Several years ago, I was on one of my first trips to try and fish from a kayak at the coast. I chose not to go too far from land, as I was still gaining my confidence in the stability of the craft. I kept the fishing simple, using a double-drop bottom rig commonly used in bottom-fishing for croaker and spot.
That particular trip, I caught a vast assortment of species on cut shrimp and bloodworms. Strange creatures of the deep such as oyster toadfish and lizard fish were hooking up. Of course, pinfish and sea mullet and pufferfish were plentiful, but in the mix I would occasionally bring in a gag grouper or some other unexpected entry as well.
One particular strike proved interesting. The fish hit with a quick series of pops and then bent the rod over. I thought maybe I had hooked another toadfish, something that deserved to stay on the bottom. The strength of the fish was pretty good, but it did not make the run I would have from a small shark for instance. I managed to keep the line tight without overpowering the fish.
Once the fish neared the surface, I could make out a long body. I reached for the net from beneath the kayak seat and in doing so allowed the line to go slack. That was all it took for the fish to make its getaway.
Since that time I have become enamored with a certain species. Its cousin is much more sought-after by anglers along the coast. After all, once found, speckled trout can be easy pickings. You can also keep more of them.
Grey trout, aka weakfish, have their own merits. They live in a different habitat, preferring deeper and cooler waters. They school like the speckled trout.
Speckled trout can be found chasing schools of baitfish, especially in small inlets of shallow water where the baitfish cannot escape. Because of this, they are commonly targeted in the same waters as red drum.
Greys are more difficult to locate. Because they dine in the deep, it pays to have a fish finder onboard your kayak. The search is not necessarily about looking for the trout themselves, but rather the schools of baitfish. If you can find the baitfish, you can find predators, and the grey trout is one of those predators.
When grey trout are feeding, you can bring them in on a variety of baits. The common bottom-rig baited with cut shrimp will work. The problem is, there are so many other fish, grey trout have to beat the pinfish, pigfish, croaker, spot, sea mullet, puffer and everything else to the bait. For this reason, it is best to use something that will weed out the other potential biters when targeting the weakfish.
A popular choice is a bucktail jighead and grub bouncing near the bottom. Even so, pinfish will try to eat the grub.
Another, and my favorite, is a spoon, a Stingsilver. Depending on the current and wind, the weight you need to keep it on the bottom will vary. Stingsilvers come in various weights and with and without buck tails tied into their treble hooks.
I like to keep a variety at hand when targeting grey trout. On a recent trip, I had little success with a silver Stingsilver. I changed to one with a bucktail and still, the only thing I caught were undersized black sea bass. I was about to move on to another area when my bottom rig took a good hit. I reeled in a 14-inch grey trout on a piece of shrimp. The rule is, if there is one trout, there are many, yet I wasn’t catching any on the Stingsilvers. The shrimp was not a good bait because of all the other competitors.
I then switched to a red/white Stingsilver. I dropped the lure to the bottom, and on the bounce, I felt a hit. Sure enough, there was another grey trout, this one 12 inches long. For the next 30 minutes, I probably brought in 20 more weakfish mixed with a few black sea bass. All but one of the trout were legal size to keep.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries manages weakfish with a federally mandated creel limit of one fish per day, plus a 12-inch size minimum. If you plan on keeping one for a future meal and want to keep the largest one you catch, make sure you have a way of keeping the fish alive in case you catch a bigger one and have to cull. I have used float baskets attached to an anchor trolley on one side of the kayak.
Also, weakfish get their name from the soft nature of the fish’s mouth. There’s no need for a hard hookset. A lift of the rod is often all you need to embed the hook in the fish’s lips. When landing, a rubber net is the preferred method. Lifting the fish with rod, hook and line may tear the lip to the point of losing the fish.