About five years ago I was fishing with my business partner Ralph and Joey P. from Z-Man Fishing in the springtime in Charleston and by all accounts we were having an average day of catching. The catch could not have been too memorable because I can’t recall many details, however, that was all to change suddenly. We were making a second pass down a stretch where we had some marginal luck when the wind suddenly shifted around to the South and picked up to about 15 miles per hour. Just like a switch flipped, we all started bailing trout, big trout.
We were in the same spot using the same lures as we were before, and the feast lasted for about 30 minutes before it shut off completely. When it was all said and done, I think we caught six or seven trout over 20” and at least one threw the hook. In the days, weeks, and years to follow I have been in pursuit of repeating that day, and also, trying to understand just what the hell happened?
These fish must have been in the area on the first pass, or at least close by, and had ignored our offerings. What exactly caused the voracious feeding frenzy? Clearly it had something to do with the weather. The wind shift to the south surely indicated a front passing and likely a drop in barometric pressure. We have all heard that trout bite well right before a front, but this was something different, a whole different level of feeding.
In many parts of the country, its proven that big fish bite best on solunar periods, when the sun and moon and combinations thereof combine, such as overhead, below or at the horizon. I think this is mostly true in those areas with slight tidal flow. In Charleston, our tides are dominated by the moon overhead and under our feet and coincide with our large high and low tides. New and full moons create our biggest tides and that usually negates the benefits of solunar for us, in my opinion, due to the large amount of moving water it creates.
My friend Chris Bush of “The Speckled Truth” calls groups of big feeding trout wolf-packs. I love that term because how else would you describe what happens when the proverbial switch flips? I feel like there may be many things that can fire off a frenzy, and I don’t know how often it happens. Daily? A few times a week? Once or twice a month? It seems that when these frenzies happen its often about 30 minutes long, give or take, in my own experience and in informal polls of fellow trout junkies. If you think analytically about it, if you aren’t in the right place, at the right time, with the right tackle and skills – you’ll miss it. That’s a lot to come together at the same time, and probably why I’ve only experienced something like it one other time since. The more I think I know about big trout, the less I understand, it seems. But the pursuit of understanding their behavior is a life-long endeavor.
Fast-forward to this Spring. I have been super busy since the beginning of the year and fishing is taking a back seat. I’m trying to fit in half-days when the work schedule allows. To give you an idea, I was on the water just twice in February, well under my usual pace. It was late March and a day of significance: My first COVID-19 vaccine dose. I traveled 30 minutes each way to my appointment and since any semblance of work productivity was lost I figured I might as well hook the boat up and hit the water. I quickly tied on a couple lures that select for big trout; a Rapala Skitter V – as I was hoping for my first topwater trout of the year, and a Mirrolure/Paul Brown Soft-Dine which is a suspending lure I’m trying to gain confidence with. The Paul Brown is a lure I’ve gravitated to since it sinks a little faster than a standard Mirrodine with an enticing wobble and of course I love that it has a giant eye on it.
As I launched my bay boat, I took note of the conditions. The tide was incoming and very slow moving, almost like molasses. When life hands you molasses, you look for syrup, in other words, faster moving water. This will be where the river or creek necks down or turns a corner. Bouncing around to different spots that meet this criterion, I was able to catch several small, grunting, trout and a really nice redfish. Grunting trout, of course, are males, and when the males are feeding often the females are not. The afternoon wore on and casting a Texas Eye to a grassy point a solid thump led to my second “Release Over 20” trout of the year. If nothing else, that was a day maker.
As the sun started to get lower in the sky, I approached a bank where I have caught some nice trout in past years. A long cast to the grass line resulted in a solid strike and the fish turned and sliced off to the side. Glimpsing silver I immediately thought to myself this is a giant trout. I wish I could hear a recording of the narrative as I talked myself through this fight. “PLEASE don’t throw the hook…EASY…Don’t go that way!” You see, most gator trout caught are first mistaken for a redfish, and knowing trout have soft mouths you really need to baby the fish to land it unless you are lucky enough to hook it in some cartilage. Waiting anxiously to catch a glimpse of this beauty it finally came up and…somehow my trophy became a 26” redfish. A great catch no doubt, but very disappointing when you’re expecting the trout of your life.
After I took a few moments to tag and release the fish and gather myself, I noticed the sun had set and it was getting dark. I moved down the bank a bit and grabbed my rod with the topwater plug and launched a long cast. Working the plug slowly and erratically to act like a wounded baitfish I wondered if something would happen. About halfway back to the boat a trout launched itself and the plug like a kingfish a couple feet out of the water, missing the hooks. It did not come back for seconds, so while trying to ignore the 30 or so gnats having their own feast on my exposed skin, I cast the plug back to follow the same path. In about the same spot, this time the plug got slurped, not slammed. That is a telltale sign of a big one. After a tense few moments fighting the current and drag a 21” trout was hoisted to the boat. One strike is random, but two is a pattern, and I knew the big trout were feeding.
The next half hour was a blur as I landed five trout over 20” consecutively on topwater. The largest was 23.5”. The best part, however, was when the topwater bite slowed a bit, I decided to throw the Soft-Dine since I knew the fish were there and feeding. I made a long cast, silently counted to 5 to let it sink, and pumped the “corky” once, followed by long pause, then pumped it again. The plug suddenly stopped and I set the hook and felt the weight of yet another grown trout. Not being able to see very well I could only guess at the size. Sliding the fish into the net I was looking at another 23 incher. Catching this fish on the Paul Brown plug was so satisfying and definitely helped me gain confidence in it.
My next fish was only 18”, and since the streak was broken and it was getting late, I decided to leave them biting and head back to the landing with satisfaction that I had just experienced another of these wolf-pack bites where I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. How cool is it to be shaking with excitement after a day on the water?
Based on feedback from friends and entries to the Release Over 20 program we seem to have a fair amount of 23” trout this year. These fish are 6 to 7 years old and survived our last cold snap in 2018. Let’s handle these big females with care (please, no fingers in the gills) and let them go to become even bigger fish to catch in the future.
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing