Winter Surf Fishing – Tips From The Shore

If you live within easy distance of the ocean, chances are, you already enjoy the exhilarating fun of surf fishing through the warm seasons. But winter can be one of the best times to fish the surf.

Less people jamming the beaches means more elbow room for you to stretch out and lay out your cast. Fewer crowds and a lack of recreational boaters… can it get any better than that? You’ll find little to no competition during the crisp winter months, so it’s the ideal time for winter surf fishing.

Winter Surf Fishing: A Whole New World

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The topography of a beach will completely change in the winter, jettisoned by big surf and high winds. Your usual holes and troughs you frequented over the summer will be completely gone.

You’ll want to pre-scout the area to find new spots to try out. Walk the beach at low tide and make note of the new holes, and troughs. Look for the sloughs, they’ll appear as an area of dark water at low tide, and on high tide, it’s the spot where the waves don’t break over. Find where the structures will be that are covered at high tide, too. Pockets of fish may be found on the open beach, but the rocks will have higher concentrations. This time of year, fish like to find a safe haven near rocks (and so does their food), so you should have good luck fishing up against jetties, harbor entrances, and anywhere else you find piles of rocks.

While some of your old fish friends may have migrated further out to sea or south, following the warmer waters, others continue to remain. If you live in areas further south, you’ll find some seasonal visitors that are just passing through.

Weather is Important When Winter Surf Fishing

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While you can’t hit the beach when the surf is big or it’s really windy and rainy, you should pay attention to the weather for more reasons than just that. Right before a storm, low pressure compresses the atmosphere and creates calm conditions that get the fish foraging before the storm rolls in. That’s a great time to fish the beach.

When storms are brewing and the waves get really big, winter surf fish like to head inside the bays and harbors to hide.

Winter Surf Fishing: Hit-&-Run

Even on the Jersey shore, you can have plenty of luck reeling in Striped Bass. You just have to be willing to bundle up against the cold and change your approach. You’ve got to be flexible with your spot and be prepared to not dig your heels in for too long in any one place if you’re not bringing anything in. There are going to be fewer Stripers, Spanish mackerel, Speckled Trout or whatever surf species you’re chasing in your area this time of year.

Most of them have moved south with the warmer water. For the ones that remain, they’re not traveling far or quickly, so there will be lots of dead water between schools. Throw a couple of casts, and then move on a little ways if you don’t get any bites.

Slow Down Your Retrieval Speed

With the colder water temperature, the fish’s metabolism and energy level slows way down, and they can become a bit sluggish. Depending on what fish you’re after, you’ll want to retrieve your lures very slowly, moving them just enough to keep them off the bottom, barely making a minnow plug swim. Fish a teaser just in front of the plug. For stripers, salted clams and bloodworms can bring them in.

Surf fish feed along the bottom for the most part. If you’ve been at it for a while and aren’t getting any bites, try a heavier egg sinker. In bigger surf, you’ll want to use up to an ounce of weight, for smaller surf you may use as little as a quarter ounce.

Heat Things Up A Bit

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When you’re fishing with grubs, a little trick of the trade is to use hot sauce. It doesn’t matter what kind. Since the fish aren’t as aggressive in the colder waters, hot sauce tends to help them hold on long enough for you to set your hook. Dip your grub in about every 5 casts or so. Just remember to not rub your eyes!

Do Your Research Before Winter Surf Fishing

The surf can vary greatly during the winter months. Tides, water temperatures, and sea conditions can vary greatly from day-to-day, depending on the moon phase, weather, and swell direction. Collect as much information as possible before you head out. Local bait and tackle shops that provide surf and fishing conditions can go a long way towards helping to steer you towards local secrets. Winter fish varies greatly from location to location at this time of year, so get some accurate predictions from the locals before heading out.

Online resources can prove invaluable for helping you figure out geography and topography. Pull up your ANGLR app and study it before you go for your low-tide scouting walk. Websites exist that can link you to other anglers to find out what they’re having luck with at the beach. is one such. Find one unique for your area and check them out.


