Saltwater Strategies: Part One in a Year-Long Series

GOING COASTAL by Kelly Groce
December 25, 2023
Kayak on a Budget
December 25, 2023

Tactics for Catching Big Winter Trout

Feature Story by TF&G STAFF

LISTEN: (5 minutes, 51 seconds)

WINTER FISHING CONDITIONS can be challenging. With constant water temperature swings, run-off from heavy rains killing visibility and plain uncomfortable conditions, it is not for the faint of heart.

Informed anglers, however, know some of the best action for big speckled trout can be found when the temperatures drop. Here are some strategies we have learned from our columnists and experts in the industry.

TF&G columnist Lenny Rudow loves catching big specks in the winter and offered these three tips.

Bucktailing: Instead of casting tails on a bare jighead, tie a bucktail onto the end of your line. Using a bucktail as opposed to a jighead bulks up the presentation, and makes your offering look larger. In chilly weather as the fish’s metabolism slows down, they don’t want to expend a lot of energy to chase down small baits, and bigger is usually better.

Feather Jigging: Feather jigging is incredibly effective when the fish school up in deep holes and channels, usually after a cold front pushes through and temperatures take a dive. In this scenario, rig a chicken feather jig on four or five feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader to a triple-swivel. Then, tie a two-foot dropper line on the third eye of the swivel, and add a three-quarter ounce or one-ounce weight to the end. Troll the rig at walking speed, sweeping the rod tip forward then allowing it to drop back to give it a swimming action. Let out just enough line that you can feel the sinker tap bottom at the very end of the sweep.

Drifting Livies: Also good when the fish head deep, drifting live mud minnow or mullet can be a killer tactic. The beauty of doing so is that you can rig up a Fishfinder-style rig with a circle hook, set out the line, set the rod in a holder, then actively fish a second line with a different offering as you drift. With circle hooks the fish will set it themselves, so there’s no penalty in setting the rod down rather than holding it. In fact, don’t even touch the rod when you see the tip jiggle – let Rodney the Rod holder do his thing and wait until the rod bends all the way over before you even pick it up.

We at TF&G have received some unusual but effective tips from guides and readers as well. 

Topwater As A Bobber: Years ago, Capt. Jim Onderdonk told us about tying a short fluorocarbon leader with a soft plastic behind a topwater for inexperienced anglers. Trout that might normally hit the topwater would often hit the plastic and as most anglers know, setting the hook on a topwater bite can be tricky.

Tricking out topwaters with a trailer can help score on big winter trout.

Tricking out topwaters with a trailer can help score on big winter trout.
(Photo: Chester Moore)

Depending on your depth, try 12-18 inches and it works best on a chugger. Think of the chugger as a bobber. This works great in winter because you can make one pop, let it sit 10 seconds and then move it along, whereas if you’re just walking the dog with a walking style plug, you might move too fast for winter specks.

Cut Bait: For real. Cut bait can catch speckled trout during the winter. If it’s available, cut ballyhoo fished on a Carolina rig can be good for big trout down on the Lower Coast. You can throw and let it sit or crawl very slowly along the bottom. Over the years several anglers have reported on the Upper Coast catching trout on small chunks of cut mullet fished at the jetties.

No one talks about jetties for specks during winter, but there are some out there. The good thing about the use of cut bait in winter is you won’t be dealing with sharks and catfish.

Mark Davis works a popping cork like no one we have ever seen. The host of The Outdoor Channel’s highest-rated fishing show, “Big Water Adventures,” pops his super hard, leaving only a brief pause for fish to strike especially when fishing for big speckled trout.

He calls this “creating your own school,” referring to finding schooling game fish.

Seven years ago, we watched him out fish everyone in the Lower Laguna Madre near Port Mansfield using a popping cork to catch dozens of trout including a 30-inch monster.

“People think that popping corks are not effective for big fish, but they could not be more wrong. And these same people often talk about how effective topwaters are for the exact same fish. Corks, like topwaters, draw the attention of fish,” he said.

Davis noted using a soft plastic fish or shrimp imitation under a cork is like fishing a topwater with a trailer and big fish cannot resist it.

One version of Davis’ method is to pop the cork hard three times and let it sit for 1-2 seconds. Repeat process.

Another advantage according to Davis is you can cast long distances, which can be a big help in local waters during winter when anglers are wade fishing and covering a much smaller area than they would in a boat.

“Being able to make long distances is an advantage for another reason. Big fish are often spooky and do not like boats approaching them closely,” Davis said.

Davis said anglers should take a second look at popping corks and not be afraid to work them with gusto.

“This technique does not require a high-level fishing pedigree to fish effectively. Anyone can do it and I guarantee they will start catching more big specks and reds,” Davis said.

This method works great in the winter but is best during warm spells when the trout are in an aggressive feeding pattern.


More Winter Trout Tactics

Winter Tactics for speckled trout bottom fishing from Capt. Charlie Thomason (

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