Top 3 tips for catching cold weather trout

Patrick Hartung caught these two trophy specks with bait he purchased from Neuse River Bait & Tackle in January 2019.

Make a few adjustments during cold weather

Speckled trout don’t mind biting during cold weather at all. So if you’re up for being outside this time of year, you can have one of your best ever fishing days. But fishing this time of year does require some adjustments over speck fishing on warmer days.

Kyle Monaghan of Georgetown, S.C. fishes up and down both Carolina coastlines. And winter is his favorite time. While traveling for work as a regional manager for a telecommunications company, he spends about 10 days at a time in “every nook and cranny of the coastal towns” along both states.

“I do three things differently when chasing specks in cold weather. I use smaller diameter line, I use smaller lures, and I change my fluorocarbon leader very frequently,” he said.

Phil Rawls thought he was hung on the bottom when he caught this 6-pound, 15-ounce speck. (Photo from Neuse River Bait & Tackle).

Line and lure size are two keys to cold weather success

“Most of the year, I used 20-pound test braided line and a 20-pound test fluorocarbon leader. But in winter, I go down to 10-pound test for both. I go smaller on my lures too. My favorite in cold weather is the 2 1/2-inch Z-Man Slim Swimz. I also replace my leader far more often this time of year,” he said.

He fishes the small swimbait on jigheads that range from 1/16-ounce to 1/8-ounce. And the reason he changes his leader so often probably isn’t what you might expect.

“Fluorocarbon is an interesting material. I think many people use it without realizing how unique it is. When underwater, it looks more like water than any other material in the world, except for water itself. It refracts light in exactly the same way. But when it starts getting scarred up from scraping against oyster shells and rocks, all bets are off. Those nicks refract light much differently, and in a far worse way than monofilament,” he said.

But he likes the properties of fluorocarbon too much to just use mono. So he changes his leader after about every 10 casts or so. At least when he’s in an area with rocks or shells. Even small nicks that Monaghan said don’t worry him from a breaking standpoint, he said the light refraction is bad enough to change.

Anglers are catching big trout up and down Carolina coastlines

“This time of year, you’ll catch a lot of trout. And you’ve always got a chance at catching a true trophy. In Hilton Head, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Wilmington, and Morehead City, plenty of specks ranging from six to 10 pounds have been caught in recent weeks. And on some days, all you catch are big ones. And on those days, the bite is slower. So every cast counts. If you’re using line that’s all nicked up, you’re scaring fish away from your lure,” he said.

Monaghan is convinced anglers who try these tips will catch more specks during the winter.

“You might think the difference between a 2 1/2-inch swimbait and a 3 1/2-inch swimbait doesn’t matter. And you might think 10-pound test doesn’t make a difference over 20 pound. You might also think I’m just wasting line and time when changing my leader so often. But I bet everyone who tries these suggestions will catch more fish, and become a believer right quick,” he said.

–Cold weather trout will also bite topwater lures. Check out this article to find out more.

Brian Cope
About Brian Cope 1224 Articles
Brian Cope of Edisto Island, S.C., is a retired Air Force combat communications technician. He has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina and has been writing about the outdoors since 2006. He’s spent half his life hunting and fishing. The rest, he said, has been wasted.