Home » winter fishing

Tag: winter fishing

Winter Speckled Trout Tactics For Fly & Light Tackle

When not chasing after striped bass and redfish in the Pamlico Sound and estuaries of coastal North Carolina, TFO National Advisor Capt. Gary Dubiel (Spec Fever Guide Service) loves to put his clients on large speckled sea trout. Even during the cold winter months, Gary knows how to find speckled trout and has some excellent tips for both fly and conventional anglers.

The Pamlico Sound & The Migration of Coastal North Carolina Speckled Trout 

TFO: Tell us about your fishery briefly and why it’s suitable for speckled trout.

GD: The Pamlico Sound estuary system is fairly giant – 2.1 million surface acres of water. You’re basically looking at a shallow inland sea. It’s very conducive to speckled trout just from an environmental point of view – lots of shallow water, nursery area, and an abundance of food. It will also hold enough ideal water temperatures where the fish are going to be in the area year round.

Speckled trout here in North Carolina are very different then ones you’ll find in Florida, Louisiana, or Texas in that they have a significant migration distance. Many of the fish we have here will migrate out into the ocean and go north into the Chesapeake Bay.

I’ve been involved in a lot of tagging studies and my furthest tag return was 285 miles away from its starting point in Oriental, NC. Another interesting tag return that I was involved in was a fish I recaptured that was tagged in Virginia. The fish was only 13 inches long and was tracked from Northern Virginia to Oriental, NC and was recaptured within 14 days. These fish can move great distances in very short periods of time, which can make it challenging when trying to locate them.

As a rule of thumb in our river systems (Pamlico River and the Neuse River into the Pamlico Sound), typically what you’re going to find is that the cooler the weather, the more the fish move upriver and into the creeks. In other words, the further back into the creeks you go, the warmer the temps get. You’re typically going to see this pattern in late October/November right up into March/early April.

Once the water temperatures warm up into the low 70s and stay there for a short period of time, those fish will move out of the creek systems and back out into the main river systems. At that point, there can be fish that move to North Carolina from Virginia – move back out into the ocean and up into the Chesapeake Bay.

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Spawning & Average Size

TFO: What are typical spawning or migrating behaviors across the seasons for speckled trout?

GD: Our fish here will adjust and typically move out into the lower parts of the river in the Sounds – where their first spawning will be around the first full moon at the end of May/early June. The first spawn is also going to be related to water temperature – somewhere in the low-mid 70s.

The fish will stay in those areas through the summer into early fall. There will be some shifting, but they are in those general area. Speckled trout can spawn 3-4 times throughout the course of the year. Smaller fish typically spawn twice, larger fish might spawn up to 3 times in a year.

TFO: How big do they get typically and what’s an average size for you? 

GD: You can find a mix of fish (size-wise) throughout the course of a year. Typically in the cooler months, bigger fish are more concentrated and more on the aggressive side. They tend to be more willing to eat much smaller baits as the water temperatures drop. Typically, you can catch more large speckled trout (24”-30”) in the cooler months, however, you can still catch big fish all summer long depending on your tactics.

You’ll see a lot of small fish in my area because of the volume of breeding that occurs here – anywhere from 10”-12” fish, right into 20”-24” fish. You’re looking at a pretty significant distribution of fish from one right up about six years old.

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Locating Specked Trout

TFO: How are you typically locating speckled trout in the winter? Where is the best place to target them (river/water location or depth)?

GD: In the cooler months, you’re going to be looking to fish primarily in the creek systems, and the upper parts of the rivers. You basically have two different areas that you’ll find fish during the winter – both are particularly related to water temperatures.

In water less than five feet deep, I can catch speckled sea trout down to about 47.5 degrees (water surface temperature). Typically, in the backs of the creeks (water less than five five deep), the bottoms are dark mud and soft – so they’ll warm up faster in the sunshine. You can get a one to four temperature increase over the course of a sunny day.

In areas that are deeper – around six to twelve feet of water – you can catch speckled trout right down to about 45 degrees (water surface temperature) with your bottom temperature being a few degrees warmer.

The further upriver you go – cities like New Bern or Washington – you’re going to find some of the creeks are much deeper, so you’ll target the fish a bit deeper. Good news for that is that you can fish those with much lower water temperatures in colder conditions – bad news is they don’t warm up. What you have when you start out, over the course of the day is typically what you’re going to have. Those deeper creeks won’t warm up much on sunny days.

Tactics & Set-Ups For Light Tackle

GD: In the winter, you want to fish as light as you possibly can.  Allow your baits to sink very slowly and take advantage of a fish that’s pretty lethargic. You’re fishing for them at the lower ends of their tolerance to eat.

Scaling down in weights is helpful. Typically, I will fish down to a 1/16 oz. jig head with soft plastic bodies. I’ll scale down on soft plastic bodies – 2.5-3 inches.

