Deep Water Tactics for Winter Speckled Trout
As a fishing guide, I am often asked “when is your favorite time to fish for speckled trout?” Without even thinking I will respond “winter speckled trout”, which often raises eyebrows.
Sure, I love targeting speckled trout year round and while each season has its highlights, winter speckled trout fishing never fails to warm my blood.
After stating that my favorite time is winter, I usually follow up with saying that I just love catching specs on lures and teaching people how to catch them the same way. And the winter is the best time to hone those skills.
Where Should You Fish for “Specs” in the Winter?
The answer is “in the rivers, creeks and canals surrounding Mobile Bay”.
The biology of speckled trout allows them to move into fresher water (salinity levels of greater than 5parts per thousand) areas in the cooler months. This is where you will find the bulk of the fish.
In addition, speckled trout move into the feeding rivers, creeks and canals of Mobile Bay because the water depth is usually deeper than the bay and an abundance of bait can be found in these rivers. This abundance of bait is what the fish will feed on all winter long.
Numerous bait species like freshwater shad, menhaden (pogies), mullet, shrimp, small croakers, bay anchovies (glass minnows) and even small bass, bluegill and crappie are eaten by speckled trout. This opens the door for anglers to effectively use a wide range of lures.
Now we need to dissect the river. Each river, creek and canal will have key components which include deep holes, ledges, points, and primary and secondary flats.
First, we need to establish exactly what is “deep”? The term “deep” is actually relative to the area or body of water in which you are fishing. For example, a river or canal designated “deep” is one that is designed to be deep enough for a container ship (50 feet or more).
Opposite of that is a river or bayou which has more flats than channel and the channel portion maxes out at a depth of 10 feet and may only be 20 feet wide.
Rigging for Deep Water Speckled Trout
When it comes to speckled trout fishing rig, my preference is for medium action seven to seven and a half foot rods with a medium to fast tip. I prefer bait cast rods because I feel the bite a little bit better. However, spinning equipment can get it done in a similar set up.
I use 20 pound braided line with 20 pound fluorocarbon line leader. I join the braid and fluorocarbon with an Alberto knot and I like to start the day with a leader about 30” long as this will get shorter as the day goes do to break offs. I attach to the end of the leader a 1/4-3/8oz jighead.
Jigs Aren’t Just Jigs
I choose Bomber brand jig heads for my deep water trout lures, due to the hooks being strong and super sharp. These jigs are available in a variety of colors and head styles. If you are concerned about which color to choose then go with unpainted or white, although I generally go red or pink. If the bottom composition of where you are fishing is firm then a bullet, round or stand up jig head can all work well.
If you are around rocks and numerous hang ups then a round head or rounded head jig will reduce hang ups. Soft bottom can be a great place for a stand up jig or bullet jig.
What Do You Add to the Jig Head?
I break down the jig bodies into several categories.
The first is a fluke or jerk shad type body like the Lil slick, which is the first lure type I like to experiment with. The Lil Slick is a long skinny lure with a whip like tail and this lure type seems to be the best all-around lure type to start with in a new area.
The third soft plastic bait style is a paddle tail like a matrix shad or Vortex shad. This bait gives action from the second it hits the water and the entire time it’s in the water. Paddle tail jigs seem to be the best when pogies and shad are the common food source.
The forth bait choice is an old school curly tail grub. They have been made for decades and have been catching fish of all kinds. This bait is every bit as versatile as a paddle tail grub.
The last jig type is a shrimp body like the Fishbites Shrimp which is also spiked with the Fishbite magic scent.
Yes there are several more soft plastic styles but these five are as covering the basics. Once you find a jig style that is getting bit better than others then you can experiment with color selection. Keep this simple. Light colored lures like white, chartreuse, opening night Arkansas shiner or darker lures like root beer, avocado, or even black.
You will often find a lure body type is more important than color in deeper water but you never know when you may swap from a natural or lighter color to a really dark color and see a huge uptick in the number of bites or vice versa.
