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SLIP FLOATIN’ SEA TROUT AND REDS

Posted 1/10/2012

T.J. prepares to release a small trout with the beauty of his ancestral home, Georgia low country.

Even small specs like this are pretty fish and make for some tasty eating. They can grow to gator size.

The stick float rig was developed to drift a live shrimp or baitfish along a creek, river or channel.

Georgia Back Country Guide, T.J. Cheek, Says Sometimes the Old Ways are the Best Ways

Camden County, Georgia is a beautiful patchwork quilt of islands, sounds, tidal rivers and creeks that offer some of the most productive fishing grounds for spotted sea trout and redfish found in the southern Atlantic states. The jewel of the area is Cumberland Island with its wild horses, tall live oaks draped in Spanish moss and shorelines filled with downed trees, old root systems and great fishing.

The meandering tidal creeks and rivers that stretch well inland also provide phenomenal fishing for these two coveted species pretty much year round. This area is also the home of T. J. Cheek, light tackle guide and heir to over 300 years of heritage in the Georgia low country. You see, his ancestors arrived in America before the Revolutionary War carrying a land grant encompassing a large part of present day Camden County from the King of England.

Today, T.J.’s family operates Hickory Bluff Marina. His father takes care of the marina and T.J. bases his guide service from there. He is well known as one of the top back water guides in the South, and he has a large, loyal following of customers who enjoy the low country fishing as much as he does. From tournaments to half day charters, T.J. rarely misses a day on the water.

“We fish trout and redfish a lot of different ways here, from site casting with fly rods and light tackle using plastics, to bait fishing the river and creek banks,” said Cheek. “My clients vary from accomplished sport fishermen who practice catch-and-release, to families who love to come and catch a bunch of trout to take home to eat. After all, they are tasty fish and the resource is healthy.”

While fly fishing and light tackle plugging might be considered the more sporting way to catch trout and reds, there is one old-time technique that rarely fails and is fun for anglers of all experience levels—using stick float rigs with live shrimp for bait.

“There are old-timers here who still say if you’re not fishin’ with floats you’re not trout fishin’,” Cheek said with a smile. Here’s a short course on the technique.

What makes slip float fishing so effective is that it allows an angler to drift a live shrimp or minnow, both primary food sources of the trout and redfish, with the current suspended just off the bottom where both of these fish do a lot of their feeding. The rig is set up so that the line between the float and the hook can be adjusted to match the water depth, and it works most effectively in water from six to 15 feet.

Cheek recommends a long light-action rod, 7.5- to 8.5-feet, and braided line from 12- to 20-lb test. The long rod aids in setting the hook when a fish pulls the float down because the extra sweep picks up the slack between the rod tip and the hook. Spinning or baitcasting outfits work equally well.

The leader consists of a light wire 1/0 wide-gap Kahle style hook snelled to 24 inches of 20-lb fluorocarbon leader with a loop knot tied on the other end so you can make quick changing leaders fast and easy while fishing.

Then take the braided main line from the reel and start by sliding on a pre-tied “bobber stop” (available at tackle stores or they sometimes come packaged with the slip float), a plastic bead, the balsa slip float, another bead and then tie on a 0.5- to 2-ounce trolling sinker, depending on the size of the float to be used. A trolling sinker is a torpedo shaped lead with a loop on the top and a snap swivel on the terminal end, which is used to attach the loop in the leader already tied.

The rig is fished from an anchored boat positioned up current near the bank of a creek or river. Once you determine the average water depth, use the slip knot to adjust the depth of the bait to about a foot above the bottom. Hook a live shrimp under the collar or a minnow through the jaw, make a short cast and let the float carry the bait down the bank with the current. Keep the bail opened on a spinning reel or a baitcasting reel in free spool, and point the rod tip at the float. Pay out just enough line to let the float drift freely while not allowing too much belly to form in the line trailing behind it. When a trout or red takes the bait, the float will be pulled down easily because of the balance of the buoyancy of the float against the weight of the sinker. Put the reel in gear and set the hook with a long, sweeping motion of the rod.

“The technique works on any moving tide and is a sure bet to put some fish in the boat,” Cheek assures. “It’s relatively easy once you get set up, and it can be fun for the whole family.”

If you’d like to learn more about using a slip-float or the other techniques, you can email T.J. at tj@gahoozle.com. He also has a number of highly instructional videos on YouTube®.