During the coldest part of January, anglers still catch speck trout in Alabama’s coastal creeks and rivers.
The chilly winter air creates an early morning fog over the slightly warmer water from an Eastern Shore river emptying into Mobile Bay. The boat ride upstream allows the air to find all of the thin parts of my clothing. My teeth are chattering. I’m trying to warm my hands with a cup of hot tea from a thermos I remembered to bring on this trip. No doubt about it, this is cold weather speckled trout fishing here on the Coast.
Just as I’m about to refresh my warm cup, I have to set everything—cup and thermos—to the side because of something more important demands my attention.
I had cast a live finger mullet into the deeper water of a bend in the river just moments earlier, and before the bait had time to settle all the way to the bottom, something decided this little mullet would make a fine breakfast on this chilly morning.
My light spinning rod bends way over, and the line rips through the cold water as a strong fish fights against the pressure of the hook and line. Silversides and ink-black spots roil the surface. Seconds later, a very nice two-pound speckled trout put on a flashy show at boat side.
I often catch and release fish that I’m lucky enough to fool. But when the weather gets cold, I get fish-hungry. So, this speck and a couple of others will make a welcome fish dinner for me this evening.
Even though winter fishing is a little slower than in the spring and early summer, anglers can still have a great time speckled trout fishing in the coldest weather of the year.
Where Are They and Why Are They There?
Before we can catch fish, we have to find fish. When it comes to locating speckled trout in cold weather, it’s a good idea to check with someone who really knows a lot about the Alabama coastal waters and the fishing there.
Our buddy Robert Dobson of Foley knows more about fishing the Gulf Coast than most anglers will ever know. He offers us some good advice when it comes to catching cold weather speckled trout in the rivers and creeks of the Alabama coast.
Any of the Eastern Shore tributary streams—Fish River, Magnolia River, and Bon Secour River—all have good populations of wintering specks. Anglers can catch a lot of cold weather speckled trout by finding the places where specks like to spend their time. Dobson tells us that Fish River may be the best of the lot, day in and day out.
Also, anglers can work creeks that feed into Wolf Bay, just north of Orange Beach off the ICW and find lots of sizable specks. ”Mifflin Creek and Wolf Creek which feed into Wolf Bay can be very good in winter for specks,” Dobson says.
But anglers can’t just pull into a feeder creek and start catching fish. It takes time to explore and find the specific kinds of areas where cold weather speckled trout like to hole up.
“In cold weather, trout school in deeper parts of creeks and rivers that feed into Mobile Bay,” Dobson adds. “They can be easy to catch at this time because they will be schooled up in large groups. Specks will go as far up the streams as they can go. Sometimes they’ll go up past the Highway 32 Bridge in Fish River.”
Anglers can’t go far wrong when looking for cold weather speckled trout in the rivers and creeks by using good electronics to find deeper pockets, especially in bends of rivers where specks will school up and therefore be easier to catch.
Specks like water a little warmer than they find in the Bay itself. They can usually find it up certain streams where black mud bottoms warm up faster in the winter sunshine and where springs sometimes bubble up from the bottoms of the streams.
Yet that’s not the real reason they go so far up the creeks, according to Dobson. “They’re looking for food,” he says. “They go where they can find something to eat. They’ll target small mullet, and they find a few leftover shrimp, but most shrimp and the big schools of pogies that were around in summer have already left and gone out into the Gulf as the water cooled.”
“Specks won’t stay in the deep water all of the time, even in winter.”
If anglers spend a little time exploring and paying attention to their bottom machines, it won’t take long before they find some deep holes in the rivers and creeks. In Bon Secour River, for example, a really deep hole—over thirty feet—lies just below the County Road 10 crossing in the first river bend. Specks sometimes stack up there as they find more comfortable water temperatures and more forage fish available. In just about every feeder creek of the Mobile Bay system, these deep pockets can be found—all potential cold-weather targets for specks.
Specks won’t stay in the deep water all of the time, even in winter. “As the day begins to warm, specks will go up in the shallower water looking for food,” Dobson says. “It comes down to this: where the food is, the trout will be there, too.”
