Over the past couple of months, the weather has been a little less than suitable for most anglers, but with good weather right around the corner, fishermen read to beat cabin fever can expect some action. And the best way to find fish will be to find where the bait is – and that’s often much easier.
Whether offshore or inshore, fish develop strategies to survive the winter. Finding warmer water is essential for most inshore species, because survival is at the top of their list. But survival is not just about finding warm conditions; fish must live in areas where they will not be eaten by larger predators.
Redfish will venture into the shallows in the backs of headwater creeks to evade the wrath of marine mammals and to find warmth. It’s just their luck that these same shallow areas will be full of life, including large mullet, mud minnows, and even some small crustaceans buried in the mud.
Steve Roff of Barrier Island Guide Service fishes and guides year-round, and he spends plenty of time on the water during the winter. According to Roff, redfish love these shallow retreats during the winter, eating the mullet and other things that the mullet dredge up from the mud.
“Mullet disturb the bottom while they feed, and the reds will follow right behind the mullet eating every little crab or shrimp they churn up,” said Roff (843-446-7337). “Often, we cannot see the redfish, but the mullet schools make plenty of commotion giving away the location of the wintering redfish.”
When anglers find the large concentrations of mullet, the redfish will be very close by.
However, all baitfish and predator fish will not lie up in the back of shallow creeks, because many of these creeks can be dangerous places to live.
“Shallow water is the most-volatile place you can live this time of year because of the drastic changes in temperature. It can kill you or save your life,” said Roff.
Redfish and mullet prefer these areas deep in the marsh, away from marine mammals and in places where it will warm up frequently.
Other fish, including speckled trout, are less likely to hold up in these fickle places. Specks look for places where the water is more stable and less likely to fluctuate. Even though they become less active during the winter than in spring and fall, they will still gobble up the glass minnows or mud minnows wintering beside them in the deep holes.
Roff finds the concentrations of speckled trout and their winter bait source in places where the temperature is more stable.
“The saltier estuaries, such as the waters behind Pawley’s Island, Litchfield Beach and North Inlet have a stable salinity and some deep holes to hold the bait and decent schools of speckled trout,” he says.
These areas will hold large wintering populations of trout and enough bait to sustain them through the winter. Fortunately, these deep pockets and holes in smaller estuaries with high salinities are somewhat limited, and that restricts the places you have to search to find bait and fish.
Locating the bait or where the bait should be is the best way to find a wintering school of speckled trout and redfish. Go out and look where the best opportunity to find warm water and they will be there ready and waiting for a scrumptious looking meal.