Live croakers make fantastic baits for big speckled trout

Live croakers make excellent bait for many saltwater species. They work particularly good for enticing giant speckled trout. (Picture by John N. Felsher)

When a trout reaches about three pounds, it mostly eats finfish. If that’s what they want, offer it to them!

“Bigger trout are not like school trout,” explained Capt. Ronnie Daniels with Fisher-Man Guide Services in Pass Christian, Miss. “A big trout can eat a good sized fish. I’ve seen 12-inch fish come out of a 20-something-inch trout. Even a 4-pounder can eat a 10 to 11-inch white trout. Big trout might not feed much during a day, so an angler needs to capitalize on that by using a bait that the big specks definitely like to eat.”

Whenever Daniels specifically wants to catch giant speckled trout, he puts a live croaker on a hook. He sometimes uses croakers five to six inches long, but he prefers a 2 to 3-inch fish. It works equally well in Louisiana and Mississippi waters.

“Croakers are natural prey for giant trout, redfish and other fish,” Daniels said. “Almost anything out there will eat them, especially larger trout. I’ve always heard that trout eat croakers because croakers eat trout eggs. I don’t know if that’s true, but a big trout will definitely go for a live croaker.”

Grass flats

Capt. Ronnie Daniels with Fisher-Man Guide Services shows how to hook a live croaker to catch large trout, redfish and other saltwater predators while fishing in the Mississippi Sound near Cat Island. (Picture by John N. Felsher)

When fishing grass flats around the islands off the coast, Daniels uses a modified version of a Carolina rig. Instead of the usual lead weight, he attaches the main line to one end of an in-line chatter weight, a cylinder filled with rattles that resemble shotgun pellets. Lighter than a lead weight, a chatter weight holds a croaker down where birds can’t dive on it, but doesn’t pin the baitfish down in the seagrass. On the other end, he attaches a leader tipped with a 1/0 or 2/0 kahle hook.

“When fishing around grass beds, I always like to hook a croaker through the tail right above its anal fin,” Daniels said. “I put the hook right through the backbone and the lateral line on that bait. That’s the hardest part of the bait. It’s not going to kill him or paralyze him. The leader depends upon water clarity. If it’s super clean, I might use a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader, but in Mississippi Sound, we can usually get away with a length of 30-pound monofilament.”

Let ‘em swim

Toss the bait to a likely spot and let the croaker swim around. The action of the squirming fish provides enough temptation for any big trout. Every time the croaker kicks, it sends out additional vibrations from the rattling weight.

“Whenever the croaker is out there, the angler can feel him kicking around,” Daniels said. “If he stops moving, I’ll bounce the rod tip to get him out of the grass and back in the strike zone. Don’t reel it! Reeling it just drags the fish backwards. That’s not natural and a trout won’t hit it like that.”

Hold the rod tip at about a 90-degree angle to the bait. When a trout takes an interest, it will thump the croaker to shock it before gulping it down. A trout must swallow a fish head first to fold its fins down and keep from choking.

“The worst thing anyone can do when fishing with large live bait is set the hook immediately as soon as the trout bites,” Daniels said. “That just pulls the bait out of that trout’s mouth. It takes patience to successfully fish a big live bait. When the trout thumps, point the rod tip at the bait. That puts enough slack in the line for the trout to take the bait and swim off for a couple seconds. When the trout pulls the line tight, set the hook.”

For booking a trip with Ronnie Daniels, call 228-323-1115. On line, see


About John N. Felsher 52 Articles
An avid sportsman, John N. Felsher is a full-time professional freelance writer and photographer with more than 3,300 bylines in more than 160 different magazines. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at or through Facebook.

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