It might be winter, but the speckled trout, puppy drum and stripers in the Neuse and Trent Rivers haven't gone into hibernation. They are in the river and its feeder creeks, and feeding regularly appears to rank very near the top of their to-do list.

Capt. Joe Ward of Down East Guide Service said it is not difficult to catch specks, reds and stripers in a single trip, and there are days he adds flounder, raccoon perch and more. The dividing lines for coastal, joint and inland fishing waters are in the waters around New Bern, but the fish don't seem to understand. Ward said many days his best catches of the saltwater species are well back in the creeks in inland waters.

"When I'm fishing in the creeks for trout, I look for that hole with 8 to 15 feet of water," Ward said. "I anchor out in the deeper section and fish down the drop into the hole. Most of the bites come somewhere between 10 and 12 feet deep.  Sometimes they are a little deeper or shallower, but that 10 to 12 feet usually is the key." 

Ward (252-671-3474) said he likes to fish soft plastics in cold water.He said baits like the Z-Man shad shapes and the MirrOlure Lil John are very productive fished on a 1/8- to ¼-ounce jigheads and bounced along the bottom. He occasionally pauses and lets the bait rest on the bottom for a few seconds and has gotten strikes then. He said for the past few several weeks, soft-plastics with green backs have been the hot ticket. 

"The fishing has been really good," Ward said. "My fishermen have had 30-fish plus days on the last dozen trips. Last Saturday, we were in the back of a creek off the Trent River and had a super-grand slam with a speck, pup, striper and a flounder." 

Ward said puppy drum have been in shallower spots trying to find a bit of sunlight and warm up. He has been taking a majority of his trips in the afternoon lately. 

Ward said stripers have been the most-difficult to catch. They'll hit the same lures, but they like water with more structure and cover, which battling snags and breakoffs. 

Ward said his favorite cold-weather hard bait is a MirrOlure 17MR. He said the action of the suspending lure is just right, and the 17 has been the right size for cold water. He adds one or two Suspend Dots to get the lure deeper.