The Method, Man
Teasing and hooking gators is a team effort. One angler works the teasing rod, and the other fishes the lure or fly.
Trial and error proves that the teasing rod must be sensitive to strikes and have the power to pull the teaser away from a big, toothy trout. A stiff, 7-foot graphite spinning rod and a reel loaded with braided line perform both tasks well. Teaser line should be high visibility, such as yellow, to help the teaser operator keep track of things. I keep the teaser stealthy with 2 feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader between the braid and the short coffee-colored wire leader.
Ideal conditions find two anglers on a flats boat drifting across the shallows in a light breeze. With the possible exception of the Mosquito Lagoon and other skinny places, casting for trophy seatrout is not sight-fishing to individual fish, but rather casting to likely places such as sandy potholes or fan-casting a grassy expanse or crown on a flat.
Staying "on the drift" best accomplishes this, although poling and staking up for casting in becalmed weather is possible as well. The angler on the teaser rod will always do better from the poling platform. There's no better place to work the teaser, spot a gator that might be humping water or "submarining" just below the cut pinfish, and calling it out to the other angler who is positioned on the bow. This spread between the anglers is important but really essential when angler No. 2 is false-casting with a fly rod as the teaser person is pulling the pinfish out of the water to make room for the fly presentation.
Casting to gator trout is a game of stealth and patience. The angler working the teaser essentially fishes the flat, prospecting until he locates a trophy trout. The secret is to keep the teaser moving at all times and not let it slow down, settle in the grass or give a big, wary sow trout time to inspect it closely. Conversely, when a big trout seizes the teaser, it's crucial to overcome the impulse to strike hard, which spooks the fish. The best "dance step" for the teaser angler requires slow, constant reeling and a firm, steady pull to draw the teaser from the fish, as the angler casts a fly or artificial in front of the trout.
Casting to and hooking gator trout on fly tackle or lures has never been easy, and it never will be. But this method might make that task a tiny bit easier. And the way I feel about gators, I'm sure to keep using it.
About the Author: Jan S. Maizler is a Miami-based journalist who specializes in shallow-water angling. His latest book, Fishing Florida's Flats, published by the University Press of Florida, is available on his website, flatsfishingonline.com.