The 21 ft. bay boat streaked across Timbalier Bay like the driver was on an emergency mission. As he abruptly slammed the throttle into neutral, turned the ignition off, and headed toward the bow, he shouted, “Get me the net!”
As soon as he stepped up onto the bow platform—eyes hypnotically fixed ahead and upon the water—a casting tray loaded with a large cast net was handed to him.Wasting no time he pitched it into the air. When the net was pulled aboard, a mother lode of “white gold” spilled onto the deck— beautiful, hand-sized gulf menhaden (porgies) glimmered in the early-morning sunlight.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Capt. Carl Miller is a man torn between two addictions. The only problem is figuring out which is the most compelling, the pursuit of the bait or that which feeds on it.
It no secret to big-trout specialist that porgies are considered the number one bait for catching monster specks. That’s why those in the know will spend hours just locating and catching porgies.
“Sometimes it can take me all day to locate bait the size that I want,” Miller said. This day, however, was an exception, because it only took him about an hour.
Undeniably,catching and keeping porgies alive can be an arduous task, even for an experienced 10-year veteran guide like Miller. “I use a ten-foot net with about 161bs. of lead,”he pointed out. These specialized cast nets open wide and fall fast, something very crucial if you want to catch the larger, faster swimming porgies.
Through the years Miller has gotten the technique down to a science, using two different type approaches to sneak upon the porgies. One is with the use of a trolling motor, and the other is the high-speed entry method, as previously described. The latter technique allows the boat’s momentum to quietly glide into the intended location. Once the porgies are located—sporadic splashes and slaps on the water’s surface—the large and heavy net is launched from a specially designed casting tray. The casting tray makes throwing such a large net easy in a confined area like a boat.
Yet even with the proper gear and technique, locating porgies can present a real challenge. For example, on an overcast day porgies won’t make the normal surface commotion that usually gives them away. “If a cloud passes over,” Miller exclaimed, “these baits quit flipping, move and go deep.”Another dreaded problem is that certain times of the day they will move deep into the marsh where you cannot catch them.
Admittedly, catching porgies is one thing; keeping them alive is another. Anyone that has ever tried to keep porgies alive knows that they are very fragile and will die quickly without the proper bait tank and care. This where a round 25 gallon plastic container with two Rex-Air pumps will keep the porgies alive for 3-5 hours; depending on the number of baits contained at one time.
“One thing about catching big trout, you gotta fish for big trout,” Miller said. “People who catch one every once in a while—they’re fishing for small fish.There’s big fish everywhere, but you have to fish for ’em. If you fish for `em,you’ll catch `em. Everybody says they want to catch a big trout, but they don’t want to spend the time and the effort. You have to have the patience to do it.”
Ironically, while many other professional guides resort to fishing inconspicuous locations off the beaten path, this is not the case with Miller,who can be seen even on busy weekends fishing right along side other boats in his favorite territory—the barrier rocks of East Timbalier Island or Belle Pass.
The main thing is to have the right bait and then look for fishable water. This does not mean you have to have a good tide. Big trout can still be caught even on bad tides, so long as you find clean water.
Miller fishes with porgies from springtime to late fall and consistently puts big trout in the boat while others look on in total astonishment. “At any given time there’s big fish along this beach,” he said of the rock boulder barrier sporadically lining the Gulf side of the island.
This is a favorite haunt for speckled trout and other species, since they can get deep inside the hurricane-damaged barrier and hide in ambush. Some trout have been living inside of these slim-coated boulders for so long that their bellies have turned from white to black as a result.
Another secret to successfully catching big speckled trout is to cover as much territory along the rocks as possible—particularly as the weather heats up. According to Miller, the big fish spread out more in summer than in spring. That is why at times he will slip through certain openings in the rocks to get to the back side of the barrier to fish. This,however,is not recommend for those new to the area because rock boulders lurk inches below the surface and have wreaked serious havoc on many a lower unit.
Persistence is perhaps Miller’s most notable quality and one that does not come easily to most anglers in such a grueling environment. Therefore, it’s not unusual for him to stay out all day long hunting for bait and big speckled trout in the sun’s unbearable heat. In some cases—depending on how many people are fishing and how the fish are striking—bait has to be pursued twice or more each day.
A 7-foot rod armed with a bait casting reel works well for hooking these big boys, but there is a lot more technique involved than what meets the eye. Big speckled trout don’t just come up and swallow the porgy all at once on the initial strike.
The systematic approach involves casting and allowing the bait to swim on a free and slack line, usually no weight,depending on the current. However, if the current is moving and the fish are deep, a 1/16 to 1/4 oz. split shot or rubber grip weight should be placed 2-3 ft. above the bait. The key is using only enough weight to slowly bring the bait down. When the line is all set up right and the water is calm and clear, the porgy can be seen swimming around near the subsurface.
A watchful eye is needed for any fluctuation in the line while keeping the rod tip high and toward the bait. Strike sensitivity can be enhanced by pinching the line ahead of the reel. When a trout is in hot pursuit, the line will start to shudder like a catfish nibbling. This is the signal to feed line out for several seconds until it starts to run out on its own. At this point it is necessary to wait a couple of more seconds before setting the hook.
In order to successfully hook the fish, the rod has to be lifted over your head with a brisk sweeping action. Miller admits that even with such orchestration and calculation the fish sometimes is not hooked,depending on the trout’s attack approach. Sometimes the trout will only bite and release the bait, in an attempt to kill it, and then turn right back around and engulf it.
Once the fish is on the line and fighting, Miller says “You can’t go to pulling too hard on the trout or you’ll rip his lips. You have to keep him coming from the rocks but not jerking on him. Do it gradually.”
Of further significance is the type of hook and the placement of it in the porgy. That’s where a no. 3 Kahle horizontal hook placed through the nose section can be prove most effective. Too large of a hook can weigh the porgy down and hinder its natural swimming ability. If strikes are missed more than usual,hookup ratio can be improved by moving up one hook size or placing the hook in a different location. Miller claims that it is not a good idea to hook the porgy in the back because the bait will out maneuver the trout, making it a harder target.
It is most amazing how effective live porgies of such size drive speckled trout, into an uncontrollable response to strike.Even trout not much larger than the bait will try to take a swipe. On a few occasions specks came right to the side of the boat when the porgy hung over the side. It was as if the trout went into some sort of fixed trance, unhindered and unconcerned by our presence, upon catching sight of the porgy.
“I’ve seen trout come out of those rock flats and wop!—take that bait and go right back down,” Miller excitedly exclaimed.However, when the fish is not hooked, the bait is immediately reeled in and examined for any sign of bites,which inconspicuously show up as two small pin-hole punctures from the trout’s two fang-like front teeth. If there’s any evidence of the aforesaid, the porgy is replaced with a fresh one.
Miller’s biggest speckled trout have been caught at night, fishing only by the light of a full moon. The protected shallow lagoons on the back side of the rocks,according to Miller, make for good nighttime fishing. This is when the big, skittish trout come out to feed.
But all of the right bait and techniques won’t do much good if there’s a lot of noise aboard, Miller claims. Slamming ice chest lids or dropping tackle on the deck are things not conducive to catching the bigger trout. Like he says, “These fish don’t get this big by accident!”