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March 16, 2011

Teasing Gator Trout

Try this proven strategy to take big trout on lures and flies

More than 15 years ago, I discovered how to target and consistently take trophy seatrout. Though I'd been catching loads of those smaller, tasty spotsides since the early '60s, I learned that the truly huge specimens - called gators by many Floridians - were cautious and not easily fooled. Hard to tempt and harder to hook and land, those few I managed to catch seldom fell to artificial lures and showed a decided preference for natural bait "of the finfish kind." Parenthetically, live shrimp never lasted long enough tempt the gators. All manner of life-forms quickly destroyed and consumed shrimp. I gave up on crustaceans for trout in South Florida decades ago.

My knowledge that gators prefer a mouthful of scaled protein accompanied me through my evolution to exclusively casting lures and flies for seatrout. Not surprisingly, throwing imitations for the big 'uns really got hard - and I needed some help. The classic bait-and-switch, which was born on the used car lots of Florida and migrated to the offshore cockpit, proved the perfect model for tricking big trout into hitting artificials.

The theory is simple: Get a gator homed in on a hookless natural-bait teaser, then jerk the teaser away and replace it with an artificial before the trout can change its mind.

Dialing for Gators
There was no other skirt that gators whistled at as frequently as the pinfish. I knew advocates of the less-numerous pigfish, but there was no way a piggy fillet could retain its alluring grunt when rigged as a teaser.

My pinfish teaser has gone through a number of incarnations. I originally used a hook on a pinfish fillet, but found that it hung up in weeds and grass, and the hook spooked gator trout when they grabbed it. I also learned that tying the hook directly to fluorocarbon leader resulted in too many cutoffs from barracuda and sharks in my home waters on Biscayne Bay. These problems gave rise to the rig I now use. A wire leader, passed through the pinfish lips and finished with a haywire twist, gives me a weedless morsel that doesn't bite back. My experience taught me to use shorter, lighter gauge wire in clearer water. A dark-colored swivel on the top of the wire leader retains the stealth and prevents the teaser from spinning on the retrieve.

My pinfish teaser can be cut in two ways for differing conditions. I plug-cut my pinfish into a finless, tailless creation when I want a teaser for windy conditions over deep flats. This shape casts well and sinks quickly. When I'm hunting gators in calm, shallow water, I cut a small, finger-size fillet off the side of a big pinfish and loop it to the wire leader. This creates a slow-sinking teaser with lots of scent and flavor.