One of Charleston's "Fabulous Four" rivers, the Wando, fishes particularly well in November as the water temperature tumbles, and fabricated temptations come to the forefront.
The Wando is fed by deep-water creeks, had plenty of structure and acres of mud flats leading to deep-water sloughs off the river channel, offering prime ambush points for fishermen targeting specks. But it is a unique system; the lack of any real freshwater influx keeps the salinity high and ideal for speckled trout when waters cool.
Even though trout prefer waters with high salinity levels most of the year, the fall and approaching winter directs trout away from areas with variable salinity. A combination of cold water and falling salinity levels will kill trout in just a few days - and sometimes in just a few hours when already under extreme stress.
All along the South Atlantic, wintering trout populations took a massive hit from an extended wave of unusually cold and wet conditions in 2010, when Charleston's sub-tropical climate seemed more sub-glacial. But few fishermen can deny that the speckled trout are on the rebound this year, and the Wando will be on fire in November.
The Wando is not a big river compared to others along the coast, but it provides great trout habitat almost year-round. From creeks and ledges along the main channel to structure-laden pinch points near its mouth, fishermen have many options to intercept Mr. Yellowmouth under fall conditions.
Chris Wilson of Finaddict Charters targets speckled trout in places where he can find current flowing past irregular bottom features in the Wando and neighboring areas.
"Fish will be feeding at ambush spots facing up current," said Wilson, who looks for oyster or grassy points, irregular banks, pilings, rocks or along anything that creates a current rip where tasty morsels might be swept up and into a trout's range.
He prefers to begin at low tide on the harbor side near Daniel Island and then follow the incoming tide up the river, hitting places like Hobcaw Creek and the Mount Pleasant side of Drum Island.
The lower end of the tide is also preferred by veteran guide Jeff Yates of Tyjo Knot Charters. He likes the last two hours of outgoing and the first two hours of incoming water.
"The low tide concentrates the trout along creek channels and abrupt ledges along the main river in six to 12 feet of water," said Yates, who will start casting into water as shallow as four feet during the early fall and move deeper as the water temperature drops.
"In middle to late November, eight to 10 feet is where you will get hit," he said. "Trout will associate with the deeper ledge off the bank."
Yates likes to fish any ledges or places that drop to deeper water. The trout will be positioned on the deep side of the shear dropoffs, waiting for a meal to slide out of the shallows.
"Everything is looking up, waiting for something to come off the ledge, he said.
The Wando's pristine marshes provide thousands of acres of nearly perfect nursery conditions for a laundry list of fish and crustaceans, but cooling water will flush the summertime smorgasbord of shrimp, mullet and menhaden out of the marshes. Yates typically sees the shrimp and mullet leaving the river by the second week of November, but he said trout respond in a positive manner - at least positive from a fisherman's viewpoint.
"It's the best time of year to use artificial lures," he said.
Trout will crush anything that resembles a small menhaden, mullet or shrimp, and even though Yates spends almost every day tossing his cast net for live bait, hard baits and soft plastics are his weapons of choice.
"Trout will slam anything that looks like a shrimp in November," he said. "The D.O.A. bite kicks in ten-fold when the shrimp leave."
Yates rarely leaves D.O.A. shrimp in quarter- and half-ounce sizes at the dock. With shrimp gone from the river but still on a trout's menu, they become nearly perfect baits for Yates. D.O.A. shrimp can either be rigged right out of the package or fished under a popping cork. Yates likes to cast them upcurrent into shallow water and allow the current to wash the bait out onto the deeper channel edge and where the fast and slower currents meet.
"The fish will hit it in the calm area down the bank or in the faster water along the deep channel edge," he said.
Wilson is also a D.O.A. shrimp fan. He said trout will be congregated in big schools, and fishing an artificial allows him to cover more water and find those bigger concentrations of fish.
"Fishing a (D.O.A.) underneath a cork is a good search and prospect bait," he said. "Trout sense winter is coming and will eat all they can."
But baitfish imitations also carry their own weight. With the remaining menhaden and mullet making their final runs, trout will strike aggressively at offerings that mimic them. Surface and subsurface lures have their place in November; even though Yates and Wilson love the D.O.A.s under the surface, Yates struggles not to participate in the topwater scene this month.
"When the water temperature is within the low 70s and upper 60s, it is the perfect window for catching trout on top," said Yates, who will have three to four rods rigged with different topwater plugs at any given time, experimenting until he finds the one that's producing the best results on any given day.
"The different plugs have varied actions, different beads, and the fish want one over the other at times," Yates said. "It will be the sound of the click, the size of the plug and the speed of the retrieve that triggers a strike."
When the topwater bite is wide open, it's hard to leave, but Yates will shift tactics when it slows.
"When they don't hit well on top, use a small, shallow-running (crankbait). Keep it just below the surface and let it rise every few cranks," he said, pointing to Heddon's Swim'n Image and Bass Pro Shops XPS baits as excellent choices. "Use anything that looks like a little menhaden in green, black or blue back with a silver belly."
Yates will also use suspending baits like MirOlure's Catch 2000 or 17MR MirrOdine in almost any coloration that resembles menhaden.
HOW TO GET THERE/WHEN TO GO - The Wando River empties into Charleston Harbor between Mount Pleasant and Daniel Island. The entire river offers hot speckled trout fishing in November, especially when the water temperature is falling through the 60s. The best action is typically from late October through December. The most-popular public boat landing is Remley's Point off Mathis Ferry Rd. near Hobcaw Point and Molasses Creek subdivision in Mount Pleasant. Well up the river, Paradise Boat Landing at the end of Chandler Rd. off US 17 is available for small johnboats and kayaks.
TACKLE/TECHNIQUES: Topwater lures are ideal during on overcast or cloudy skies. Local favorites include the Sebile Slim Stik, Sebile Ghost Walker, Heddon Super Spook and Super Spook Jr., in baitfish patterns plus staples like bone/chartreuse and chartreuse/black. Use a walk-the-dog retrieve from shallow to deep. Shallow-running crankbaits such as Heddon's Swim'n Image and Bass Pro Shops' XPS will trigger strikes when topwaters won't work, as well suspending baits such as a MirrOlure Catch 2000, MirrOdine (17MR) in green, black or blue back/silver belly. Also, a DOA shrimp in ¼- and ½-ounce sizes is a go-to bait for trout in November, either fished under a popping cork or tied directly to a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. Braided line, such as Spiderwire Ultra Cast in 20-pound test, is preferred spooled on a 1000 or 2000 series reel - Penn's Battle reels are popular - matched with a 6 ½- to 7-foot medium to light-action spinning rod.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES: Jeff Yates, TyJo Knot Charters, 843-270-8956 or www.inshorefishingcharleston.com; Chris Wilson, Finaddict Charters, 843-224-7462 or www.charlestonflyfishingguide.com; Haddrell's Point Tackle Shop, Ben Sawyer Blvd,. Mount Pleasant, 843-881-3644.