Putting More Fish on the Boat in Cold Weather
The air temperature just before dawn on this winter morning was in the upper 20s. That was cold enough, but the 20-minute run up the tidal river at more than 50 knots in my Skeeter was going to take our breath away. The other option was to take it slow, so as not to make it too miserable. I finally decided that it was better off to do it like you’d remove a Band-Aid – quickly and be done with it.
After slowing and hearing a few “oohs, aahs and man that was cold,” I started passing out rods and giving instructions on how to work the jigs. It didn’t take long to figure out that casting for our quarry wasn’t going to work. The rod guides were icing over and after only a few casts our hands were so cold that we had to take a break and warm them up in our pockets.
“Okay, let’s try something a little different.” I told them. “Just flip the rods out and I’ll get on the trolling motor. We’re gonna try trolling for them. Keep your hands in your pockets until your rod bends over. When it does, grab it and start reeling.”
Moving along at about 1.5 knots in the same direction of the current, it didn’t take long for things to start happening. First, the port side rod doubled over. Shortly thereafter, we had a double then a few more singles, a couple more doubles and then a quad. The bite was best when we were trolling with the current, but I did manage a few by trolling against the current through a few of the areas that had been most productive.
By the end of the trip, we had landed about 30 nice-sized trout and two redfish. Most importantly, though, all of it was done while being comfortable – or at least as comfortable as one can be on the water in 30-degree weather!
Easy and Deadly
Trolling for speckled trout is not a technique that I use very often, but, as with the above trip, it can be deadly – especially during the coldest months of the year. Here are few of the things that I have learned – both on my own and with the help of people who troll often. These tips have helped me put more fish in the boat during coldest months of the year.
As water temperatures reach their lowest on the northern Gulf Coast, the metabolism of cold-blooded creatures like fish slow to almost nothing. This is the same as with their prey. The trout aren’t going to – or can’t for that matter – chase down fast-moving bait. Moreover, because their forage is also slowed, it doesn’t look natural for it to be hopping or darting all over the place. Therefore, a big key to successful winter fishing is to limit the amount of action that you put on your lure.
“A big key to successful winter fishing is to limit the amount of action that you put on your lure.”
Also, when the water cools to the winter levels, the trout are going to gather in the deepest water in the area where they are living. For example, in West Fowl River, that might be eight feet whereas, in the delta it may be 20 feet. You are going to most successful targeting in those areas.
These are reasons why trolling can be so effective during the winter. The baits are just dragged along with little or no action and the trolling allows you to cover ground to locate the schools.
When trolling, I like to use smaller jigs. Until I find out what color works, I run at least a couple of different patterns. If one starts to out produce the others, I quickly make adjustments. More often than not, I have found that the direction I am trolling in relation to the current does make a difference. This makes sense as the trout will be feeding facing into the current, expecting the prey to flow toward them with the current.
My trolling rods are the same as what I use for casting during the winter. I like 7- to 7.5-foot medium-action rods spooled with fluorocarbon line. The soft action of the rods really helps keep the fish on when he first bites and someone is reaching for the rod. Because I am not worried about “feeling” a subtle wintertime bite, I don’t need a sensitive rod either.
Fluorocarbon line has become a must for me during the winter. The biggest advantage that I see is that it sinks, which helps me stay in touch with my lure as it is sinking. In a trolling application, the hook-ups with fluorocarbon line are much greater than with monofilament because the fluorocarbon has less stretch.
I’ve seen people effectively trolling with a small outboard. With the quiet 4-stroke outboards on the market today, I can see why that could work fine. I still like to use my trolling motor though. The quietness certainly is not hurting anything and with my 36-volt Minn Kota, I have never had any trouble trolling all day – especially when spending most of the trip trolling down current.
Do Nothing Drifting
A long time ago, I was introduced to a technique that is a version of trolling, but with no motor. It is called the “do nothing” drift. Aptly named, because you literally do nothing with your lure except let it drag along behind the boat allowing the current to pull you along.
Once, I was drifting along in the Tensaw River in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta 50 yards or so behind my buddy Bruce Howell and his crew. We watched as they had multiple hook-up after multiple hook-up. That’s not too big a deal – except that we hadn’t even had a bite! As he idled by on his way to set up another drift, in his usual way of always wanting to help, he tossed a bag of the lures he was using over to us.
“You’ve got to stop jigging,” he told us. “Those aren’t even going to help unless you just let them drag behind the boat.”
Sure enough, after tying on one each, we just allowed the current to pull us along as we fished. Soon, we started catching fish as fast as we could get the baits back in the water, all on the exact same drift that we had unsuccessfully been making all morning.
I have since used the “do nothing” drift on numerous occasions with incredible success. A few things that I have learned about it are that first, it works best during the coldest months when the fish have dropped off the flats and into the main river channels. Secondly, speed of the drift seems to be a key factor.
When I get my first bite, I immediately check the GPS to see how fast I am drifting. By turning the boat either sideways to long ways to the current, I can control the velocity of the drift. Also, it’s important to keep your bait very close to bottom when using this technique. You will want it just “ticking” – not dragging the bottom. This can be controlled two ways. First, you can vary the jighead weight. I prefer either 1/4- or 3/8-ounce jigheads. Second, you can let out or take in line as necessary.
As mentioned, trolling for speckled trout is a technique that has been effective for me during the coldest months. It allows the anglers to enjoy catching nice trout while not having to endure the lack of comfort that wintertime fishing can inflict. If you decide to do some winter fishing, I hope that some of these tips help you towards a more successful trip.