Presentation and Location are Everything
The set up and presentation can make all the difference in the world sometimes more so than the lure style. Deciding on your set up, I absolutely love this time of year fishing deep water because I am an electronics nerd.
In winter fishing areas where we are looking in areas 8 to 35 feet deep, high quality electronics can be the difference between finding fish or not. I use a Raymarine Axiom Pro 12. When I am scanning an area, I will have my screen split three ways; side vision, down vision and chirp in the third screen.
Ideally, I want to see fish tight to the bottom with bait marks very close by. Once you identify fish near the bottom it’s time to fish. Position your boat over the deeper water and cast toward the shallow.
The All-Important First Cast
When you make your cast give your lure plenty of slack line as it lands on the water surface. This will allow the lure to fall nearly straight down from where it lands opposed to closing or stopping the reel instantly after it lands on the water. To get to the deep trout, allow it to sink straight down and all the way to the bottom before trying to do anything with the bait.
You will want to pay attention to your line as it’s sinking because you will see a bow in the line develop once the lure lands on the bottom. When that happens, engage the reel and begin the retrieve back to the boat. Each day winter speckled trout may want a slightly different presentation so pay attention to your cadence.
What is Cadence?
This is the way you will hop, bump, crawl and drag your lure back to the boat. At a brand new area where I’m just trying to see if there are any hungry fish, I will go with a “confidence” lure and a “confidence” cadence.
On of favorite cadences is the where the sequence is a “Hop-hop” with a two to three second pause then the “hop-hop” again. Each hop should be less than a two foot movement. The steeper the slope you are working your lure, the smaller the hop needs to be.
Think about how you would want to walk down a super steep hill without slipping or falling. Small close together steps very thoughtful steps will provide the most stability. Consider that for your jig.
Make sure each pause rests on the bottom for at least one second but I lean closer to three seconds. Most of your winter speckled trout bites will come when the lure is resting dead on the bottom.
What to Expect When a Speckled Trout Bites?
A trout may grab your lure on the fall after a hop and this fish can often be missed due to it often being on a looser or slacker line. However, if you watch your line as you are fishing you will often see the line twitch or jump when the trout grabs the bait.
If you see the twitch or line jump you should rapidly take up the slack and set the hook with a sharp hook set with the rod tip up. Once the hook is set don’t give the fish any slack. Slack line will lose fish.
Another bite to expect to have in deep water jigging is the “thump”. This is the bite you feel when the bait is usually sitting on the bottom and trout has to suck the lure up off the bottom and into its mouth.
When you feel the thump you reel the rod tip down as quickly as possible and set the hook with force. Once again, don’t give the fish any slack because they are really good at slinging out a lure.
The “Wet-Rag” Bite
This bite is the one you never see or feel. This is when you are working the lure and you lose contact with the bottom and when you try to jig or move your lure it feels like you hooked on to a wet rag. This fish is usually swimming slowly in the same direction you are working your lure and is hard to detect.
The Final Three Tips
- Look for the bulk of the fish to be most active out of the main current areas.
- Look for the fish to be in pockets and dead end areas that have the least flow.
- Look for specs to be on the edges of the main current in eddies.
Many anglers will not successfully hook the fish and will often pull the lure from this trout’s mouth. However when you recognize the wet rag is actually a trout, quickly reel down and set the hook with force.
The final bite to expect is when the trout simply whacks it. This bite usually happens when your lure is moving quickly and the fish hits your lure at full force and basically sets the hook on itself.
The main thing to pay attention to is to sweep the rod to the side or straight up to get the rod bent as smooth as possible. These fish can easily tear the hook out of their mouth so you have to use less force after the bite.
Winter trout fishing in cold weather can seem like fishing on the moon for the angler who is used to fishing for speckled trout with top water and popping corks. We are focusing on deep water, which means generally 8 feet to 28 feet in depth. We have found, hooked and landed specs in 44 feet of water.
This This article first appeared in the January 2020 print issue of Great Days Outdoors Magazine. For more great hunting and fishing content for the deep South, subscribe to Great Days Outdoors print and digital editions or click the image to download this issue.