By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
As far as Capt. Bobby Abruscato and Capt. Jay Gunn are concerned, speckled trout are almost jumping in the boat along the Alabama Gulf Coast.
A mild winter and good weather for most of the spring have created a trout bonanza that inshore anglers have been enjoying for several weeks.
Abruscato, who mostly fishes western Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island and Mississippi Sound, said trout fishing has rebounded to the glory days of several years ago.
“You know, 2014-2015 was an off year for me and some of the people I talked to,” Abruscato said. “Jay mentioned it to me, and I hadn’t realized it. That was the winter we had a really cold stretch with that sleet storm that happened the winter of ’14-’15. Some people said it was the oil spill, but those fish aren’t that old. Some people said it was the fishing pressure, but the pressure has been there for several years. Something dramatic happened, and I think it had to be the cold weather.
“Last year, we caught a lot of small fish. Fishing was pretty good last year. This year, the fishing is as good as I can remember it in a number of years.”
Abruscato said the fish are cooperating in just about every way imaginable.
“If you want to go slip-corking at the rigs or structures or reefs, that’s working,” he said. “I’ve had wading trips that have been great. I went the other morning in water so shallow that the trolling motor scrubbed the whole time, and we caught the heck out of really nice trout. It’s whatever you want to do right now. That’s when it’s really good.”
Abruscato said to try the reefs on the west end of Dauphin Island and the west-end beach, both inshore and the Gulf side, weather permitting. Fish are hanging out in the grass and on the oyster beds on the north side of Mississippi Sound, and the petroleum rigs in Mobile Bay are holding fish.
Abruscato said he hasn’t tried croakers for bait, yet, but he’s catching fish on live shrimp, Vudu shrimp and Gulp shrimp under popping corks, topwater plugs, like Skitterwalks, and Slick Lures.
He said the fishing has been so good that he can target a specific size of fish.
“Most days I can go out and make sure the charter gets their box fish,” Abruscato said of the fish that go into the ice chest. “I don’t like to keep anything over 20 inches. So, I can get a limit of 16- to 20-inch fish and then go catch some picture fish in the 3- to 5-pound range. But we’re also catching small fish mixed in with the keepers, which bodes well for the future.
“Right now, those big females are loaded with roe. I’ll clean 18-inch fish that will have roe sacks the size of a cigar. They are spawning like crazy right now. And there’s no reason that the trout fishing shouldn’t stay good. The water temperature is roughly a month ahead of a normal year. If it continues to get warm, the fish may not be in shallow water as much. But you should be able to slip out and catch fish on structure.”
For the Eastern Shore, the speckled trout report from Gunn is almost a mirror image of Abruscato’s.
“They’re biting from about Fairhope all the way to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach,” Gunn said. “You can catch them in multiple ways. It’s just that time of year. If you can’t catch trout right now, well.… It has been pretty easy catching a limit. I had a charter of three people the other day and we had a limit of trout in the box in less than an hour.”
Gunn said factors other than the number of fish available will likely define your fishing tactics.
“The tides, the wind and weather conditions determine more of whether you’re going to have a good trip and not so much about the fish being there or biting,” he said. “With the conditions lately, you just go where the water is clear enough to fish. We’ve had some windy conditions lately, so sometimes you may not get to use your A or B plan. I just have to decide where to go, depending on the current conditions.
“On my latest trip, we caught fish in 2 feet of water, 12 feet of water and 18 feet of water. There is a good year-crop of 16- to 18-inch fish, like it was several years ago.”
Gunn said the biggest mistake he sees inshore fishermen make is relying too much on patience.
“You’ve got to cover water until you find the fish,” he said. “Don’t stop until you do. I think the worst thing I see fishermen do is waiting for the fish to bite. If you haven’t caught them in 10 minutes, you’re not going to catch them. Keep going to different spots until you find them.”
Right now, Gunn is using several methods to catch fish, including live shrimp, live croakers and plastic grubs on ¼-ounce jigheads.
“I use minnow-body grubs that imitate silverside minnows, mullet or menhaden,” he said. “But the grub fishing is probably not going to last a whole lot longer. In the next week or so, the fish are going to transition to live bait. Free-lining live croakers will be the ticket for the bigger trout. Except for the morning topwater bite, you’ll have to go to live bait in the next couple of weeks. It will stay that way until the fall.”
Gunn also had some good news about a popular inshore species that has been hard to find since the oil spill in 2010.
“Flounder are on the rebound, too,” he said. “I’m catching one to four a day while I’m trout fishing. On the days I don’t catch one, it’s probably because the trout are so thick that they hit the bait before it ever gets to the bottom.”
In another bit of news for inshore anglers, the Bernie Heggeman Reef was dedicated last weekend in honor of the avid inshore angler from Mobile who drowned during a wade-fishing trip in 2014. The Heggeman Reef, a joint project funded by CCA Alabama and the Alabama Marine Resources Division, was constructed of 52 eco-reef modules placed in clusters of three to four modules. Each module consists of three concrete/limestone discs 4½ feet in diameter on a fiberglass piling extending 4 to 5 feet above the seabed. The reef is located at the old "Blue Rig" site just southwest of the Shrimpboat Reef. The coordinates are N30°16.995 W88°17.225.
PHOTOS: (David Rainer) Bobby Abruscato has enjoyed a banner year for speckled trout in Mobile Bay and Mississippi Sound. Jay Gunn scoops up another speck caught on live shrimp under a popping cork on the Eastern Shore. Grady Gunn shows off a 22-inch trout that inhaled a live shrimp.