Before I was old enough to drive, and even before I had the money to buy korkers and walk out on the jetties of Indian River Inlet, I knew I loved seatrout. Back in the stone age, or, more specifically the late 80's before the populations crashed we used to take charter trips to Wachapreague, Va in the fall and catch small "spike" trout by the hundreds. These seatrout were easy, and I never saw one over 24 inches until I got older and began to explore other water. more specifically, before I discovered the Delaware seashore. It was on the North Jetty of the Indian River inlet that I caught my first seatrout on terra firma. I was still young and had no idea that these fish could be taken from shore. As time wore on I learned more about the inlet and it's trout. My fascination grew as I began to learn how to target the bigger ones.

The trips I took to Delaware started to be specifically for
seatrout. Most anglers are drawn to the inlet after it's stripers, but I was (and am) spoiled when it comes to fishing for stripers, so most of my efforts were after the mysterious trout. It was always enjoyable to fish on the north jetty, I was the one guy throwing light lures on the beach side when all the tough-guy jetty-jocks flocked to the point, throwing plugs and heavy jigs with equally heavy rods, usually 50lb braid. "What you think yer gonna catch with that little rod?" was a common question posed from the striper guys. When I answered "trout", generally they'd just say "oh, them" and turn back to heaving wood and metal into the inlet
This mentality was pretty typical when I began to fish the inlet back in the mid 90's. The striper guys considered trout a lesser fish, though now it has changed since the trout have become so scarce that people who fish for trout are now regarded as
diehards and dreamers: They long the days when the tiderunners were something that you caught without having to spend all night fishing light jigs for MAYBE a hit or two.

When I started the hey days were just beginning to turn into "slower" years so it was close enough to the times when fisherman could remember that so many
tiderunners would choke into Delaware bay that they were considered to be pest fish. Guys used to go on headboats and fill trash cans with 10-15 pound trout, some nearly sinking their boats with them. I never got to see these days, and yes, I'm pissed off about that.

Now every year is a bit slower, and there's less and less trout just about wherever you fish. Trout over 10 pounds are about as common as unicorns, and as of this writing it's been three years since I've caught one. New Jersey still has a decent amount of fish that are highly guarded by secretive anglers. Actually, come to think of it, all trout anglers are secretive these days, to the point of being cultish. Try asking me where I fish and at what tides, you'll have to waterboard me to get a straight answer.
This is part the mystery of the the trout as they are, but as well a result of a dwindling resource, recreational fisherman are caught in a sick game of trickle-down resourcing: we get what's left after the nets get their fill. Generally, that's not much at all. You pray for a year that they miss the school, spring and summer trout travel in huge schools that are easily ransacked by netters), or you hope those spikes you were catching last year will grow this year. Sometimes the spikes come back bigger, sometimes they disappear, it's the nets. No one is going to convince me otherwise when I spend a summer catching 16 inch trout every outing and they are gone the next year.

So after that depressing interlude, let me move on to a more pleasant topic.
Actually catching trout. In the inlet, you fish jigs from 1/4 to 3/4 oz. depending on tide. If you really know your stuff and know how to "ride" the currents right, you'll never have to go heavier than 3/8 oz. My friend Dae (pictured above) is probably the best jig fisherman I know, and that's basically all he fishes unless he's "trying something new" and generally, "trying something new" means going lighter (1/8 oz), rather than heavier. He also happens to be a master at fishing jigs for flounder, he's patient enough to keep things slow along the bottom where they lie, He's been known to set up near other experienced fisherman and start hooking so many fish they can't help not to ask him what he's doing. They visibly wince when they see he's fishing the same jigs they are, just more effectively.

So you're standing on rocks, looking out into black swirling waters with this relatively small jig. You don't think it's even possible to get to the fish with something that light. But when you look out into that darkness you begin to see small rips, changes in the current. As a kid it looked like a massive,
feartureless canyon that All The Water In The World was flowing through. But it's not that way, and once you get over the inital feeling of awe, you see where the surface of the water flattens when it hits a dropoff, and gets wavy again when the dropoff slopes upward. It's just like a giant stream that you have to break down an analyze bit by bit. That's a common analogy made by fisherman, and it's true, even a backwoods brook trout creek can be broken down if you look at it and analyze it enough. The truths come piecemeal, and never fully are revealed, but generally you're able to figure things out enough to catch a fish or two.

You cast up current and let your jig swing and swing and swing. You only have to apply a little bit of action, just a gentle flick of the rod tip here and there. The jig will swing by you, slowly, sinking, but sometimes when the current catches it right, it will hover in the water, being pushed up and held there by an upwelling of current. At these neutral points, if you're in the right place, near the dropoffs and structure, you'll get your bite. Through all that line, maybe 20-40 feet down or more, that big arc, where your jig is probably 15 yards downstream of where your line meets the water, even though it doesn't feel like that... you get the tiniest, slightest, hair of a bite: A tiny "blip" in the night. Fisherman that are new to this kind of fishing miss the bite, those that are trying to learn set the hook constantly despite not getting bit. It's kind of like deep water nymph fishing for freshwater trout.

The "trout tap" is my favorite aspect of fishing for them. The bites are so tiny and hard to detect that, when you're in tune with them it's
almost spiritual. Something goes off in your brain after casting repeatedly for far too long. and you set up on a fish. The first run of a tiderunner is a violent, headshaking, streak-of-death-back-to-the-deep that if you're fishing light line like I do, leaves you feeling completely helpless as your rod arcs violently and your drag screams in the night. The fish blasts across current and your drag makes sounds that the small stripers (an inevitable byproduct of trout fishing in the inlet) could never make. I've had this happen after 8 hours of nonstop fishing, and it pulls you out of the trance of nonstop casting like a welcome slap in the face. I get all excited and shaky, I feel like I'm 12 again and about to achieve another fishing "first", I live for this.
The fish will come up in slow circles, always trying to stay low. Bigger trout mean more runs, which, means a greater chance of losing them. Trout are known for their soft mouths, and will tear themselves off the jig. This is the true reason why they are also called "weakfish". If you lose him, and it's a trout, you curse quietly to yourself and reel in. Under your headlamp you see the tell-tale "vampire bite", two small pin pricks resembling fangs are left in your jigs. If you get one of these after fishing for hours on end, especially if you lose the fish by making a stupid mistake you might torment yourself: thinking about how rare these fish are now, wondering how big that fish was....all you wanted was a picture, and now all that's left is to go back into that mechanistic mode of repetitive casting and sorting through small stripers. If you let it get to you too much, you'll be better off heading home. This is a mental game.

If you emerge victorious, you bring the fish to the surface, slowly, keeping the drag light and letting him run (and those runs can be
long). You flick on your headlamp and are greeted by red eyes. A trout's eyes glow red under artificial light, their flanks are a mix of a lighter hue of that same red that's in their eyes. At a different angle their flanks show a beautiful yellowish, molten gold. You take pictures and release the fish, probably still shaking a bit because you just did what is becoming less and less possible. To think that there was a time when fish like this all over, and everyone could catch them without having to put themselves through the tortures of montony and sleep deprivation. For a seatrout fisherman who has never seen those days, it seems quite a bit like what Heaven ought to be like.