Another bait that works really well for me in the winter is the Storm Shrimp – which is a composite, keel-weighted shrimp pattern. This mean that the weight is in the center of the hook shank, so the baits will fall flat – rather than head first. This results in a decreased fall rate, which can increase the amount of the bites you get.

In order to fish those baits, I want to have the lightest, most sensitive rod I can have. The 6’9” Light Inshore is ideal for that. Typically I’m going to be fishing a 1000-1500 series spinning reel with 8-10 lb. test braid. Everything is really light and scaled down. Even if you catch a striper or a redfish, the water is cold, so those fish aren’t going to peel line off like when its 75 degrees. In the winter, everything is lethargic.

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Tactics & Set-Ups For Fly

GD: You pretty much want to copy the same tactics used for light tackle, and apply it to fly. Typically, I’m fishing Type 2 to Type 3 lines depending on the water depth. You’ll want a slow sinking line, or a clear intermediate line, with a lightly weighted fly.

Rods that fish this type of setup well are the Axiom ll-X, the Axiom ll, and the Mangrove. 6wt and 7wt are what I prefer, but you can also fish up to an 8wt.

Smaller weighted flies such as Clousers, Half & Halfs work great. I also use a few of my own craft fur patterns. The Lil’ Hayden is one I tie that produces well for speckled trout. The Pop-N-Shrimp is another good one. Flymen has reproduced one of my mine called the Crafty Deceiver.

Ultimately, you’re looking for something that has some weight in it, but that falls about the same rate as those slow sinking lines do. Click here for a video where Gary breaks down some of his go-to patterns for speckled trout.

For a reel, the BVK-SD is the perfect tool for the job. It’s lightweight and has plenty of drag if you need it, too.

I usually use a 3’-4’ straight leader to the fly. Usually, I scale down to 15lb fluorocarbon in the winter to help maintain that straight contact with the line and fly.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

TFO: What retrieval patterns typically work best for you?

GD: Strip and Pause. Strip, Strip, Pause – All your bites are going to be on the pause. Pay attention to your counts on your pauses. If you are getting bites on a certain number (seconds you are counting), take note as it gives you an indication of where the fish are and how they’re reacting.

Anything that feels different – strip strike. Even though it is cold, those fish can spit out that fly pretty quickly.

Make sure that the rod tip is almost in the water and pointed at the fly to maintain as direct contact as possible to help detect any strikes.

TFO: Not many anglers are aware that speckled trout have some pretty sharp teeth. Do you have any advice on handling them?

GD: You’ll want to grab them in the belly right under the gills. Don’t put your fingers in their mouth like you would a bass or other species (laughs). You’ll want to have some plies or hemostats to get the fly out of their mouth once you have them at the both.

 

Winter Rainbows in Alaska with Sierra Baldwin

Winter is here guys!! The days in Alaska are getting shorter and much, much colder! Frozen waders and rod guides, cold fingers and toes, frozen flies…the list goes on. Honestly though, when a big rainbow is on the end of your line, all those obstacles seem completely irrelevant. 

Photo: Clayton Longfellow

Fishing in Alaska is pretty dang awesome during any season, but there’s just something so special about fly fishing for rainbows in the midst of the colder months. I’ve lived in Alaska my whole life, and I’ve always LOVED winter. So, when winter is here, I don’t want to miss a second of it.

Fishing in extreme cold definitely has its pros and cons. The coldest I’ve fished on the river, I started the day at -8 degrees, and the high for the day was 5 degrees! I do a lot of ice fishing as well, and the coldest day I’ve had was -25 degrees! You will NOT find me on the river in temps as low as that! 

Of all the species of fish, I don’t think I could choose a favorite to target. I want to say I favor rainbow fishing in the winter just a little because it’s so different from everything else I do throughout the year. It’s definitely more of a challenge, which also makes it more rewarding.

This time of year, the water has dropped a ton (hopefully), and the fish are in different areas. Once that water drops, rainbows like the deeper trenches, but keep in mind you need good current to drift or swing through.

Winter in Alaska (and a lot of places) can have some pretty significant swings in temperatures. Here, it can be 20 degrees one day, and then in the single digits the next. Keep in mind that trout need to adapt to that intense temperate change before they turn back on.

Rainbows, especially on the Kenai River, never go hungry. With our massive salmon population, they have more than plenty to eat. Even more so on pink salmon years! On the Kenai, pink salmon only run every other year (every even year). Super odd, but can’t complain though! That only makes the trout extra chunky! Speaking of food..

Photo: Clayton Longfellow

Flies & Presentation

In the winter, the trout rely on mostly flesh and eggs. The silvers are the last of the salmon to enter the river, which means they’re still lingering around and waiting to spawn late fall/early winter. The egg drop/bead bite is unreal this time of year. 

