How to catch trout in the Florida Keys
Trout fishing in the Florida Keys is a very fun option for all anglers including small children. We catch sea trout all year long in Islamorada and in the backcountry everglades national park. Sea trout, or speckled trout (Specs), are actually not even a trout at all. They are in the drum family along with redfish and black drum. They make great table fare and are fun to catch on light tackle. As of this writing January of 2012, the only time trout is closed in our area is November and December. They must be within a slot limit between 15 to 20 inches to keep, with one fish allowed over 20 inches per angler. Total 4 per angler is allowed. Make sure to check regulations as they do change and may be different at the time your fishing. The main setup I use for catching trout is my my main backcountry rig I use most of the time. Smaller rod/reel setups make the angling aspect of it a little more fun so adjust your tackle to very light. I like a light braided line, I still use 15# line even on my small reels since I also target other species such as redfish and snook on them. Going lighter on the line will give you more castability and actual line on your reel, though obviously less strength to pull on fish. I also usually have a small 30# mono-filament leader, about 2 foot long, attached to the double line end of the braid with an albright knot. On the end of that I use a chartreuse 1/4 oz jighead with a shrimp. Different colors will work fine, some may work better than others on some days, but I've always used that color. Just break the tail off the shrimp and hook him through the tail and out through his legs so he pulls naturally and doesn't spin. In the spring and summer when the water is warmer, GULP shrimps are also a good bet for islamorada trout fishing. Live shrimp tend to be really small that time of year as well. I usually use 3 inch GULPS, though if you get 4 inch you can just cut them in half! When using GULPS you must set the hook a bit more and there is usually a bit more finesse involved in the jigging technique. While trout fishing in islamorada, you will learn they generally have a pretty light bite. You'll often feel them just slightly inhale the bait as your jigging it. It's pretty easy to feel with the braided line, just reel and come tight on them, and give a good little jerk to set the hook. No need to do a crazy hard hook set that's going to come flying back out of the water. Also keeping your tip low to the water will prevent that from happening. It is important to really be able to feel your bites as you want to set the hook before the trout really swallows the hook. They do have a tendency to get gut hooked easily if an angler doesn't set the hook in time. Trout will take a fly as well, if you blind cast into muds or run-offs. Another option is to fish popping corks which in some areas are fairly popular. The popping action helps the trout find the bait. I myself don't ever really fish them much, but the same general setup will work, just slide a popping cork a couple feet up from your bait. As you pop it, when you see the cork go down, set your hook then! To catch larger trout floating a small pinfish back is a good bet as well. You can also try fishing small ballyhoos cut in half, pilchards, or other cut bait on your jigs. Trout move around different times of year, some of the areas can be fairly tricky to get to and find so I recommend making sure you know the waters well. When the water is warm they can often be found out in the bays in muds that are churned up by fish feeding and bait schooling. Often times this may be mullet mudding mostly, but you will sometimes notice that the trout are in certain areas of the mud. Take note sometimes there will be a certain color to the mud that they tend to be in so you want to keep drifting in those areas. It may also be possible to anchor up within a mud and get the fish rallying to bite. Be courteous however, often you will see several boats fishing the same mud, so don't run through it or get too close to anyone else. If you think you may be too close, you probably are! Mixed in with trout will be ladyfish, jacks, pompano, mackerel, black tip sharks, and occasionally tarpon. The gulf is also a good bet in the spring and summer to find trout. Look for muddier water (not crystal clear usually) out past nine mile bank and further out into the gulf. There will not usually be a defined mud as there is in the bays, but rather just an entire area where the water is dirtied up. The other spots you often find trout is in the run-offs and creeks of the everglades national park. They are usually found here in the winter time and early spring mixed in with redfish, snook, and other species I mentioned before. If the water is too cold they will shut down, so fishing in the afternoon may be your only bet if at all. Falling tide is often the best time to fish these areas though incoming may be good as well. You will find areas with depressions, gravel bottom, and different things where the fish tend to lay. Staking up with a push pole in these areas is the best bet, off the edge of the banks so you can cast into the run-offs and channels. Be careful if anchoring in these areas not to damage the grass flats and such in the surrounding areas. Good luck learning how to catch trout in the Florida Keys, it's a lot of fun and can provide satisfaciton to anglers of all levels!
Capt. Rick Stanczyk