Go slower, smaller for December inshore fish

This speckled trout fell for a 3-inch Matrix Shad on a light jighead worked slowly along the grass by Ronnie Daniels. (Photo by Brian Cope)

Inshore fish are getting lethargic; match your presentation

December is a great month for inshore fishing, but it does require some adjustments from anglers. Redfish and speckled trout both slow down considerably this month, but they’ll still bite properly presented lures.

As cold water slows the activity levels of these fish, their appetites become smaller, so it’s a good idea to scale down on lure sizes. Instead of casting 31/2- and 4-inch long swimbaits, smaller lures like a 3-inch Matrix Shad or the 21/2-inch Z-Man Slim SwimZ on jigheads are good choices.

These smaller lures can draw strikes when bigger lures presented in the same areas go untouched. This goes against the natural inclination to cast bigger lures that would seemingly fill a fish up with one bite, and also to cast a bigger lure that is more noticeable to lethargic fish.

But the fish don’t need help seeing the bait. They have no choice but to find food to survive, and they are very good at the task. However, they can be extra picky this month. One reason is because of their smaller appetites in cold weather. Another is because the water is generally very clear this time of year, which means the fish can see subtle imperfections in lures that can make them wary. 

The smaller the lures, the less chance of the fish spotting those unnatural-looking details. That, along with their affinity for snack-sized portions during winter will more often than not lead to more strikes.

Forget the shade

Through most of the year, inshore anglers work their lures at a moderate to fast pace. The more water they cover, the more fish they put their lures in front of. But that’s the wrong approach in December. Fish need to reserve their energy as much as possible right now, so they won’t exert too much of it chasing baitfish or artificial lures. Use a slow retrieve this time of year.

During spring, summer, and even late into fall, anglers are accustomed to looking in shady spots or deeper holes for inshore fish. That’s especially true in the Carolinas where the temperatures push fish to find the coolest water possible. But it’s the opposite this time of year.

Especially early in the morning, inshore fish will seek the warmest areas they can find, and that usually means they’ll be hanging out where the sun is shining brightest. 

Shallow mud flats warm up quickly in winter when the sun is out. Redfish and specks will flock to those areas to warm up and to find baitfish, which are also seeking the warmth of the sun.

Don’t forget bait 

Natural bait should also be an option for anglers this month. The scent of a tiny piece of shrimp placed on the hook with a swimbait can add just enough scent to entice a wary fish into biting. But it’s also a good time to throw chunks of cut bait on a Carolina rig. These chunks give off strong scent, and anglers can allow them to sit still until a fish picks the bait up.

Many anglers find live bait works better than anything for them during cold weather. Fewer baitfish are inshore right now, but that doesn’t mean redfish and trout won’t eat ones they see. These fish find it hard to pass up a fresh mud minnow or mullet under a cork, especially when the angler casts it near a sunny area, then allows it to move about completely on its own. This isn’t the time to pop and reel like anglers often do from the spring until late fall. An occasional pop might be good to draw attention, but a baitfish moving too much and too quickly is far more likely to be ignored by reds and trout this month.

Break the rules

These are good guidelines to follow for fishing in cold weather, but it’s always a good idea to spend a little bit of time breaking the rules. A walk-the-dog topwater lure retrieved quickly across the surface may not draw as many bites as during other months, but it can still trigger an explosive strike from an aggressive fish on some days. Expect the bites to be much fewer, but definitely worth taking the chance on.

Far fewer anglers are on the water this month, giving diehards some of the most peaceful fishing of the year. The fish may seem less cooperative, but with these tips in mind, anglers can catch more than enough to make the day a success.

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About Brian Cope 2051 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of CarolinaSportsman.com. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at brianc@sportsmannetwork.com.

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