How to Catch Speckled Trout With North Carolina Guide Tyler Barnes

General Info About Speckled Trout

Speckled Trout are a saltwater species found in the southern United States along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Ocean. This predatory species is similar to that of a  freshwater Walleye.

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This predatory species is similar to that of a freshwater Walleye. Just check out those teeth!

Speckled Trout have a long spawning season, from spring through the summer. The spawning occurs in shallow grassy flats found along inshore estuaries. It takes approximately one to two years for a Speckled Trout to reach 12 inches in length. This, of course, is all dependent on the availability of forage and shelter.

An average Speckled Trout is anywhere from 11 to 14 inches in length. The limit here in North Carolina is 14 inches. Some of the above average Speckled Trout can get up to 26 inches. A citation Speckled Trout here in North Carolina is over 5 pounds which normally go 26 to 35 inches. We refer to these as “Gator Trout”. The little ones are commonly referred to as “Spikes”.

In my experience, the colder the weather is, the better the fishing is. These Speckled Trout seem to fire up when it gets incredibly cold out. I’ve had my best days when my reel is dang near frozen. That being said, on most days, in the right area, you can catch anywhere from 10 to 20 fish in an outing.

Baitfish are a common forage for Speckled Trout. Finger Mullets, Pinfish, Menhaden, and juvenile Croakers are often seen as the main food source. Speckled Trout also home in on live shrimp and mud minnows when the opportunity is right. Those two are quintessential in replicating with your Speckled Trout baits come winter time.

Where To Target Speckled Trout

The Speckled Trout normally look for edges of oyster rocks where there are tide breaks and deeper holes where the tide can get a little more slack. They seem to feed right in the slack next to the heavy current areas. The baitfish will wash in from the heavy current right into the slack which makes it a prime feeding area.

They also like to lay on the edge of a flat right where the lip to deeper water is. This allows the bait to come across the edge of the flat right over their head. When targeting these areas, suspending lures will work really well.

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Here’s a healthy “Gator Trout” I landed this year on a suspending lure!

The majority of their feeding occurs while the fish are looking up for baitfish to come above them. Their patterning allows them to blend in incredibly well with the bottom. Another area to target is in the deeper areas of creeks or flats. In a creek that’s five to six foot deep on average, find a channel swing with a deeper hole can pay dividends. The Speckled Trout seem to stage right on the edge of the deeper area. Similar to how they stage on the edges of the flats.  

Surf Fishing For Speckled Trout

You can catch them in the surf, but my main focus areas for Specks is up the backwater creeks. Usually, in the early spring, they are easier to catch in the surf. This is when a lot of bait is moving along the coast following the cooler water as it makes its way North. In the fall, the small ones seem to be in the surf but normally it’s only “spikes” as the bigger fish don’t feel as safe in the surf conditions that time of year.

They push up the creeks because that’s where the majority of the bait gets pushed and piled up in the fall. This allows the trout to sit and feed up the creeks as the tide comes in and out. Tide rips off of a point, channel swings and deeper slues are my main areas to target. Anywhere there is a variation in-depth, the Specks are usually stacked. Sometimes they will push up onto the flats to the sun and warm up similar to how Redfish act.

Slack Tide Speckled Trout

When the tide is slack, the bite is normally very tough. They really only seem to feed in the heavy tide as they are ambush predators. You can find still find them feeding in the deeper holes but usually, the bite isn’t nearly as good as when the tide is ripping. To entice them during slack tide, playing with your retrieval speeds is key!

The Best Time of Day For Speckled Trout

Speckled Trout seem driven to feed when there is a tidal movement which pushes baitfish, or with changing light conditions. This is most likely due to the fact that during these changing light conditions the bait becomes more active. For me, the morning bite is the best time of day to catch not only numbers but also some bigger fish.

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Getting pulled around in a kayak by some big ol’ Specked Trout… there’s really not a better way to start off your day!

The mid-day bite can be difficult. Usually, unless the tide is occurring during the middle of the day, I use this mid-day lull to move spots or check my other areas for a higher concentration of baitfish.

From just after lunch until the evening, your live bait will shine. Artificial baits can get the job done, but because the Speckled Trout get finicky around this time of day, it’s much easier to fill your limit using live baitfish.