Silver eggs are 8mm in size, so throughout the fall and winter, using this size painted bead is pretty successful. 10mm’s are a good choice when the water is dirty. I like to use my own paint on top of the painted beads to make my own special colors! This gives the bead more of a realistic look and will make it stand out compared to the ones they see regularly.

Now, my favorite topic – swinging flies! The majority of my time winter fly fishing consists of swinging flies. My favorite flies for rainbows are different leech variations, intruders, and sculpins! I prefer this method of fishing because of the precise control you have over your fly presentation and the art form that comes with casting. Also, you get to feel the fish take, instead of watching your indicator go under. 

Rods, Reels, Line/Leader Setups & More!

Sink tips are a key factor with swinging flies. You have to have the right amount of length and weight for that specific day. Alaska has some weird weather, so the water levels are constantly changing.

If your sink tip is too light, you’ll be fishing too high up in the water column, and the swing will be too fast. If you’re fishing heavy, your fly will be dredging bottom and swinging too slow. 

Rod weight matters too! If your rod is too light, you won’t be able to throw heavier sink tips effectively. For medium-large flies, I recommend at least a 7wt rod.

Photo: Clayton Longfellow

The 7wt Axiom II Switch casts light and heavy sink tips effortlessly. Hands down, my favorite rod for swinging flies. You also need a reel that won’t give up on you as it’s almost completely frozen, and a rainbow decides to make a big run. I trust the Power Reels with all my heart! 

Photo: Clayton Longfellow

As for my single-hand set up, I am currently using the Axiom II-X in a 6wt, paired with the BVD-SD Reel. The impressive back bone and power in this rod truly makes a difference when casting on freezing cold days, and through winds.

Photo: Clayton Longfellow

I hope you guys enjoyed learning some of my winter rainbow fishing methods. I could seriously talk about it forever, but I think I covered some basics for now. Wishing all of you good luck on your winter fishing adventures this season! And if you don’t like winter, you’re missin’ out.

Blog written by Alaska based TFO Ambassador Sierra Baldwin. Photos provided by Sierra and were taken by Clayton Longfellow.

 

Five Ways to Catch More Fish in the Winter

Most fishermen hate winter fishing. But I love winter fishing. Full disclosure: I live in Florida. It’s warm pretty much year round. But even when I lived in Virginia, I liked winter fishing. Not many people fish in January and February, so chances are you will get your favorite spots all to yourself.

Here are few tips to make the best of those colder days on the water.

Safety

Wear neoprene waders. Gloves and a good thermal cap are essential. Layer up, if possible. It’s better to feel like the Michelin man than to freeze. Use a wading staff, if needed. No one wants to fall in the water. It’s uncomfortable in the summer; it’s potentially life-threatening in the winter.

Stay upright. Stay safe.

And even if you stay dry, make sure to take breaks to stay warm. Drink a cup of coffee or crank up the heat in your vehicle.

Pick the Right Water

Tailwaters are the obvious option in the winter simply because of the constant water temperature. Trout, for instance, like water temperatures in the 50s. You won’t find that water that warm in the winter — unless it’s a tailwater fishery.

My two favorites are the Nantahala in Bryson City, N.C.; the Jackson River in Hot Springs, Va.; the South Holston in Bristol, Tenn.; and the White River in Lakeview Ark. All are worth fishing, even when it’s not bone-chilling cold.

Sleep In

There’s no need to get up at the crack of dawn. I fish late morning until late afternoon. Sometimes, I go after lunch, when sun is up high enough to warm the water. This schedule applies to freshwater and salt.

For redfish on the Florida marsh, I wait until ankle-deep water covers the dark mud on the flats and in the creeks when the fish try to get warm off the heat from skinny water and dark bottom, always a good combination for winter fishing.

Slow Down

I typically fish too fast. My personality dictates more is better, particularly if the fishing is slow. This is the wrong approach in winter fishing. You need to slow down. Slow movements. Slow casts. Slow strips. Slow retrieves.

As the winter water temperature increases, a fish’s metabolism increases. Decreasing water temperature makes fish lethargic. To compensate, make accurate casts and slow down.

Use a Thermometer

The air temperature is important for personal safety. The water temperature dictates whether the fish will feed. Trout generally like temperatures in the 50s. Largemouth bass, on the other hand, prefer temperatures in the mid-60s and 70s.

I used to get wed to these guidelines, but don’t make the same mistake. Instead pay attention to whether the water temperature is moving. If you’re winter fishing, you want temperatures to rise. In the summer, you generally want temperatures to drop, preferably into each species’ feeding zone.

Temperature, of course, is only one factor in winter fishing success. But the important thing is to get out and enjoy winter fishing. Trust me, it’s worth braving the cold.

Any other tips you’d like to share, let us know with a comment or one of our social media pages.