Speckled trout in February can be harder to find than a civil servant the day after the Super Bowl.
To say fishing for specks in February can be frustrating is an understatement, but that doesn’t mean you have to stow your fishing gear until fish seemingly reemerge in April or May.
Capt. Glenn Ellis with Goin’ Coastal Charters based out of Biloxi Boardwalk Marina puts fish in the box year round by chasing other species when trout are difficult to catch.
“I would agree with that — that trout fishing can be frustrating in February,” Ellis said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily that the fish are uncooperative or that they’ve vanished. I think it’s just that we’ve had a lot more harsh, wetter weather patterns that are in late January, February and March.
“Personally I fish a lot of the same areas in February that I fish in November and December. It’s just that you don’t have as many days per week with ideal conditions.
“Look at December: The first rain we had was the 20th. We’ve had some cold fronts but none of them too terribly strong. So there’s a lot more windows of opportunity when the weather is nicer.
“Now, come February, come March, it seems like a lot of years that the cold fronts are one behind the other; they’re a lot more severe, so the windows of opportunity shrink.
“So for guys that work full-time jobs, the windows that do remain, are they there when we’re able to go fishing?”
When we have a significant weather event along the coast, whether it’s significant rainfall or a strong front that brings lots of wind, the water can be fouled up for several days. And with fronts barreling in one after the other, those days seem to add up to weeks.
There will be a few nice days between fronts, but the water is still a wreck.
Fear not — all is not lost.
Just a few miles to the south lie barrier islands teeming with fish that seem to be forgotten during late winter and early spring.
“That’s the nice thing about the barrier islands,” Ellis said. “If we get 4 to 5 inches of rain plus the hard, hard winds, then the water is going to be beat up for a little while. Where (at the barrier islands) it may get stained, but generally it’s still plenty fishable.
“The salinity isn’t going to change; you’re not going to get the freshwater runoff like you do here, and the water clarity is still fishable almost immediately.
Fishing the barrier islands in February is a bit different than during the summer: You’ll be looking for guts and gullies to fish, not grass.
“There’s not a whole lot of grass beds that time of year,” Ellis said. “You’re mainly just looking at bottom contour changes.
“So you know maybe where some gullies are, (or) you know where some guts are that run along sand bars — you start cruising in that area and then you really start to keep a keen eye to look for bait activity.”
Before Ellis wets a line, he will spend some time riding around looking for bait, looking for a mullet to flip.
“The No. 1 thing, more than any other variable, is locating bait,” Ellis said. “If you can find some mullet, even if it’s big mullet, that’s where it seems like you’ll have the greatest success.
“The conditions are a lot more harsh but, even in some of the worst conditions, if you find baitfish activity that is pretty heavy, you’re setting yourself up for success.”
When Ellis sees the telltale flip of a mullet or sees a school pass near the boat he will shut the engine off and set up a drift because he knows that predator fish are most likely in the area.
“We run a lot of charters to the islands in January, February and March because you have a good shot of coming across redfish and black drum,” Ellis said. “A lot of times they’ll be schooling together.
“The easiest way to find those areas are drifting the flats, not so much getting out and blind wading.”
That doesn’t mean wading isn’t effective.
“If you can locate those schools out of the boat, then you can hop out of the boat and really have a lot of fun,” Ellis said. “You don’t spook the school as easily, so you can wade in on top of them.
“They generally won’t relocate very far from where they’re schooled up.”
Ellis uses the same tackle for redfish and drum that he does for trout. Bass tackle used to throw spinnerbaits will work just fine if you’re a freshwater angler wanting a taste of salt.
“I use my trout tackle — I use my trout rods, I use my trout reels,” Ellis said. “I don’t step it up to something heavier just because the possibility exists that I may catch a 25- or 30-pound bull red.
“Now you want to make sure you have a full spool of line. It’s not the time to go out there and you have half a spool and you’ve been considering making the investment for a new spool of line.”
Ellis uses a Shimano Chronarch CI4 spooled with Suffix 832 braid and a 6-foot 20-pound-test Berkley Big Game shock leader. The reel is paired with a medium-light 6-foot, 6-inch Fishing Tackle Unlimited Green Rod with recoil guides.
“I haven’t found that I get fewer bites than someone using fluorocarbon,” Ellis said. “A guide in Texas told me that he uses Big Game, as well. I asked him if he used fluorocarbon, and he said he doesn’t because fluorocarbon sinks.
“He said as shallow as they fish in Texas, especially if you’re using a floating Corky or topwater plug, he didn’t want anything to pull the nose of the bait down. So that made me feel good to continue to use the regular Big Game mono.”
Later in the year, when the trout are thick at the islands, Ellis favors a Paul Brown Corky. During the winter and early spring when targeting a mixed bag, he fishes soft plastics primarily.
“If I’m targeting a variety of fish where we’re just looking to get bit, then most times I’m throwing a 1/8- to a 1/4-ounce jig with some type of soft plastic,” he said. “We us a lot of the rat tail-type baits out there, as well.
Ellis’ go-to bait for a barrier island mixed bag is a Z-Man Trout Trick on a 1/8-ounce David’s Custom Tackle Trout Tamer jig head, which has a screw-lock head that keeps the soft plastic firmly in place even after being mauled by trout, redfish or black drum.
There’s nothing more frustrating than being on a hot bite and having to stop and thread on another bait. Well, except maybe a visit from your mother-in-law.
“It’s not the common thing to go out there and load the boat with 30 trout before 9 am like in June,” Ellis said. “There are those days that a good day at the barrier islands wade fishing you can put together a mixed bag of a dozen trout, a few redfish, maybe catch a few black drum and even spot some sheepshead cruising the shallows; you can really put together a mixed bag out there in February.”
So don’t let February put you in a funk because football is over and your favorite inshore fishing hole is fouled up. Pick a day between fronts and hit one of our barrier islands to put together a bag of trout, line-stretching redfish, drum and jailhouse snapper (aka sheepshead).
To schedule a trip with Capt. Glenn Ellis check out the Goin’ Coastal Charters website at goincoastalcharters.com for contact information.