Falling closely behind redfish, speckled trout are one of the most sought-after inshore gamefish. While most anglers look to score a limit during the fall flurry, few visit the coast during the winter because the weather is too cold or the fish aren’t available. But anglers who can withstand long underwear-and-toboggan weather, the January speckled trout fishing around Little River on the North Carolina-South Carolina border can be worth the time and effort.

Mark Stacy of Ocean Isle Fishing Charters said January speckled trout fishing can be phenomenal in the right places. 

“In the fall, the trout are ganged up in all the usual places: around the waterway, up the creeks, at the jetties — just about anywhere,” said Stacy (910-279-0119). “In January and February, the trout are still here, just confined to smaller places; they will not be as widespread as they are in the fall.”

Speckled trout are called winter trout for a reason. They prefer cooler water over the blistering heat of summer, but only to a point. As water temperatures drop towards seasonal lows, trout change to survive and head to greener pastures. 

“Trout will either go shallow or deep to find warmer water... usually up a creek or in a man-made area,” he said.

Headwaters of creeks that have deep bends where water depths exceed 12 feet will hold trout in the winter when conditions deteriorate. Even though the surface water is only slightly above freezing at times, temperatures in deeper water will remain stable, offering a refuge for trout in winter. 

Occasionally, trout will slide into shallows following bait, similar to winter redfish habits. 

“We see large schools of trout move into shallow water during the winter, but there will also be plenty of bait in there that gives them plenty to eat. We fish for them in the creeks, canals, marinas and in places where the water heats up in winter,” he said. 

Quite often, Stacy finds schools of speckled trout while hunting a school of redfish. The upper limits of creeks protected by shallow water with some deep holes nearby are perfect places to find them. 

The waters on both sides of the state border are very clear in the winter, and Stacy can readily distinguish speckled trout from redfish. He targets both species with similar tactics, using artificial shrimp, lightweight grubs or small baitfish imitations.  

“Vudu Shrimp are my go-to lure this time of year, but I will use Gulp shrimp, Billy Bay shrimp and the small Vudu mullet,” he said.

Stacy uses a very slow, stop-and-go retrieve to dupe these fish into taking the bait. The bite will not be as aggressive as in the spring and fall, but trout will be  ready to eat and will rarely pass up a carefully placed lure.