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Fishing for Speckled Trout in Winter Months

By John Donohue aka jd

John (jd) Donohue with a nice winter time troutI won’t deny that when it comes to fishing I can be a bit of a snob. Not Orviscertified snobby, but there is still a time for that.

This has led me to eliminate all species other than redfish and snook from my inshore quests over the last several years. (Editor's Note: Read jd's article on "Kayak Anglers: Expand Your Strike Zone")

The spotted sea trout, once my number one target, has fallen off the radar. The only time I would find myself fishing for trout would be when they were a required species for a tournament. Otherwise, I usually only caught them as by-catch.

Fortunately, enthusiastic reports of monster trout during the winter months from a couple of my colleagues have me in pursuit of the grand species once again. Fellow kayak pros, Capt. Jason Stock and Cameron Schurlknight, always seem to have trophy sized trout dialed in during the colder months.

They both agree that the best way to land one of these jumbo female trout is to first locate an area that has an ample number of small sand holes. The largest of trout are usually always female. The biggest of the species range from 5 to 8 lbs here on the West Coast. The holes most likely to hold monster specks are usually less than 5 foot in diameter and about knee deep in depth.

Cameron with TroutzillaCameron adds that mullet play a huge role in his determination of where to locate the largest of the yellow mouths. He feels that if there is not an abundance of mullet present it is likely that the trout will be absent from the area as well.

These big girls hug the edges of the holes using the adjacent grass flats as camouflage. Large trout feed almost exclusively on bait fish. They lay in wait on the edges and ambush smaller bait fish as they swim over the open space of the hole.

This scenario makes casting key. It is important to cast to one of the edges and naturally bounce your jig out into the open, making it irresistible to a big girl laying in wait.

Capt Jason Stock showing off a Big Girl at sunsetCapt. Stock stresses that it is all about the flutter. His bait of choice is a DOA shad tail in golden bream color. He rigs it on a quarter ounce DOA jig head and slowly pops it so it naturally flutters over the sand.

Cameron favors Mirrolure’s Lil’ John scented baits, also in golden bream. He rigs it on a one-eighth ounce jig head and makes sure that it bounces from edge to edge puffing up sand to draw the attention of his target.

As for me, I have had the most success using a golden bream shad-tail by Blurp.

I guess by now that you are sensing a color trend. The dark color of the golden bream is the perfect contrast to the light color of the sand. This contrast makes it the perfect target for a hungry trout.

All three of us agree that presentation more than anything else is key factor in getting fish to eat. It must look as natural as possible. While the golden bream color is a fan favorite, I believe that any dark color will suffice. Pick one that gives you the most confidence.

While a 5 lb trout has the ability to pull a little, I prefer to use light tackle with a looser setting on my drag. Use just enough drag to set the hook. If the drag is too tight, your fish may become unbuttoned as their soft mouths easily tear. A medium light 7 foot rod with a 2000 to 3000 class reel is perfect. Fluorocarbon leader is a must as the sand will reflect even the smallest of shadows.

While my counterparts and I prefer small jigs, these big fish can be taken in other fashions. The most popular technique is using either a popping cork or a rattling cork like the Cajun Thunder. By running about 18 inches of leader from the cork, you can hang the bait in the strike zone while a varied series of pops will attract your quarry’s attention. A large shrimp, pinfish or artificial like the DOA shrimp are the most proven baits to run below the cork. This method is often preferred with fishing with novices but there are a few “old salts” that will put any angler to shame using this rig.

While top water baits land some of the largest specks during warmer months, they will still land some large trout throughout the winter. Don’t be afraid to give your favorite plug a few casts, especially amidst an abundance of mullet.

If you catch one of these beauties make sure you handle them with care. Their only protection against predators is their slimy coating. Try to keep them wet while taking photos and never use a towel to handle them as you will remove their natural defense.

Remember that sea trout are closed to harvest during November and December. During open season, while you may keep one fish over 20 inches, it is best to leave the big breeders to reproduce more of the same. Beat the winter doldrums and join us in the pursuit of elusive Troutzilla.

If you would like the chance to catch monster trout from a kayak, spend a day with Jason or Cameron.

You can contact Capt. Stock at You can reach Cameron at Their skills and enthusiasm are contagious.

Author Bio:
John Donohue (jd)

jd is one of only a dozen members that make up the Hobie Kayaks Pro Fishing Team. He is also a proud member of Accent Paddles, TFO Fishing Rods and Hobie Polarized ProStaff.

He authors the monthly “No Motor Required” column featured in Coastal Angler Magazine, and is a correspondent for the Sarasota Herald Tribune, as well as, the Reel Saltwater Outdoors radio program that airs on WENG 107.5FM in Southwest Florida.

Although jd has enjoyed plenty of fishing tournament successes, he better appreciates the more relaxed kayak experience and passing along his passion of kayak fishing to others. He has been tirelessly fishing the waters of Southwest Florida for more than a decade and possesses an intimate knowledge of SW Florida’s premier kayaking locations.


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