Going after croakers

Columnist Keith Warren

Ask any serious speckled trout angler what’s the all around best bait for trophy trout and they’ll answer “live croaker”. This small bait fish is a natural enemy of the speckled trout. It preys on speckled trout eggs.

Croaker looks similar to a small redfish (without the spot). They are available at bait stands along the coast on a daily basis. Shrimpers bring the croakers in each day and sell them as part of their bycatch. The problem is finding them.

Because they are so effective at catching big trout, most guides establish a relationship with bait stand owners. I know of many anglers who have to get to bait stands at 2:00 a.m. to get their croaker. The guides usually show up at 4:00 a.m. Certainly arrangements need to be made with a bait stand well in advance to get your bait.

I fish with croaker a half dozen times each year. Most recently my guide, Captain Bill Sheka, Jr. took me to Baffin Bay where we landed over 100 trout up to 28 1/2 inches long in only five hours!

Sheka’s technique is to fish Baffin’s rock piles (which are now visible) with bright sun and a good set of sunglasses. Simply hook the croaker above the anal fin in the line on the side of the fish, using a specialty Mustad croaker hook. The hook is tied directly to 14 lb. test Fireline. This is a new, no stretch super line that’s perfect for croaker fishing. Use no weight. It will cause the croaker to get hung on the rocks.

The more alive they are, the better. You want them working on the end of your line. Make long casts to the rocks. Allow the croaker to swim freely, then slightly pump the rod, forcing the croaker to have to swim. This will also force the bait to emit a croaking noise that will attract trout. Don’t give the croaker too much slack because it will swim into the rocks and get hung up.

Rod position is a key. Keep the rod tip from the 10:00 – 12:00 position with the reel engaged. When a trout takes the bait, drop the rod top and simply set the hook. There is no need to allow the fish to swallow the croaker, as with monofilament line. Remember, Fireline has no stretch!

Many saltwater anglers believe using croaker for trout kills too many fish. It does kill some if they are allowed to swallow the bait. So use Fireline and make quick locksets. You’ll hook them in the side of the mouth 90% of the time.

Things to remember:

1) Make arrangements early with bait stands for bait.

2) Avoid throwing dead croaker in water. They’ll attract seagulls, which will take your good croaker before it gets under the surface.

3) Keep croaker lively in a good aerated bait well.

4) Prior to casting, hold croaker tightly in hand and shake vigorously. It’ll make it croak more.

5) When croaker become weak, try hooking two on the same hook.

If you’ve never caught a trophy trout, you need to try live croaker. It’ll make a believer out of you!

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