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Deep for Winter Trout

Suitable temps and plenty of baitfish attract big spotted seatrout.

Originally published in the January 2011 print edition.

As waters warm in spring, trout begin patrolling channels near oyster bars. This gator-size specimen took a live shrimp freelined near the bottom of the tide.

I remember it was one of the coldest days of the winter. I was casting a small lipped diving plug, a CD 9 Rapala to be specific, in a deep channel beneath Amelia Island’s 14th Street Bridge. Conditions were perfect with the last of the falling tide gathering both seatrout and shrimp into a steep channel dropoff from 8 to 20 feet of water. For several nights, air temperatures had fallen into the low 30s.

However there wasn’t anything cold about the strike and subsequent fight of a 12-pound spotted seatrout, my personal best!

Over the years I’ve found that the best deepwater speck drops are located adjacent to shallow structure where seatrout are found during the fall and spring. During these cooler months, baitfish are plentiful in the shallows and water temperatures are more suitable as well for seatrout.

Dropoff adjacent to a forage-rich flat is dependable.

When hunting for prospective winter trout lies, I use my fishfinder to pinpoint areas of a deep channel where both baitfish and seatrout are holding. This eliminates a lot of wasted time in anchoring and fishing where there isn’t a good concentration of fish. Be sure to increase the sensitivity of your fishfinder so the screen will show both baitfish and seatrout.

Next, I position my boat upcurrent of the drop and shut off the big motor while drifting quietly over the deep channel. If the fishfinder marks a lot of baitfish and larger targets, I’ll stake the boat in 3 to 5 feet of water where shallow flats meet the deep channel. A stake anchor, either manual or powered, is a big advantage here, as dropping a heavy Danforth will often spook those wary gator trout. When fishing a bridge channel, I’ll anchor as quietly as possible. Anchor ropes are often the culprits for losing deepwater trout as well, when a hooked trout wraps a fishing line around the rope.

Light tackle is my next key to tricking deepwater trout in winter.

I prefer a 7-foot spinning rod with a medium-light tip action and medium-heavy butt section. Reels I spool up with 8-pound-test fluorocarbon. Using lures, I tie a loop knot to promote better action. When using baits, I’ll tie a Palomar knot directly to the hook eye. The medium light tip helps me detect light trout strikes in deep water, and helps keep a solid hookset. Seatrout have very weak mouths. Hooks tend to tear loose when too much rod pressure is applied. If you fish waters where snook are likely, and you harbor the hope of landing one, you’ll want some form of leader, say around 30-pound-test. But for seatrout only, you can tie the 8-pound line directly to the lure or hook.

Good scenario for locating seatrout in winter: bridge on a deep coastal river.

Keeping good contact with lures or baits with your rodtip is critical when working deep trout drops. When freelining a live shrimp or finger mullet, avoid slack fishing line that can result in a missed strike. Also keep contact with lures for the same reason.

Cast a slow-sinking lure upcurrent and allow it to sink, giving twitches with the rodtip as it sinks, and during the retrieve. Another deadly technique is casting a soft-plastic shrimp upcurrent and allowing it to drift deep. Live shrimp should be hooked through the tail with a No. 2 Kahle hook. A buckshot-size splitshot pinched onto the line just ahead of the hook helps the shrimp to sink, instead of drifting with the current.

Tides are critical, with the last few hours of the falling tide and the last few hours of the rising tides best. Look for clean, deep water, and avoid areas stained by rainfall or high winds. Same as other times of the year, some of the best gator trout action comes during low light periods of early morning and late evening.

FS