Not even the cold winds of December will stop smart inshore anglers from catching redfish and speckled trout.
The run across the open water of Mobile Bay was not pleasant. Every time the boat nosed into a wave, cold spray flew across the boat. And across me. I hoped we would soon reach calmer water so I could drink some hot coffee and eat a donut to help me warm up. It’s a fact that cold weather fishing on Mobile Bay’s feeder streams takes a little courage and willingness to withstand some unpleasant conditions. As we eased into the bayou just off the main bay, I had a jig already rigged. When we glided to a stop at the bend of the creek, I cast the jig into the deep water at the turn of the creek and let the jig sink. I
turned to warm my cold, cold hands with a cup of coffee. Relief was seconds away. As I reached for the thermos, my rod tip jerked down and the drag of my reel began to squeak. Just that quick something strong had taken my jig and was running the other way.
Suddenly, my hands were not cold anymore. I even forgot about my cup of coffee as I fought a fish that thought my plastic jig was a tasty meal. When I finally got my catch to the boat, its broad tail flashed a black spot, which told me that I had found a cold-weather redfish hangout.
As the morning went on, several more reds and some fine speckled trout found my lure. I never again thought about how cold it was. In fact, my coffee had turned pretty cold by the time I was ready to head back to the ramps. I didn’t mind the cold anymore. That’s the way it can be in December if anglers will just go about their business correctly.
Where to Find the Cold Weather Fish
I’ve spent many cold winter days chasing fish on the Mobile Bay system, and one of the best guides I’ve found at finding cold-weather fish is my buddy, Yano Serra. Yano has guided for many years, and he has some definite preferences when it comes to finding cold-weather specks and reds.
Captain Yano says, “I like to run up the big rivers; the Mobile River, Fowl River, and Dog River. I look for the deepest holes I can find. In really cold weather, the fish will be as deep as they can get, thirty feet or deeper sometimes.” A big advantage of fishing the deep holes is the wide range of fish that occupy these depths. Reds, specks, puppy drum and a lot of nice flounder are often caught in these wintertime hotspots.
Another really good place for very cold-weather fish is the cutoff near Jemison’s Bait and Tackle on Dauphin Island Parkway. Both sides of the highway bridge and even under the bridge itself can be good. “There’s a thirty-eight-foot-deep hole there,” Yano says, “and the fish will hold on the ledges where the water drops from thirteen-feet deep to the deeper water, and they will really stack up on the ledges on a falling tide.”
For some of the very best winter fishing for both specks and reds, anglers can find smaller creeks and bayous that are separated from the main body of the bay systems by extensive flats and shoals. If it’s hard to get to these smaller streams, fewer people are willing to try to get there, thus the fishing can be great sometimes. “I like places where I have to run across nine inches of water to get to the deeper places,” Captain Yano says. “You’ve got to know where you are, though. These flats can be very dangerous when you’re running across skinny water.”
For cold weather reds, anglers can sometimes find them in places where they don’t usually live. Very often, reds will be on clear-water flats warming up on bright, sunny days. In fact, Yano says he’s found some really good redfish while sitting in duck blinds looking for ducks to come in.
How to fish for Specks and Reds in Cold Weather
When it’s cold, nothing beats a nice live shrimp for reds and specks. Fished on a Carolina rig with a 1/4 to 3/8 oz. sliding sinker, live shrimp will collect a nice mess of fish faster than anything. The problem is that when the weather gets cold, it’s sometimes very hard to find live shrimp in the local bait and tackle shops. Jemison’s Bait and Tackle on the Dauphin Island Parkway and Rough Water Bait and Tackle in Bayou La Batre are the most reliable sources for live shrimp, but sometimes there are just no live shrimp available.
Berkeley GULPs are a very good substitute for live shrimp. Captain Yano tells us that he had very good luck last winter on the six-inch swimming mullet GULP in a dark brown color. For me, I’ve had great luck on the three-inch-long, new penny GULP shrimp on a ¼ oz. Stand-Up jig head.
Speckled trout respond well to Rat-L-Traps fished deep near the bottom, and some very good trout are taken on deep-running crankbaits which “root” along the bottom of deep holes in the rivers. Anglers need to be prepared to lose a few crankbaits fished this way, but sometimes when the hang-up begins to move away and drag, it makes the loss of a few crankbaits acceptable.
A very good way to locate redfish in clear, cold-water weather conditions is to use a trolling motor to slowly cruise the north shoreline of a river and just look for fish. Reds will usually begin to show up as singles, and then small groups. Before long, a big bunch of reds will be seen in the clear water. The anchor can then be eased overboard. Everything should be allowed to calm down a bit. Before long, the angler can start to cast to the area where the reds were bunched. As long as the fish don’t get spooked, they’ll stay in the same area for a long time.
Another technique that can be very productive for speckled trout is to troll for them. “We use jigs and deep-diving crank baits,” Captain Yano says. “We’ll slowly pull the baits along the channels, which may only be five feet deep, but the fish will be in the deepest water possible.”
Now, For You Folks Who Aren’t Early Morning People
In the cold weather of December, a lot of the best fishing comes as the result of winter sunshine warming up shallow areas so the fish are more comfortable and eager to bite. This means that most days in cold weather, there’s no reason to be on the water at the crack of dawn…unless you just like having frozen hands and feet. Instead, let the sun do its work, and then back the boat into the water later in the morning.
“I don’t leave the dock until nine,” Captain Yano says. “Once the sun has started to warm the water, we’ll go fishing.” This late-morning fishing suits a lot of people just fine, and when a big redfish or speck takes the bait and makes a strong run across the clear water, it makes most anglers forget all about the cold December temperatures.
Important Contact Information:
Captain Yano Serra
Jemison’s Bait and Tackle
16871 Dauphin Island Parkway
Rough Water Bait and Tackle
14880 City Docks Rd.
Bayou Le Batre