That means winter anglers will need to be flexible and aware that the specks will move as conditions change.
It’s not often that winter trout in the smaller rivers and streams feeding into Mobile Bay will bust on the surface where they are much easier to see and locate. Anglers will have to fan-cast and work out their casting arms a little bit to find the places where trout are feeding. Once the trout are located, it’s usually not hard to catch a mess of them.
How to Fish Them
Just about the first thing that winter anglers discover when it comes to gearing up for a cold weather speckled trout trip is the go-to choice of live bait fishing—live shrimp—can be very difficult to find.
In fact, when the weather and water cool off a lot, live shrimp may be impossible to find. This means anglers have to adjust their offerings.
Finger mullet or bull minnows will usually be accepted by winter specks, and good condition frozen shrimp is better than nothing. Put these baits on a kahle hook below a ¼ oz slip sinker and work deep holes. Don’t be surprised if a fat sheepshead takes the dead shrimp intended for specks; they are found in the same places as specks.
Also, redfish will eat either dead shrimp or live minnows, and that’s not such a bad thing, either. Cold weather speckled trout will quite often take artificials very readily.
“For cold weather fishing for specks, my choice is small stick bait like an X-Rap about two to three inches long,” Dobson says. “Soft plastic jerk baits work well, and flukes on 1/8 oz jigheads are very good at times. Cold weather speckled trout fishing is usually not dead-slow if you’re deep-water fishing. Find the specks and once they are located, they will bite lures worked fairly fast.”
A good starting point for cold-weather anglers using artificial lures is to tie on a white or silver soft plastic grub or fluke. Bounce it across the bottom with sharp hops and flash it up off the bottom. Be sure and watch the line as the lure sinks after a hop. Specks will very often hit the lure as it sinks back toward the bottom.
Robert Dobson recommends cold weather speckled trout fishing because the fish caught tend to be better than average size. “You catch quality trout in January and February,” Dobson says. “Not as many as in warmer weather, but they’ll be bigger than usual.”
How big can these winter trout be? “Last winter,” he says, “I caught a thirty-two-inch and a thirty-four-inch trout.”
What Kind of Day is Best?
There are all kinds of winter days—bright sunny bluebird-sky days and dark, gloomy wet days with a stiff wind. Robert Dobson offers this advice.
“My perfect cold-weather fishing day will be cloudy, no wind, and the tide will be falling,” he says. “I rely on past history. I keep records so I can check and see if I caught fish in a particular location last year at a certain time. Also, I look at what’s going on around the stream I’m fishing. If I see mullet jumping, that’s a good sign. I also look for animal activity such as squirrels moving near the shoreline, birds moving around, even beavers in the water. That means the day just might be a good one. I’ll even look at other anglers to see if they’re catching anything.”
And can it get too cold to catch specks here on the Alabama Coast? “Too cold?” Dobson says with a wry grin. “Last year we had to break ice to launch at Magnolia River. I’ve had ice freeze on my rods. But the trout still bite. They have to eat!”
So, coastal anglers don’t need to put their fishing gear away when the New Year begins. Put on a couple of layers of warm clothes, find some good bait, back the boat in a Mobile Bay feeder creek and start looking for some cold weather speckled trout.
It shouldn’t take long to find a cold weather speckled trout, and when one is found several more won’t be too far away.
Free Boat Ramps to access Eastern Shore tributaries to Mobile Bay
Winter trout anglers have a multitude of ramps and marinas to choose from that will enable them to access the creeks and rivers where specks are found. The following is a list of free launch facilities that allow anglers to go find their favorite fishing spots.
Bon Secour River
Next to Aquila’s Seafood, 17309 River Road, Bon Secour
Wolf Bay and Palmetto Creek
Palmetto Creek Launch, 8223 Escambia Ave, Elberta
Week’s Bay—Fish River, Magnolia River
Viewpoint (Pelican Point) Launch
10471 CR 1, Fairhope
Fish River Marina, 11470 US Hay 98, Fairhope