In Winter, What DO Trout Eat, and What WILL They Eat?
CATCHING BIG SPECKLED TROUT on local waters requires an entirely different approach than most of us are used to applying to our fishing.
Big trout are different from their smaller counterparts in many ways and the anglers that consistently catch them tap into these peculiarities.
The first difference is diet. When trout get between 20 and 22 inches they change from being primarily a shrimp eater and small fish eater to feeding primarily on larger finfish.
Big speckled trout feed heavily on ribbonfish (cutlassfish) when they move into bays from the Gulf. Find ribbonfish scurrying to the surface in panic, and you will find big trout. At a distance, ribbbonfish can be spotted by their silver flashes as they breach.
The largest trout eat the largest prey. Researchers in Texas and Mississippi have found mullet to be the preferred food of the biggest trout. Frequently the mullet is half or two-thirds the size of the trout. So, when it comes to pursuing them the angler that does the best mullet imitation wins the prize.
Slow-sinkers like the legendary Corky are go-to winter lures on the Texas Coast and for good reason. They are extremely effective at fooling big trout in the winter when their metabolism is down and they are moving slowly.
Topwaters such as Super Spooks and Top Dogs, along with slow-sinkers such as the Corky are standard issue along the Texas coast for big trout hunters.
Swimbaits have gained a following among local anglers over the last few years, and I am one of them. The Stanley Wedgetail Mullet has proved itself to me as it very accurately imitates a mullet and allows the angler to cover water.
The problem with slow-sinkers, for example, is they are great at pinpoint accuracy fishing when you are targeting a small reef or an inlet, However, for covering water, they are no good. They simply take too long to sink. Swimbaits moved at even a slow pace cover vastly more water than sinkers, which fits my style of fishing.
Learning which lures to fish is not the only thing you need to understand trophy trout during winter. Here are some facts that should help you get a better understanding of them.
• Trout are not big on migration, but there is some movement between the near-shore Gulf and southern tier of bay and channel systems. Researchers at Louisiana State University say the biggest trout are found in the Gulf, particularly during summer and fall. Nearshore oil and gas platforms as well as boat wrecks can house true monsters. I believe there are big trout at these rigs in winter that no one pursues. I hope I’ll get to prove that point soon.
• According to TPWD, speckled trout spend most of their lives within five miles of where they were born. Nearly 90 percent of all fish recovered in a tagging program came from the same bay in which they were tagged.
Although many trout move into deeper water during cold weather, there is no scientific evidence of a winter migration to the Gulf. Research shows that some fish may move to the Gulf to escape blowing northers, but this is temporary, and the fish return once weather abates.
• Salinity can be a factor in locating trophy trout. Researchers with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission have found that adult trout tend to prefer water that is close in salinity to seawater compared to more brackish water. In winter, Texas bays tend to have high levels of fresh water, so keep this in mind when scheduling trophy trout trips.
• A study in Barataria Bay in Louisiana concluded larger trout are most likely to be found over shell or soft (mud) bottom when the water temperature is 75 degrees or higher. Does that mean they are on sand, rock and shell in the winter?
• Trout have a layer of tissue that allows them to see in low light conditions and be superior night feeders. Fishing the pre-dawn hours and using lures or baits with a luminescent quality or that create a stark silhouette can help you exploit this quality and score on big trout. I know of no one who fishes trout at night in winter but maybe it is time.
• Sagittae are the sound receptors in fish, and trout have large ones. They are very keen to sounds made by humans and other fish. Throwing lures delicately and working lures and popping corks in a fashion mimicking natural sounds can go a long way to helping anglers catch more big, wary trout.
• Trout are sensitive to sound and visual cues, both. So, the ability to make long, delicate casts is absolutely crucial in the pursuit of big trout.
• Trout have clear, color vision and are super line shy in clear water. The use of fluorocarbon can help eliminate loss of potential big trout catches.
• Trout have a keen sense of smell and taste, which work together simultaneously. Being able to make the right connection when a big trout takes a lure is important, as the big fish can be sensitive to non-organic material like plastic.
Big trout are truly elusive, strange fish that do not fit into a particular mold. They are much like giant largemouth bass in that once they reach a certain size their habits change dramatically. Anglers who take the time to study big trout and realize they will have to trade catching lots of trout for the chance to get one big one, will score on their personal fish of a lifetime.
—story by CHESTER MOORE