It’s no secret; I love big trout. Aside from talking about them, I love sharing pictures of them, but more important, I love targeting them.
A common question I get is, “What’s the most-important thing to know before targeting big fish?” As simple as that question seems, I could probably compose an hour-long dissertation highlighting the complexities of that pursuit, but I’ll boil it down to two words: Think big!
Follow my logic for a second. I’m not just talking about lure profile, I’m also talking about mindset and structure.
Mindset is first and most important, I believe. Having a “big” mindset helps manage expectation. It also helps frame the level of effort. I equate this to the BASS Elite Series, where the best anglers from around the world chase around for five bites in an 8-hour day. Knowing that small fish won’t win any money, they shift their mindset to target quality bites instead of quantity.
The same applies to fishing for trophy trout. If you’re serious about looking for your personal best, you have to fish for your personal best. This often could mean fewer bites, but managing your expectations through a shift in mindset helps fill the void between fish. After all, its about catching the one fish that could eat the other 25 you’ve been catching.
The second point is structure. As we become comfortable fishing an estuary or location, it’s easy to learn spots and become pleased with their productivity. From ledges and dropoffs to flats and bottom contour, it’s easy to accentuate why some areas are more productive than others. The same holds true with big trout — but they don’t want structure, they want “big” structure.
Think about your favorite fishing areas and consider why some spots hold bigger trout. It may be the time of year and the structure on the bottom (spawning). It may be a bayou draining into another bayou (current) or it may be something like dock pilings or a cement wall (structure/bait association).
To highlight my point, I’ll use Mississippi’s Gulf Coast as an example. Not only was I fortunate enough to call it home for many years, I got to see firsthand how targeting big structure can lead to big trout.
Mississippi’s coast is unique: small but very dynamic. It has rivers, beaches and I believe, most important, man-made structures. Gulfport Harbor, right in the middle of the coast, is an enormous man-made combine that provides not only structure but lots and lots of “big” structure. From steep, 20-foot drops to concrete pilings and large boulder banks, everything about it was larger than normal. In addition, it is on the fringe of the Mississippi Sound. This contributes to great tidal influence, impacting bait variations and abundance. In short, this is a small ecosystem in the grand scheme of it all. As a result, it’s no surprise this area produces such large trout.
In addition, Gulfport Harbor isn’t the only man-made structure on the coast. Casinos and shipyards litter its beaches from Louisiana to Alabama, and in full confidence, most of them produce larger-than-normal trout. So the takeaway from the second point is if you have jetties, bridges, rigs, etc., in your area, it’s probably not a bad place to start looking for big trout.
Last but not least, lures. This is probably, in my view, the least important, but it does hold weight when the other conditions have been met. Anglers notable for targeting big trout generally throw three things: a slow sink/suspend-style bait (Corky/27MR), a topwater, or a big soft-plastic, 41/2 inches or larger. That’s not to say you can’t catch them on smaller, soft-plastic baits, but if you want to increase the size of the trout you catch, increase the size of your bait.
In the Dirty 30 and Trophy Trout citation data collected we see a noticeable increase in bait size as water temperatures begin to drop — a decline in small, soft-plastic baits and an increase in big, suspending or topwater baits. This tells us one of two things: first, that anglers are making a cognizant choice to throw larger plugs; or second, fish have shifted their diet to larger finfish, thus resulting in the action from No. 1.
Given slightly more thought, it makes sense because winters are harsh. More often, heartier forage can sustain the brutal decline in water temperatures, leaving them isolated and susceptible to larger trout we target. Also, the winter is the capstone for many of the fish that hatched in the spring. Over the course of those six months, fingerlings grew to a more-sustainable size, in turn leaving larger trout to target something bigger than what was incredibly abundant in the spring: small finfish and/or shrimp.
So as we progress into the winter and you’re looking for that trophy fish, just remember, everything about big trout is exactly that — big.