitterwalk (Black back w/silver sides), Zara Spook (white w/ red head), Zman softplastics (match the hatch)

Trey: 6” Soft Plastic (Gambler Flap’n shad/MirrOlure Provoker), MirrOlure Paul Brown Floating Fatboy (Pink), MirrOlure Top Dog (Chartreuse/gold/chartreuse)

Although the lures provided aren’t in any particular order, both Trey and Dane mentioned Soft Plastics as they’re “Go-To”. Trey specifically mentioned watermelon and plum as his favorites, while Dane prefers a clearer color “shrimp creole”. Ralph, although not mentioning a specific color, recommended adjusting to water clarity and bait presence and profile. Dane and Trey obviously agree to matching water color conditions with lure color, like most of us would, but still prefer the aforementioned colors over any other in the color spectrum. This is one obvious difference based on estuary - Texas = Darker, Alabama = clearer & South Carolina = natural colors.

Having said that, each angler overwhelmingly prefers topwater as their method of choice, not because of the visual fulfillment, but because they all truly feel bigger fish are more susceptible to reaction strikes provoked by a topwater presentation. One interesting observation Trey mentioned was that MirrOlure Top Dogs sit lower in the water than many of the other lure producers. He feels hook up and land ratio is really high because a fish has a better chance of engulfing the whole lure. This, along with the baits pitch, is why he chooses a Top Dog versus a Skitterwalk or Heddon One Knocker.

Question 2

The thought behind this question was to really get into the mindset of each angler, especially with respect to estuary differences. My question was “What key feature, while on the water, do you look for while in search of trophy trout? (i.e. bait, water color, tidal movement, bottom texture, etc…)”

Overwhelmingly, each angler noted bait presence as the #1 key feature while looking for trophy trout. Even further, each angler then stated bottom texture/structure as their #2. After structure, that’s when it diversifies, but then only slightly. Dane states water movement as his #3, while Trey stays in the same concept with wind direction. Ralph states water color as his third choice and I can understand especially having fished the Wando and Cooper Rivers in SC.

For those that haven’t, tides in the Charleston area are diurnal, meaning two highs and 2 lows per day. In short, tides can fluctuate 4-7’ daily. That is a tremendous amount of movement compared to the norther Gulf, where a “strong tide” is 2.5’ but with only one high and low per day it pales in comparison to SC. Peeling the onion back even greater, I can also empathize with Trey’s response of wind direction. Texas waters have little to no tide, with little connectivity to the Gulf except through passes scattered sparsely across the never ending Laguna Madre. Wind direction not only helps “move water” but it helps set up certain spots that anglers intend to wade.

Despite thousands of miles separating the 3 anglers, it’s clear conceptually that big trout anglers like to see bait present. Additionally it’s clear that moving water is a theme and preferred by each, but based on estuary and the amount of tidal difference - this is the only initial change.

Question 3

This will be the last question we’ll cover in Part I of this article, and personally it’s my favorite. Being a trophy trout purist, means you are unique. From mentality to lure selection to time of year, why we do, what we do borders the limits of extreme. For most of us, we can even pin point the event causing our shift in mentality. So my question was “what advice would you give to someone who is looking to target trophy trout specifically?”

Immediately, without hesitation, Dane and Ralph stated confidence in throwing bigger baits. They both almost unanimously followed up with the disclaimer that just because you throw bigger baits doesn’t mean you’ll always catch bigger fish. Ralph even added to the equation stating that the odds of getting bit goes down, but the odds of trout size go way up.

Trey, if you recall from earlier in this article, already throws, on average, larger profile baits. So his main piece of advice to budding trout purist is too simply “slow down”, and he wasn’t talking about cadence or presentation. He literally means slow down your drift or wading speed – cover less area with your feet or the trolling motor and more water with your lure. Big trout by nature are known for their solidarity, so finding a “school” is pretty unlikely. Instead, covering more water with your lure and changing presentation to cover the water column is far more effective especially if you know the area you are fishing has big fish potential.

Although, this question had little to do with the estuary, it’s always encouraging to see that approach and mentality has little variation despite the differences in fishery. This is what makes our community as trout anglers special. We adapt to our conditions and embrace thinking outside the box despite our state flags.

TILL NEXT TIME

As you can see through the first 3 responses there are some nuances that apply to each fishery, but there are a lot of similarities too. In Part II, we’ll really dive into what each anglers feels differentiates their fishery from others, as well as, what they would describe as their perfect day to target big trout, among other things.

So until next time, never stop learning and continue being diligent and creative. You’ll be sure to grow as an angler despite your success.

Tight lines and God Bless!
Chris