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Seatrout and Pinfish

Catching pinfish to use as bait for seatrout was quite an experience


Photo © Ron Brooks

Captain Kirk Waltz with a nice Jetty Trout

Photo © Ron Brooks
We were fishing out of Flamingo in Everglades National Park. It was spring and the seatrout and mangrove snapper were turned on and really being caught. So we headed for Blue Bank south of Flamingo in Florida Bay.

For years we fished with live shrimp and pinfish when we could get pinfish. If we didn’t find the commercial trout guys, we set out a couple of pinfish traps. They were very similar to the old standard freshwater minnow traps. It had a small, funneled opening on each end and we could adjust the size of the opening to get really selective on the size of the pinfish.

With a float attached to mark it, we would let it do its work while we fished with live shrimp under a popping cork. On a good day, we had enough pinfish for the remainder of the day within about an hour. On a bad day, we simply fished with the live shrimp until we ran out. But we generally always had more than enough pinfish.

When the rules were changed inside the park, and commercial fishing was stopped, it stopped all traps from being set, including our pinfish traps. There were some anglers who ignored the new rules and set their traps anyway, and they were seldom caught. They small number of park rangers did not have the time or resources to patrol all that water.

For my part, we followed the new rules. We still had pinfish for bait, but we caught them on hook and line. On every trip, we carried two or three of the small, three-piece cane poles. Using a number 10 hook, we placed a small piece of shrimp on it and dropped it into the chum line we had set up. A chum bag over the stern of the boat drew a ton of small baitfish, and a lot of bigger fish as well. We could catch enough live pinfish to use within about an hour, and we often simply used them as we caught them.

So here we were down around Blue Bank, anchored in about 6 feet of water over a sea of turtle grass. This area is home to spotted seatrout, mangrove snapper, and of course pinfish.

As soon as the chum line got going, we broke out the cane poles and started catching bait. But we ran into a problem almost immediately. It was a good problem, but a problem none the less.

When we hooked a pinfish with the cane pole, we couldn’t get it into the boat! The reason? A big trout would inhale the pinfish as soon as we hooked it. We actually were able to land a few trout because they refused to open their mouth and let the pinfish go! Most of them fought for a minute and let the bait go, but still chased it all the way back to the boat.

There were three of us fishing, and while two of us played with the pinfish and trout, the third one hooked a pinfish on as bait and began catching trout, one after another.

I said there were snapper down there as well, and they would do the same thing. They waited until the pinfish was hooked on that number 10 hook and cane pole, and then attacked it. Unlike the trout that would simply come to the surface and shake their heads, the snapper took off running away from the boat. That almost always meant a broken line. When we had a pinfish that got eaten we knew instantly whether it was a snapper or a trout.

Our plan had been to anchor there, catch bait, and then move to our “good” trout location. The fact is, we never moved! We caught our limit of trout – actually we kept less than the limit because we did not want to take more than we were going to eat that night. But we caught fish the rest of the day – right there in that one location.

I’ve done this more than once and had bigger fish taking our bait poles, but it was never as good as it was on this trip. It’s now a memory and a story that lots of people tend to smile and wink about. But – it’s true, believe me, it’s true!

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