Shades of Grey

Shades of Grey

Seatrout may have a reputation for a soft mouth and weak rght, but they are a great target for shore-bound anglers.

  • By: Peter Morgan

We all saw it. John's fly was nearing the end of its swing and he had made two short strips when his line stopped. He set the hook firmly but not too hard. John had a solid hookup. The backing flew off his reel as we stumbled down the slick jetty in the fading light in pursuit of a seatrout headed for the open ocean. Up to the surface the fish rolled, then headed back down. John was careful to keep enough pressure on the fish so it wouldn't get away, but not so much so that the fly would pull free from the fish's soft mouth.Soon we removed the fly from its jaws and set the fish back in the water. The waves surged over the gills and, with a stroke of it's tail, the seatrout glided into the embracing flow of the estuary once again. Although they are known by many different names throughout their range, most anglers call them seatrout, weakfish, greys or squeteague. Scientifically, however they are Cynoscion regalis. Of course, if you want a local angler to know what you are talking about, use the name indigenous to that area. I've had jetty anglers in New Jersey look at me like I was nuts when I told them "Yeah, we got a few trout off the end," and I have completely perplexed some Carolina tackle shop clerks by asking for "weakfish" flies. But whatever they are called, seatrout are one of the best quarries for the shore-bound fly angler. The seatrout fishing starts relatively early in the mid-Atlantic region, is in full swing by early June and continues through the summer. I remember my father scouting for likely holes around steel groins in the surf as he watched me freezing my butt off trying to surf in March. The next day we returned, and as I once again bashed my head against the icy eight-foot waves, my father landed numerous 12- to 18-inch seatrout while barely wetting his toes. In the spring, big hen seatrout are often caught during daylight hours along jetties and in the surf. But by late July their feeding has often moved to the evening hours inside inlets, in the backwaters and along sod banks. By early summer, the seatrout action along the barrier islands off the Carolinas has moved for the most part into the inlets and back bays. The beaches down South also offer a fairly consistent late-fall fishery for seatrout right through January and even February, the secret being a few days of mild weather. Seatrout Tactics Beach Angling Seatrout seldom give themselves away in the brash shows of gluttony common to stripers and bluefish; these creatures are subtler than that. The key to locating seatrout in the surf is an eye for detail. Seatrout prefer to lie in holes and sloughs with moderate currents that bring them crustaceans. From their holding areas in these ambush points, they jump their prey. It is unfortunate, but many beach anglers ignore these close spots and cast towards the horizon when the fish are literally right at their feet. The best way to fish these spots from the beach is to work them like a river: Make up-current quartering casts so the fly drifts into the lies where the seatrout are holed up. Jetties&Bridges The waters around these structures are probably the most traditional areas for attracting dedicated seatrout anglers in the northern part of their range. Seatrout are easy targets when they are patrolling the ends of jetties. I've found these areas are usually a good bet when the weather is grey and stormy. More consistent spots where seatrout congregate are the inside corners where the jetties end. These pockets are often a hot spot during the evening calm of midsummer. Backwaters Fly anglers of the mid-Atlantic states have one consistent option beyond flounder and roving snapper blues during the doldrums of midsummer: Wait until nightfall and creep along the sod banks of a shallow bay or small salt creek for a chance to catch the seatrout that feed in these areas at night. Situations like this often call for a small boat--a canoe or kayak works well--otherwise you'll have to contend with thick stands of poison oak and fight off an onslaught of mosquitoes. In back bays, look for sod banks adjacent to deep undercuts and the necks of salt creeks where the fish and crustaceans tend to funnel through with the tidal flow. It's a little different down South where there is less sod and more spartina grass; plus the Southern bays are bigger and more open. Here the angler needs to look for potholes, oyster beds and the edges of deep channels to find the seatrout. There are more than a few theories about why seatrout bear the moniker "weakfish." Some say it's because seatrout don't fight very hard in proportion to their size, while others contend it relates to the propensity for flies to pull loose while the fish are being fought. Although I disagree with the former, I will confirm the latter as a definite fact. Either way, the solution to both prob-lems is using the proper tackle. The heaviest rod I'll ever use for seatrout is an 8-weight, but a stiff 6- or 7-weight is the best way to go. Add a good large-arbor reel with plenty of backing and you have yourself the ultimate seatrout setup. For the most part all you'll need to catch seatrout in the surf or off a jetty is a sinking-tip line or fast-sinking shooting head. When fishing off boats, of course, you will want a full-sinking line that goes deep. For those rare occasions when the seatrout come up to the surface--mostly at night and during heavy weather--an intermediate line will work. Fly selection isn't very complex. Bright, heavy Clousers in chartreuse, yellow, pink, white and orange, or any combination of these, are favorites down South. In New Jersey, most seatrout anglers swear by the Popovics Jiggy Fly [See tying instructions on page 62]. An interesting tactic to try during the early season is to drift a shrimp pattern through the mouths of salt creeks at night. The method is much like nymphing a stream: Cast up-current and maintain contact with the fly as it sinks and tracks with the flow, then proceed with a slow, steady retrieve. Strikes are subtle as trout often come from behind, take, then move up-current with the fly. Get a tight line but don't whack them too hard; you don't want to rip the fly out of that delicate mouth. Tying the Jiggy (Photographs by Ed Jawororski; tying instructions by Bob Popovics and Ed Jaworowski from Pop Fleyes, Stackpole Books, 2001) Popovics Jiggy Hook: Tiemco 911S or other long-shank hook, sizes 2 to 2/0, bendback optional Weight: Silver, gold or black cone or Jiggy head Thread: Fine monofilament Wing: Bucktail or Super Hair (your choice of colors) and Krystal Flash or Flashabou Eyes: Self-sticking prism eyes covered with Devcon clear five-minute epoxy 1. Bend the barb flat if desired or necessary to accommodate the cone. Slide the cone to the hook eye and attach the tying thread close behind it. 2. Attach sparse bucktail, roughly twice the length of the hook shank, close behind the cone. It is important that the hair be tied only on the top of the hook shank. 3. Add desired flash on top of the bucktail. Here we have used Krystal Flash. 4. Add more bucktail of a similar or contrasting color on top of the flash. 5. Add a prism eye on each side of the fly over the wraps, and hold them in place with two wraps of the clear thread. This will ensure that the eyes stay put and the thread will virtually disappear when the epoxy is added. 6. Whip-finish and tie off the thread close behind the cone. 7. Cover only the eyes and wraps with epoxy. Only one coat is required. 8. Rotate the vise as needed. Note the bare hook shank and absence of hair on the underside. 9. The finished Jiggy.