By Kelly Odom
Fish Eye News
MOREHEAD CITY – Spotted seatrout season is set to reopen June 15, and as the day approaches and water temperatures warm, anglers are sure to get excited about catching a keeper.
While the season is closed, many anglers may be practicing catch-and-release, which makes it the perfect time to brush up on fishing techniques that will give released fish the greatest possibility of surviving.
“Of all the fish we deal with, speckled trout is one of the most important to take great care with when releasing,” said Louis Daniel, director of N. C. Division of Marine Fisheries.
There has been an increase in the recreational fishing effort in recent years, and the number of recreational discards has increased since 2003. Fisheries managers are concerned with these increases because the recreational fishery tends to harvest small, young fish and there is a 10 percent discard mortality rate for recreational fishing.
An increase in the minimum size limit from 12 inches to 14 inches and reduction in bag limit from 10 fish to 6 fish was designed to allow more of these fish to live to spawning age. But Daniel said he would still like to see that 10 percent release mortality rate reduced.
That’s where ethical angling comes in.
When fishing for spotted seatrout, and especially when sitting on a school of small fish, anglers need to be diligent in using proper precautions in an effort to release the fish alive and increase their chances for survival.
According to Daniel, the most devastating practice when fishing for speckled trout is to use live shrimp on small gold treble hooks because the fish tend to swallow these lures. When the angler tries to remove the hooks, the angler can cause internal damage to the fish and give the fish less chance for survival. Anglers should avoid using treble hooks on small fish and tailor the lure for the least amount of harm to the fish.
Captain Gary Dubiel, owner of Spec Fever Guide Service in Oriental, does quite a bit of speckled trout fishing in the spring, early summer and fall. A significant portion of his clients practice catch-and-release regardless of whether there is a keeper season or not.
“I do a fair amount of teaching trips where I instruct them on how to appropriately hold the fish, do hook removal and then release, as well,” Dubiel said. “I think that is very important.”
Dubiel does all the fish handling for folks who aren’t on a teaching trip. He encourages anglers that catch and release large fish to take photographs in a reasonable amount of time. Cameras need to be ready to go before the fish is dehooked. He instructs the angler on the appropriate way to hold the fish so the fish is not stressed. Large fish shouldn’t be held strictly by the head. One hand should be used to support the belly while placing two fingers underneath the jaw and one finger on the exterior lip. This will give the angler good control of the head so the fish can be supported, they can get a quick photograph, and then put the fish back in the water, make sure it rights itself and release it. It should take off.
The style of hook Captain Dubiel uses is a shorter shank and has a wider gap which has a tendency to hook the trout more in the jaw than deep hook the trout. It’s not a bad idea to make a jig hook barbless if you are strictly in a catch-and-release mode, Dubiel said.
Dubiel almost always uses circle hooks for live bait fishing. Some think circle hooks will not catch a speckled trout as well as other hooks, but that is not the case, he said.
Because a speckled trout has a relatively light strike compared to other fish, some people incorrectly feel that the fish just picks at the bait, Dubiel said. With its anatomy of eyes far forward on the head and a large mouth, speckled trout attack the bait, but you are not going to feel a hard strike because he is not swimming away with the bait.
Captain Gary Dubiel, owner of Spec Fever Guide Service.
Dubiel said when the speckled trout will make a short controlled strike, his mouth opens and acts like a vacuum cleaner where the bait is sucked in; he is not burning any extra energy to swim off with the bait. It’s not that the bait isn’t in his mouth; at that point, the bait is completely immersed in the back of his throat in a relatively small pressure plate. Trout are a sensitive to the resistance of live bait or the taste of metal in their mouths, and they will open their mouths and expel the bait.
Trout that are hooked in the external, soft part of their mouth typically are a result of people waiting too long to set the hook. Anglers mistakenly think that they are hooking the fish that way because the fish isn’t eating the bait, but the reason is completely opposite. With a speckled trout, if they eat a live minnow or shrimp on a circle hook, then try to expel the hook, it will hook them in the jaw and usually in the more muscular part of the jaw. For this reason, you will seldom miss a fish when fishing with live baits on circle hooks, Dubiel said.
“There shouldn’t be a concern with the use of circle hooks when speckled trout fishing,” Dubiel stated.
Dubiel said that from a guide’s point of view, one of the hardest things that he has to overcome with a client is having them recognize the bite and then appropriately set the hook.
“Folks that I would typically use live bait to fish with may not always be the most skilled angler, so they are going to have the most difficult time with that,” Dubiel said.
Going to circle hooks is not only a good thing for the fish, it improves the percentage of fish these people catch since they are not required to set the hook, he said. If the line gets tight, all they need to do is start reeling in because the fish is hooked. If they are using live shrimp on a cork and the cork goes under, they can start reeling because the fish is hooked.
“Circle hooks not only improve the survival of the fish, they improve the amount of fish that you will catch,” Dubiel said.
If you are using a circle hook for fishing for speckled trout, you will want a light wire, wide gapped circle hook which is appropriate for a lot of inshore fishing, according to Dubiel. Unless you are using live shrimp, there is no need to have a barb on the circle hook, he said.
Fish have a very difficult time shaking free from a circle hook. Barbless makes it easy to back that hook out of their jaw and release the fish quickly. The only reason to leave a barb on a circle hook would be when using shrimp as bait since the shrimp has a tendency to kick.
“He’ll kick off if there isn’t a barb there,” Dubiel said.