When the days get short and cool, Mobile Bay’s creeks and bayous see a migration of redfish and speckled trout.
This day which had started out as a cloudy, chilly December dawn soon turned into a cold, dark, rainy December day.
The wind whipping up off the dark waters of the small river that flowed into Mobile Bay a few miles downstream chilled my hands and found its way through my windbreaker jacket. It would probably seem to most normal people that this would be a good day to be spending at home in front of the television.
However, anglers are not normal people. My buddy Robert Dobson and I were keeping warm by fishing for speckled trout and redfish from the small river.
We had already caught and released several very good two-pound and better trout, and the few reds we hooked seemed to fight extra hard in the cooling winter water of the river.
And although the boat ride back to the launch ramp downstream when we were finished fishing for the day was a chilly one, the thought that we had found and caught some excellent fish when most folks were sitting bored at home made the cold ride a lot more pleasant.
Where to Go in December
Mobile Bay is a big place, and it features many feeder rivers and streams on both sides of the bay. Any and all of these creeks, bayous, and small rivers have annual late fall and winter migrations of speckled trout that run up the small water looking for somewhat warmer water and better feeding conditions.
“I fish most of the time on the east side of Mobile Bay,” Robert Dobson says. “My top three east side rivers are Fish River, Magnolia River, and Bon Secour; in that order. In Fish River, specks will start to show up before Thanksgiving around the lower islands in the river above the highway crossing. Then as the water cools, the specks will be around Swan Island.
“When it gets even colder, a lot of specks will be at the Highway 32 Bridge and even above the bridge. Lots of folks think the specks won’t go much past the bridge, but if we haven’t had much rain and the bait is still around up there, the specks will go quite a ways past the Highway 32 Bridge.
“For redfish in Fish River, I really don’t go much farther upstream than Swan Island. I think the river water is just not salty enough for the reds to be comfortable.”
“In the Magnolia River, December specks start to gather around the mouth of Nolte Creek—there’s a big hole there. Then the specks move up past the ski run in November and December. I’ve never caught many specks above the marked No-Wake Zone on Magnolia River.
“Drop a live shrimp or a GULP! into the deeper pocket and see who is there.”
“In Bon Secour River, the early December specks show up below Billy’s Seafood. There’s a large open area around three piers there on the north side of the river. Speckled trout and redfish can be very good there from before Thanksgiving to early December.
“Then the speckled trout and redfish will go upstream past Billy’s Seafood and then Aquila’s Seafood. The best place on Bon Secour is upstream past Aquila’s; go to the stump field on the north side of the river. Top-water plugs can be very good here early in the morning, and then use live shrimp under cork later in the day.”
No matter what Mobile Bay feeder stream is being fished, anglers will do well to pay attention to bends in the stream and especially to places where even smaller creeks and bayous join up.
These places tend to have deeper pockets of water, and these deeper holes often hold the most and the best fish. Drop a live shrimp or a GULP! into the deeper pocket and see who is there.
How to Catch Them
“Of course, live shrimp is best,” Dobson says. “But it gets hard to find live shrimp in December in a lot of the local bait and tackle shops. When I can’t get live shrimp, I go to GULP! scented soft baits in the natural color. I use 1/8 oz jigheads, and I don’t get expensive jigheads because you’ll lose a lot of them fishing low and slow near the bottom.
“The color of the jighead is not important. I also like to use a small three-inch-long stick bait, like a Rapala minnow, in dark blue or purple back with silver sides. At this time in December, the speckled trout and redfish are looking for alewives which will still be in the streams if it hasn’t been too cold. A few shrimp will still be found in the backs of creeks and little streams.”
For redfish, Dobson has a few tried and true time-tested lures which have produced well in December creeks. His favorite lures are a Redfish Magic, a large spinnerbait that produces a lot of vibration and flash, a GULP! soft lure on a jighead, and his all-time favorite lure—a Splatterback Bandit 200 crankbait.
Although the Bandit crankbait was probably designed and intended for bass, redfish think this diving plug is delicious, too.
Dobson says, “Work the Bandit around the heaviest cover you can find. Old pilings, treetops in the water; work the bad-looking water. If there’s no stumps, limbs, or pilings, you’re fishing in the wrong place for December reds.”
When working a crankbait near heavy cover such as logs, limbs, pilings and such, it’s inevitable that hang-ups will occur. Rather than trying to muscle the lure free from a snag (which almost never works), just give slack to the lure and let it sit. Quite often, the lure is just caught under a branch or edge of a log, and the lure’s natural buoyancy will sometimes float the lure up and free from the snag. The only problem with this technique is that when the lure is allowed to float up and away from the snag, often a hungry redfish will take the plug. Of course, most anglers can deal with this sort of problem.
Dobson says, “The redfish at this time of year are after small crabs, and these crabs stay near some kind of cover. The Bandit looks too much like a scared crab trying to escape for any redfish to refuse to take it.”
What Size, How Much Fish in December
In late November and early December, anglers will probably not find many trophy speckled trout or redfish in the creeks and bayous which feed into Mobile Bay.
“Both speckled trout and redfish tend to school up by size in December”
Most of the really big speckled trout and redfish pull offshore or in the deepest bay water they can find. However, when a good spot is located on a creek or river, lots of medium-sized fish can be caught.
Dobson says, “After December, we get into some very good fish, but in early to mid-December, we mostly catch lots of small- to medium-sized fish.”
Both speckled trout and redfish tend to school up by size in December, and when small fish—trout especially—start coming in, that’s probably what will be caught consistently at that place. It may take a bit of searching to find a school of better, slot-size fish in December, but if anglers keep looking, they will usually find keeper fish.
Cautions and Hazards of December Stream Fishing
Dobson says, “Stay out of the water! Have your PFD and wear it. In December, a PFD will help keep you warm, and if you do fall in, it will keep you afloat until you can get back to dry land or the boat.”
Also, be careful when launching the boat. Try not to get the feet wet. Few things are more miserable than trying to fish with cold, wet feet.
“Dress according to the weather,” Dobson advises. “Have good raingear, and have layers of clothing you can take off or add on as the day goes on. December weather can change a lot during the course of the day, so be prepared for just about anything.
“Be aware of winter low-water conditions. Stumps and other stuff that are well under water for most of the year can be dangerously exposed in December and later during the winter. Just running into an old abandoned crab trap in low water conditions this month can bring a good fishing trip to a halt quickly.”
Important Product Information:
Strike King Lures
GULP! soft baits