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Winter Time Speckled Trout Fishing

Feb. 16, 2019

Captain Miller holding a speckled trout

Speckled Trout Fishing Tips by Captain MJ Miller

The winter in Eastern North Carolina has been mild, comparatively, in the context of recent years. The fishing has been consistent throughout the season with no signs of slowing down as we approach spring. I am going to share a couple of tips that I find helpful when targeting winter time trout patterns.

Temperature effect on the fish

As the temperature gets down to the low 30s and high 20s those fish seek deeper holes in the creeks and sloughs. These deep creeks may range from 6 feet to 18 feet depending on location and water salinity in the area. They slow their body movements down to conserve energy waiting for the sun to heat the water back up. The sun and the type of bottom affects the water temperature. Sandy bottom is less likely to heat up faster than a mud bottom would. These are all things to look for when scouting areas. The mud bottoms are more up the creeks while the sand is more likely to be by the mouth of the creek.

Types of lures for the situation

Everybody has their "go to" lure for trout. When I am searching for trout I have five different lures tied on ranging in different colors. My five lures consist of:

1: Yo-zuri 3D Flat Crank

I use this lure throughout the entire year. If there is a fish in the water it is guaranteed to catch it. It is a suspending bait that dives around 3 feet and works well in shallow water. I like to scale my bait size down in the winter time and this bait allows me to do so. It vibrates and suspends in the water giving it the injured fish replication. Working this bait very slow over the mud flats will be a great fish finder even in murky water conditions. I work this bait using a "twitch twitch pause" for 5-8 seconds method. It is my #1 for a reason.

Yo-zuri 3D Flat Crank

2: Mirrolure 17MR

The MR 17 is great for shallow water situations since it starts to suspend as soon as it hits the water. Works well in 3-7 feet of water and is best worked using the "twitch twitch pause" method. The fish will hit it when the bait is sitting still and usually hit hard. Various colors in the bait work well, some days they like a red then the next day they prefer a purple and chartreuse.

3: Mirrolure 18MR

The MR18 is the deep water version of the MR17. The 18 is heavier, so it sinks faster. This bait must move quickly. Generally I will fish this bait from 7-14 feet of water, really targeting the deeper holes in the creeks. I usually let it pause for 4-5 seconds because I want that bait to be just above the bottom in the fish's strike zone. These work well late into the winter.

Mirrolure 18MR Fishing Lure

4: Popping cork with DOA Shrimp

In early winter, this is one of the best ways to find a school of fish in a hurry. This setup is easy for clients to fish, and  it's effective. Cast along a mud flat or a drop off and start popping. I use any type of popping cork, color doesn't matter. I tie a 18-26 inch leader to a green or gold DOA Shrimp. A long leader isn't necessary because the fish are attracted to the noise of the cork, which sounds like a fish feeding. When they come to the sound they see a shrimp just falling and they can't resist a free meal. I work this lure using a "pop and pause" for 4 seconds, and as soon as that cork goes under I start reeling. I usually fish this bait around 3-7 feet of water because once the sun warms up the surface those fish are going to be on the flats looking for a meal.

Popping Cork with DOA Shrimp

5: Yo-zuri 3D Minnow

This bait works just like the Yo-zuri 3D flat crank. It imitates a small mud minnow or glass minnow. I've caught my biggest trout on this exact bait in March. I use it in any depth. It sinks and works well with a "twitch twitch pause for 4-7 seconds," and like all fish they will hit it on the fall or while it is suspended. This lure will also catch rockfish and redfish too.

3D Minnow by Yo-zuri

Rod and Reel Setup 

I use a 2500 Florida Fishing Products reel spooled with 15lb power pro braid and 20lb Seaguar fluorocarbon leader, generally 6' long giving extra length for retying new lures. 

Florida Fishing Products Reel

My rod is a 7' Falcon coastal rod medium. This rod and reel setup is perfect for just about any saltwater application. It handles all inshore fish with ease and I am able to have 200 yards of line on the spool. I highly recommend this setup to any saltwater inshore angler.

 Falcon Coastal Rod

Finding the Targeted Spots

I use my Lowrance HDS Gen 3 to side scan the edge of the banks in order to locate structure, holes, or maybe even a school of fish. This is an awesome feature that I am fortunate to have on my boat to help locate fish I never knew were there. If this option isn't readily available then start a method that is called "beating the bank" which is setting up using the trolling motor about 75-100 feet off the bank depending on the depth and just start search casting. If you have a bite, cast back in the exact spot because specked trout are schooling fish and one will come back to hit it. They like to move up and down the shore line looking for a meal, so after a couple casts and not getting a bite, I suggest moving along the bank and continue your original path. Then pattern the fish that you've either caught or missed to replicate that retrieval speed or depth throughout the day to continue your success.

Some places to start these tactics right away are marshes that butt right up to the water, oyster rocks, or structure, whether it's old docks or bridge piling, and any change in depth resulting in a steep drop. These are places that any fish will be located to create ambush spots on prey.

The speckled trout is very sensitive to temperature drops and consistently cooler water. Using these lures in the correct situations and applying the aforementioned techniques, particularly in winter weather, have helped me considerably increase my trout catches. Hopefully you can apply similar techniques and have the same success. Remember, it's fishing, not catching!


 About Captain MJ Miller

Captain MJ Miller

I am Captain MJ Miller from New Bern, NC. Aside from being born in the Northern traces of Baltimore, Mayland, I've spent the majority of my 23 years in and around the coast of NC. I am a recent college graduate from Belmont Abbey College where I played Division 2 lacrosse. I grew up fishing in the Neuse River, Beaufort, and the shoals around Cape Lookout. My boat is a 2018 Carolina Skimmer custom by Carolina Yachts, built locally in Beaufort, North Carolina. She can float in 5" of water and run in 6", so chasing shallow water redfish has never been a problem, from an accessibility standpoint. Inshore species that the Neuse so often produces: Red drum, Speckled trout, Striped bass, Flounder, and Largemouth bass have been my go-to pursuits for some time. In the summer months I switch gears a little and head to near shore fishing for bluefish, spanish mackerel and cobia. Jigging the nearshore artificial reefs are an option also. As late summer and fall approach, I target old drum that spawn in the Neuse Rive, until the end of September then ready myself for the fall albacore blitz and the strong showing of speckled trout in the rivers and sounds. The yearly cycle of marine species continues to captivate me. Pleasing friends and clients while maintaining a safe and enjoyable experience is always the goal. I have a passion for teaching, whether it be chauffeuring a party through the shoals, or watching a kid smile from ear to ear when he gets that first tug. Seeing others enjoy the water as much as I have is still my biggest thrill.

Contact Captain MJ Miller

Sonny Boy Charters

(252) 675-5970

Instagram @capt_mjmiller




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