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Catching sand trout during the winter months in the Gulf of Mexico can be a rewarding experience for anglers looking to enjoy the outdoors during the colder season.
Here’s a look at some strategies and techniques for catching sand trout during winter.
- Fishing rod and reel: Choose a medium to light-action spinning or baitcasting rod and reel combo suitable for saltwater fishing.
- Fishing line: Use a 8-`0-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon fishing line for the surf and bays. Opt for a heavier line, around 15 pounds, when fishing in the Gulf incase you hook into big drum or reds.
- Bait: Fresh shrimp, cut bait and Gulp! shrimp work well for sand trout.
- Hooks: Use size 6 to 2 hooks for live bait and size 1/0 to 4/0 circle or J-hooks for cut bait.
- Sinkers: Carry a variety of sinker weights to adapt to different conditions and depths. In shallow bay areas, an 1/8-ounce split shot will get the job done.
- Bobbers (for bay fishing): Choose a slip bobber that allows you to adjust the depth at which your bait is suspended. Use these only when drifting over shallow shell or when you see trout feeding under birds. Often in winter it is sand trout you are seeing.
- Fishing gear and accessories: Waders (for surf fishing), a cooler with ice, a fishing tackle box, pliers, and a stringer to keep your catch fresh.
How To Do It
- Select the Right Location:a. Surf Fishing: Look for areas with active waves and rough surf. Sand trout are often found in the turbulent waters near the shore.b. Bay Fishing: Seek out calm, shallow bays and estuaries with sandy or grassy bottoms. Sand trout prefer these sheltered areas during the winter.
c. Gulf Fishing: Head to deeper Gulf waters (around 20-40 feet deep) where sand trout gather during the colder months. Around the short rigs on the Upper Coast are great locations.
- Choose Your Bait: Use a live shrimp on a hook for surf and bay fishing. Hook the shrimp through the tail or head, depending on the desired presentation. Live shrimp can be super hard to get in winter but if it’s available, it’s hard to beat. Dead shrimp is probably just as good but it draws in more undesirable fish such as hardheads.b. Cut Bait: Cut bait into small strips or chunks for Gulf and surf fishing. Attach it securely to your hook to withstand strong currents.
c. Artificial Lures: Consider using small, soft plastic lures that mimic baitfish. These can be effective in enticing sand trout in various conditions. Small jigs you would use for crappie will work and any of the smaller Gulp! shrimp patterns.
- Rig Your Fishing Line:a A Carolina or “Fish Finder” Rig (for bay and surf fishing): Attach a swivel to your mainline and then add a leader line (12-18 inches) with a hook. Attach a sliding egg sinker above the swivel to allow your bait to move naturally in the water.b. Bottom Rig (for Gulf fishing): Use a basic bottom rig with a weight at the end and a leader with a hook. Adjust the leader length based on your target depth.
- Cast Your Line:a. In the surf: Cast your line into the turbulent waters near the shore. Let it drift with the waves and monitor your rod tip for any bites. Sometimes you will “see” the bite before feeling it.b. In bays: Use a slip bobber to adjust your bait’s depth and cast near submerged structures, drop-offs, or grassy areas. Watch for the bobber to dip or move erratically. A large Texas-style popping cork used for specks might be overkill.
c. In the Gulf: Drop your baited line to the desired depth and secure it in a rod holder or by hand. Pay close attention to any subtle movements or tugs on the line. Remember in the Gulf there are lots of other critters like huge bull drum and reds that will take a shrimp or cut bait offering.