There might be better ways to catch trout, snook and redfish on the flats than using topwater plugs, but there’s no way that’s more interesting and addictive. When a big fish crashes the bait — or even better, smashes at it three or four times and misses — the excitement level is as good as it gets in shallow water fishing.
Spring is prime time for this action — just as the migration of scaled sardines hits the shallows and temperatures are warm but not hot, the flats species spread out over the turtle grass flats at depths of 1 to 5 feet and it’s game on for throwing surface lures.
For big trout, you can’t do better than easing along in 1 to 2 feet of water at dawn, particularly in areas where you see adult mullet waking and jumping. For some reason, the lunker trout like to hang with the mullet, perhaps eating shrimp and baitfish they flush out in their feeding. High tide is the time for this action. You’ll also find lunker trout around oyster bars and around the lime rock points that stretch from Hudson north to Crystal River.
Because the water is so shallow, a fairly subtle topwater is often the ticket for this fishing. Something such as the 7M MirrOlure, which has lots of flash but makes minimal noise, can be the ticket.
As the water starts to fall, snook, reds and the big trout will all move to the sloughs. On Tampa Bay, there are run-outs through the outer bar between the flats and the deeper open water in many areas; find one of these as the tide starts to fall, stick your boat well away and wade to casting distance. Throw a topwater like the Spook, She Dog or Spit-N-Image up-current and bring it zig-zagging back down with the outgoing flow. The cuts are typically 2 to 3 feet deep, 4 feet at most.
Topwaters are also very effective for trout simply drifting open flats at depths of 3 to 5 feet. And here, the biggest, noisiest lures you can heave will do the job — the Super Spook, Top Dog, Devil’s Horse and other noise-makers are the ticket. Places like the Clam Bar and the Pinellas Point flats are frequently good anytime there’s good current flow, as are the flats south of Manbirtee Key and those around Rattlesnake and the Bulkhead. At Charlotte Harbor, you can’t do better than Jug Creek Shoal, at the north end of Pine Island Sound.
A baitcaster with 12-pound-test mono or a spinning rig with 10-pound-test braid does the job. Add 18 inches of 20-pound test fluorocarbon leader on either; this “stiffens” the line and prevents it from catching the hooks, and also gives some protection against the rough mouths and sharp gill plates of the snook.
Best action for most lures is a series of short, sharp jerks with a moment of slack between — this causes the lure to zig-zag back and forth in a motion known as “walkin’ the dog” among expert anglers.