FIND THEM FIRST
When it comes to searching for speckled trout during late winter, there are some basic rules of thumb that anglers need to be aware of. The first thing fishermen need to consider when selecting a likely spot during the winter months is the consistency of the bay floor. This time of year, a mucky mix of silt, decayed matter, bits of shell, etc is exactly the meeting spot fishermen need to find. With temperatures generally holding relatively low in February, it is a good bet the vast majority of trout in every Texas bay system will be holding and feeding over the muddy bottom areas.
Muddy bottoms attract trout during the winter for a variety of reasons. The main reason fish seek out muddy bottom areas during winter is warmth. Muddy bottoms tend to retain heat longer than sand bottoms, so the water temperature over mud will be both warmer and more stable. Of course, trout are not the only fish hoping to stay warm during winter. Baitfish also seek pockets of warm water and will be more concentrated over muddy bottom areas. Therefore, muddy bottom areas of the bay offer winter trout a combination of plentiful food and comfortable temperatures.
These mud bottom winter homes don't just attract trophy trout. Speckled trout of all sizes will seek the insulated water over muddy bottom areas during the cool winter months. In general, big trout are a bit more reluctant to leave the muddy bottom areas than their smaller counterparts. They will move into shallower water when temperatures warm, but will almost always be in areas with mud beneath. Smaller fish, on the other hand, will sometimes stray to grass or sand during a warm spell. But even these fish never move far from their muddy security blanket. So, even on relatively warm winter days, anglers seeking sow specks should still concentrate their efforts over or very near muddy bottom regions of the bay.
As is the case during every season and in every type of bay terrain, not every piece of muddy bottom bay floor will be holding fish during the winter months. Therefore, anglers still need to be able eliminate unproductive water in order to narrow their search. Mud flats near deeper water or with channels bisecting them will generally hold more fish, as will mud bottom that has shell or grass mixed with it. Another key - bait must be present, even if it is just one or two mullet. Before making the first cast, you need to see bait. This is particularly important for wade fishermen - there is no point wasting time putting on waders and getting out of the boat if there is no active bait present.
SLOW WALTZ SEDUCES SOW SPECKS
Fishermen who wish to be successful at tricking trophy trout into striking during winter need to do one simple thing -- slow down. The name the game this time of year, rule #1 is to fish slowly. The speed and tactic may vary a little depending on the prevailing weather conditions, but any retrieve made during February needs to be relatively pedestrian compared to retrieving baits at other, warmer times of the year. But, again, there are a variety of slow retrieve tactics from which anglers can choose.
Walking the Dog
This time of year, a slow, sloppy, splashy retrieve usually works best. In order to accomplish this slow sashay, use slow lift of the rod tip as opposed to a sharp twitch. Also, it is imperative to move the rod tip a greater distance during the side-to-side motion. And, keep in mind, it is winter, which means a slow retrieve, so don't worry about continuously moving the plug. Rather lift the rod to one side, then pause a second or two before moving the rod - and thus the plug - to the other side. It's also not out of line to allow the plug to sit motionless for up to 10 seconds. In fact, some violent strikes can occur when the lure has been sitting still for a long period of time.
Another great way to tempt trophy trout during the winter time is wakin' a lure to imitate a mullet swimming just below the surface. The best lures to use for this type of retrieve are lipped floater/divers like the Cordell Redfin and Bomber Long A. In general, these lures are meant to dive as deep as 3 feet. If they retrieved extremely slowly, they will stay just inches below the surface. But, in order to consistently get the bait to barely skim beneath the surface with various retrieve speeds, it is best to modify the plug by cutting the lip. Typically, a lip length of about 1/4 inch works best.
Also known as a "do-nothing retrieve," deadsticking is the antithesis to an active retrieve. In fact, this method is known to test the patience of both fish and fishermen. But, as long as the latter can maintain the patience to dead-stick, the former will usually lose its and strike the bait. To dead-stick a bait, anglers should hold the rod high and maintain just enough tension on the line to be able to feel - or 'remain in contact with' - the bait. If fishing around vertical structure such as pilings, allow the bait to drop on a somewhat slack line so it does not pendulum back toward the rod tip. When fishing over horizontal structure such as grass, drop the rod tip in order to allow the bait to touch down on the top of the structure then use a methodical lifting motion to cause it ride up in the water column. The reel handle should be cranked just fast enough to allow the lure to continue moving forward.
When fish are anchored to the bottom, a slow roll retrieve is often the best way to entice a strike. To properly execute a slow roll retrieve, allow the bait to sink to the bottom immediately following the cast. Then, with a low rod angle, begin cranking the reel handle just fast enough to get the bait moving forward. Although it takes a little practice, over time you should develop a feel for the bait and be able to keep it moving just above the bottom or a grass bed, oyster bed or other obstructions.
THE RIGHT OFFERING FOR THE OCCASSION
As is often the case when attempting to impress a Valentine's date, coming prepared with just the right gift is often the key to sealing the deal when trying to entice trophy trout.
Topwater plugs are the tried-and-true plugs for trophy trout chasers. Dog-walking plugs like the Bomber Badonk-A-Donk and the MirroLure "dogs" are the most popular. However, prop baits, floater/divers and chuggers can also be productive in the right situations. Slow-sinking and suspending baits twitchbaits -- both hard- and soft-plastic -- have also made their way into the "must-have" category for winter trophy trout fishermen. Corkies and various MirroLure models are the most commonly used. Soft-plastics will also produce good results this time of year. More often than not, anglers should choose "full-size" 4.5- to 5-inch models. Both paddle tail and straight tail baits can work well depending on the conditions.
Although no fishermen has every caught an "ugly" trophy trout, a date with Valentine's Day weather along the Texas coast can range from 1 to 10. Depending on the conditions, fishermen will need to change their approach and lure offerings in order to be successful. Here's a few basic rules to follow for the most common weather conditions experienced during February.
When the water is off-colored, predator fish usually have to rely on vibrations sent out by their prey in order to locate it. Under these conditions fishermen can often up their odds by choosing colors that help fish find their lures. This includes using big baits that disrupt water -- prop baits, rattling dog-walking plugs, paddle tail soft-plastics, etc. Dark, opaque colors are also best under these conditions. This is also the time to use really slow retrieves, focus on muddy bottom areas and fish thigh- to chest-deep water. This conditions most often happen immediately preceding or following a front and/or while a front is passing through.
When the water clears a few days following a front, the same opaque colors that were so productive in the murky water seem unnatural and out of place. As nice as this gin-clear winter water is to look at, it can add to the degree of difficulty when it comes to tempting trophy trout to strike. Fish swimming in such clear water are more readily aware of anything that enters their environment and are able to get a better look at any lure or bait thrown their way. More often than not, this results in a "less is more" situation, with natural color -- even clear -- baits working better than those with ornate color patterns. If the surface of the water is calm as well, anglers should also use a bit quieter lures such as floater/divers, topwaters with no or muted rattles, straight tail soft-plastics and slow-sinking twitch baits. On the plus side, the clear water does offer anglers sight-casting opportunities, where they can often find trophy trout "sunning" over muddy bottom areas.
The second month of the year is known for America's best known manufactured holiday -- Valentine's Day. Regardless of how fishermen feel about other humans, most hardcore trophy trout hunters are in love with February. In fact, the most ardent of sow speck seekers most often want nothing more for Valentine's Day than a date with a trophy trout. And, as Valentine's Day draws near, there will be plenty of anglers meeting the fish of their dreams.
Spending Valentine's Day Seeking Sow Speckled Trout