Slow Down For Speckled Trout, They’re Cold Too

Published 11:05 am Saturday, February 1, 2014




By Fred Bonner


Just when you decide that that the duck season is over and you can now relax by a cozy fireplace with a drink, the speckled trout seem to be gearing up for their winter by trying to find something to eat. Time to put the shotgun away and grab the spinning rod.

During warmer weather, fishermen tend to find speckled trout in the shallows where there’s an abundance of baitfish and other forage that makes the trout grow bigger. As winter comes along and it’s not too easy for the trout to locate those once abundant schools of shrimp and anchovies, the trout begin to really get hungry. In their quest for food, the trout sometimes move into the very back ends of some of the coastal streams, where they might find a few minnows or other types of food.

Fishery scientists tell us that the speckled trout also tend to seek more desirable water to spend their winter in. They’ve learned over a great number of years that their bodies best adapt to warmer water. If speckled trout are exposed to water that’s close to freezing for an extended period of time, their metabolism begins to shut down and, if they can’t find water just a bit warmer to ride out the cold spell, they might die. The young, inexperienced trout that don’t realize that they’re in danger in shallow water frequently die. This is why fishermen in Eastern North Carolina hate to see sudden freezes that trap our speckled trout in the shallow creeks where they die by the thousands.

The smarter trout, upon sensing dangerously colder water, move into deeper water where they can ride out the danger. Since our coastal waters are notoriously shallow by nature, that deeper and slightly warmer water may be hard to find. Most of the smaller streams that feed into the coastal rivers have become shallow because of erosion, and these are traps for the cold-sensitive speckled trout when there’s a sudden and extended cold spell. On the other hand, there are a few of these coastal streams that can provide the trout deeper water that offers refuge from freezing weather. In most cases, these relatively deeper headwaters are the ones that will receive a lot of run-off when the surrounding lands are exposed to heavy rains. This storm water run-off can scour-out some of the deeper holes that offer not only refuge from the colder water, but also may offer some forage to the hungry trout as well.

The headwaters of these streams may be entirely fresh water, and this surprises some fishermen to find a saltwater fish in fresh (or nearly fresh) water. Like redfish, the speckled trout can live very well in freshwater. Texas and some other Gulf Coast states stock fingerling speckled trout and redfish in their freshwater lakes and apparently they thrive in this environment.

These relatively deeper holes (on our coastal streams any brackish water that’s over 10 or 12 feet in depth is hard to find) are frequently on a curve in the stream and when the hard-core speckled trout fishermen locate one of these “honey holes,” it’s usually a best kept secret. When those honey holes are close to a major roadway, a little scouting by vehicle may show another fisherman exactly where the action is happening. Trout fishermen cringe when they see cars passing by where a number of fishermen are casting lures meant that are obviously meant for speckled trout. That grouping of trout anglers at this time of the year is a dead give away to some lucky angler who was looking for water that’s holding fish.  When this happens, it’s time for fishermen to go home, grab their fishing gear and return to take part in the good fishing. The secret honey hole has been found.

In talking with and watching some of these lucky fishermen that locate such a hot spot for winter trout, I’ve tried to worm out the secret of getting these concentrated fish to hit a lure. Invariably, they say that you need to fish a lure s-l-o-w-l-y. The trout are hungry because these deeper holes also hold bait (forage) so the fish aren’t just trying to get warm, they’re looking for something to eat as well.

Since, at this time the trout’s metabolism is low, they move slowly, so any bait they may hit needs to move slowly too.

With this in mind, some fishermen have been finding the usual school of long nose gar splashing around in the headwaters of these tidal creeks. Often you’ll find speckled trout lying under the gar waiting for slow settling scraps of whatever it is that the gar were feeding on to fall toward the bottom (and the waiting trout).

The fishermen I’ve talked with have been using a number of lures but most all of them are what fishermen call a “suspended” lure. This is a sinking lure that slowly sinks to a certain level then, as the angler begins to retrieve the lure in a slow twitching motion, the lure will stay roughly at that level in the water. Lures such as the old tried and true MirrOlure or the Yo-Zuri minnow lures that have a lot of flash built into their bodies are best. The “suspended” ability of these lures allows the angler to make a slow retrieve at a set depth then stop the lure briefly to allow it to sink a little more before continuing the slow, slight twitching motion of the lure that they say drives the trout up the wall. One angler, who knows about where the sharp drop-off in the bottom is, likes to stop a lure at this point to allow it to sit still as it sinks before continuing the retrieve. He usually expects a good strike, as the lure continues to move forward after sinking on the drop-off.

Another lure that winter speckled trout anglers like to use is a spinner bait like you’d use for largemouth bass. Choose one with a large, single, willow leaf blade on it because it spins and flashes at a slow retrieve. Bass anglers call this type of retrieve “slow rolling” a spinner bait. Instead of the usual skirt bass anglers use on their spinner baits, choose one of those soft plastic swimming shad lures on the hook. I’m told that an occasional whopper flounder also likes bait like this. One speck angler has added a little smell to the attached lure on the spinner bait by using the GULP shad lures.  Again, slow, is the name of the game for this type of winter fishing.