Sometimes you just have to see it to believe it.
There’s no way I would’ve believed a speckled trout could be caught in another boat’s prop wash until I saw it with my own two eyes.
A couple of months earlier, I had to shut down my outboard 100 yards out to use the wind and my trolling motor to get within casting distance of a grass bed to keep from spooking a trout. Now boaters can putt-putt directly over their heads and they’ll still eat.
More on that later.
November through as late as February finds speckled trout in their wintertime haunts. They’ve transitioned from our bays up into our rivers and deeper bayous, where they have access to deep holes that serve as safe havens from cold weather.
There are two primary tactics coastal anglers use during the winter months to catch speckled trout: trolling soft plastics or live bait and casting soft plastics on a jig.
Ocean Springs’ Zach Carroll trolls soft plastics on occasion, but his go-to trolling bait for speckled trout are bull minnows.
“Slow-trolling in the winter time can be some of the most-exciting trout fishing you will do,” Carroll said. “I have been on multiple trips where you can barely get the bull minnow out the back of the boat without the rod doubling over.”
Bull minnows can be purchased at most of local bait shops throughout the winter, but Carroll prefers to catch his own.
He even has a large ice chest fitted with an aerator in his shed where he keeps the minnows between trips. Changing the water every couple of days will keep them lively.
For trolling bull minnows, Carroll uses standard trout tackle. His reels are spooled with 30-pound PowerPro, which he ties to a barrel swivel. He then ties a 24-inch monofilament leader to the swivel with a No. 2 treble hook on the business end. The treble hook is threaded through the bottom lip of the bull minnow.
“From my experiences, winter fishing for speckled trout is they can be an exceptionally finicky fish,” Carroll said. “The hook set slow-trolling most of the time is made by just leaving the rod in the rod holder.
“You will see the bull minnow start to get nervous, with the rod tip fluttering; then, all of a sudden the rod will look like it is about to touch the water.”
Experiment with line lengths out the back of the boat, keeping in mind there’ll be other anglers trolling along and you’ll make tight turns in a lot of our bayous.
The other tactic for targeting trout — and this is my favorite — is tight-lining soft plastics on a jig head.
Chris Bush, now in San Antonio, Texas, has filled countless coolers with quality trout by fishing soft plastics on jigs throughout the winter.
Bush’s go-to lure for wintertime fishing is a Matrix Shad.
Water clarity dictates his bait color, and the water depth and current dictate his jig head weight.
“Jighead size is the key component to staying versatile,” Bush said, “and making the right determination can lead to more fish in the box.
“In depths up to 15 feet, I like to throw a ¼- or 5/16-ounce jighead; in depths greater than 15 feet I throw a 3/8- or ½-ounce.”
But Bush isn’t locked into those guidelines.
“That being said, it doesn’t mean I won’t throw a ¼-ounce (jig) in 20 feet of water,” he said. “I let the fish tell me what they want. What I mean by that is (that) the lighter the jighead and the deeper the water, you’re allowing that bait to slowly drift through the water column. This can be a deadly tactic for fish suspended in 15 to 20 feet of water as water temps rise.”
Water flow also works into the equation.
“Pay attention to the tide and its direction compared to your spot,” Bush said. “I generally like to bring my bait either with or perpendicular to the tide. This provides a more natural presentation, and allows you to fish that lighter jighead in deep waters.
“As your bait is coming back with the tide, your jighead is being forced down the water column, allowing you to fish all depths thoroughly.”
But there are drawbacks to the approach.
“Sometimes the unfortunate part is the ability to feel the hit,” he said. “The technique I use is to wait a couple of seconds before I begin my retrieve; this allows your bait to sink to the bottom. Once I let it sink, I slowly raise my rod straight up and give it two hard pops, then reel in my slack with my rod tip down, then repeat.
“About 90 percent of my strikes happen when I’m slowly lifting my rod, and you’ll feel a slight tap. When that happens, set the steel.”
Back to prop wash and catching trout.
Wintertime fishing finds both types of anglers sharing the same water. It’s doable if both parties work together to make things happen.
“The key to fishing bayous or banks choked with trollers is to get out of their way,” Bush said. “If you accept what they are doing, don’t get discouraged and have confidence in your spot and ability, you will catch fish.
“To avoid conflict and confusion, I like to get on one side of the bayou and slowly drift with the tide, casting perpendicular to the tide. This allows the trollers to see what kind of technique I’m using and affords them an opportunity to come up with a game plan of how to fish around me.
“That said, once I get a bite, I put my Stick It Anchor Pin down and repeat that technique as closely as possible. It also prevents me from drifting through or past the fish and not disrupting anyone else.”
The key is understanding why you got the bite.
“Trout, except for the trophies, generally school up, so by getting bit you did something correct to trigger that strike,” Bush said. “If you can duplicate that technique and get another strike, then expect to have a good day.”
On one particularly busy winter day while fishing by myself, my frustrations with all the boat traffic got the best of me. Anyone who’s fished Graveline Bayou in the winter feels my pain. I essentially took my ball and went home.
That was before I fished with Bush in a bayou clogged with other boaters.
I got to see him operate exactly as he described above. We put a limit in the boat in less than two hours — several caught in the prop wash of other boats.
Confidence in yourself and your spot goes a long way, friends. Be patient, be courteous and be persistent.
Success will follow.