The evening bite is normally a good bite, but not nearly as good as the morning or night bite. I always seem to experience a little lull between last light and true dark conditions. I have also done well fishing late into the night. My best times at night are from around 10 to 2 o’clock.

Time of Year To Catch Speckled Trout

Here in North Carolina, we begin pursuing Speckled Trout around the end of September or the beginning of October. It’s one of the fall species we all know and love. As I stated, they migrate with the colder water and show up right at the end of when the live shrimp are migrating through.  In the fall, they will also pursue and eat Mullet which are of abundance right now. Speckled trout stay concentrated in our area until right around March. This is when they begin their migration north, with resident fish being an exception

Common Baits And Lures For Speckled Trout

Hard Bait Lures for Speckled Trout

There are plenty of lures on the market, so I’m going to give you all my preferences. My best lure, hands down, is a Mirrolure 17MR suspending twitchbait. That thing is deadly. Not only do I catch loads of fish on it, but most of my bigger fish come off of that lure. My favorite colors to recommend are pinks, greens, reds, and the VPB color at night.

Another one of my favorites is the Paul Brown slow sinker shaped like the popular bait fish, Menhaden. With the Paul Browns, I always bring them in pinks, whites, blacks, and natural pinfish colors. This allows me to be prepared for almost any water clarity.

Two of my favorites that are often overlooked by most anglers would be Rapala X-Raps, chatterbaits in a pinfish color or following natural baitfish color schemes. In my opinion, the Speckled Trout are more focused on the noise aspect of these baits. If it has rattles or makes noise they will eat it… plain and simple.

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Here’s a look at some of my favorite Speckled Trout baits!

Soft Plastics For Speckled Trout

My best soft plastics are without a doubt the Storm Wildeye shrimp, and the Egret Baits Vudu shrimp. I throw these soft plastic pre-rigs in a pink or natural color. I also do well on tiger and lime or a pure white.

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Some other notable mentions regarding soft plastic baits would be the Gulp shrimp and Z-man shrimp in morning wood or shrimp Po Boy colors.

Some soft plastic baitfish style lures I would recommend having are a Jerkshad which is known by most freshwater guys as a zoom super fluke. I also recommend throwing paddle tail swimbaits that resemble mullet in a golden brim or lightning shad color. As a final note, a secret tool I never leave home without is the Gulp! Pogy soft baits. They resemble menhaden and I always like to bring along some crazy colors!

Rod And Reel Setup For Speckled Trout

My favorite soft plastics setup for Speckled Trout is definitely my Star Stellar Lite rod in medium or medium light. I recommend a rod length from 6’6” to 7’ with a nice tip to be able to feel the bump or thump. The biggest thing with Speckled Trout is, you have got to be ready to set the hook quick upon feeling that bite. My favorite reel for that rod setup is bar none, the Penn Spinfisher VI in the 3500 long cast version.

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Here’s a look at some of the setups I take with me when chasing these Speckled Trout!

My hard baits setup differs a little. I prefer an Abu Garcia Veritas series or a Fenwick in a 7’ to 7’6” with a little longer tip to have longer ranged casts. I usually prefer medium to medium heavy action so I’m able to twitch the lure and have a backbone when setting those treble hooks in. For a reel, I prefer a Shimano Stradic 4000 for hard baits.

Line Setup For Speckled Trout

This is a word to the wise, don’t overthink your line. I recommend using a 10-pound PowerPro braid or Diawa J-Braid with a 15-pound fluorocarbon leader. I lean towards using the Yo-zuri HD leader. I recommend this setup because it offers great abrasion resistance which is key since that light braid is so thin. I always tie my leaders with a Double-Uni knot or an FG knot.

If you’re heading out looking for a great day fishing the coast, don’t pass up the opportunity to set the hook into some Speckled Trout. They are certainly one of my favorite species to catch, and my clients love to get out and chase them with me! I hope that after reading this, you feel more prepared for your next outing chasing after these beautiful fish!

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Episode 21 | Offshore Fishing New Smyrna Beach and Mosquito Lagoon Fishing with Capt. Josh Baker