Guide Tom Siwarski of Carolina Aero Marine Adventures wanted to spend the first couple of hours of daylight on Thursday morning fishing topwater baits for speckled trout on the Cape Romain end of Bulls Bay. Stormy weather kept him sitting in the parking lot at the McClellanville city ramp until 8 a.m., but Siwarski proved quickly that there’s a lot to the old adage, “better late than never.” Within two hours, he and his fishing party had put around 40 specks in the boat before the tide ebbed far enough to turn their attention to redfish.

“I don’t know why people only fish for speckled trout in the fall,” said Siwarski (843-327-3434). “I can catch 40 fish every morning even in August – as long as it’s before 10 o’clock.”

Siwarski and his party caught fish at all three spots they visited, finishing up with a 22-inch speck that anchored their stringer of 17- and 18-inch fish. But by far, the majority of fish were around 13-1/2 inches – a half-inch under South Carolina’s minimum size – but that was just fine with the veteran guide, who agreed that most of those fish will reach keeper length during the summer and be stocking 15- and 16-inch fish this fall.

The number and quality of fish was a surprise to Siwarski’s party – which kept only three fish to eat and released the 22-incher, which will likely spawn several times between May and August – based on the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ survey that showed the speckled trout population was off 80 percent last year after back-to-back cold winters and cold-stun winter kills of specks.

Those 13-1/2-inch fish were likely spawned in the summer of 2010 and survived the cold-stun kills during the winter of 2011 – smaller fish are less susceptible to the cold-stun events than larger ones. The bigger fish were among those 20 percent that survived by being able to reach deeper, more temperate waters when the cold weather really hit in January 2011.

Siwarski fished his favorite rig for trout, a DOA shrimp on a 3-foot leader under a popping cork. He used two colors, gold glitter and glow, and dyed the tails chartreuse using Spike-It dip-dye. After catching 15 fish off a flat to the upcurrent side of a marsh point, he asked, “Boy, don’t you wish we’d been here at daylight with a topwater plug?”

Siwarski targets trout on the high end of the tide cycle, when there’s enough water in the marsh grass to draw trout in to feed on shrimp and baitfish. Most of his casts were into 2 to 4 feet of water.