For mid-Atlantic and southeastern anglers, winter fishing slows down and gets tough. But hearty souls willing to stay after redfish, sea trout and striped bass will find hot fishing in the off months. Cold, wind and clouds can’t keep these anglers off the water, follow their advice to fish through the winter.
Redfish in the Winter
Angler: Bart Swab
Location: St. Augustine, Florida
background: Professional fishing guide, Bart Swab turned his attention to redfish when he moved to Northeastern Florida. “Reds are the strongest fighting fish that is a year-round resident,” he explains. Swab follows the redfish from one season to the next. “My favorite attribute is the redfish’s willingness to eat.”
Find the Fish: “When the sky is overcast and the weather turns cold, I set up on a deep corner in a marsh creek where the fish congregate,” Swab explains. On bluebird, sunny days, he looks for reds catching rays on shallow flats. “The best time to fish is an incoming tide.” Another advantage of winter fishing, “The cold water kills algae and clears the water, perfect for standup sight fishing.”
Rod and Reel: 1000 to 2500 Florida Fishing Products spinning reel. Seven-foot, medium-action spinning rod.
Line and Leader: 15-pound Cortland braided line, 20-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader.
Lures and rigs: “Nothing beats a small chunk of fresh shrimp on a ¼-ounce jighead,” Swab says. For sight fishing, he uses a ¼-ounce Trout Eye jighead and three-inch Z-Man Minnowz paddle tail. “The small lure matches the smaller bait redfish feed on in winter,” Swab says.
Striped Bass in the winter
Angler: Kevin Whitley
Location: Chesapeake Bay, Virginia
Background: When all the other fish leave Southeastern Virginia, “Kayak” Kevin Whitley is left to fish for school-sized striped bass around area bridges and other marine structures. Striped bass were one of Whitley’s first targets when he started kayak fishing and continue to provide a fun option during the offseason.
Find the Fish: During the day, Whitley targets striped bass around the bridge pilings and rock islands. At night, he looks for striped bass in the light falling from the streetlamps. When the water hits the low 50s and into the 40s, he turns his attention to dock lights and other structures in the bay inlets and tributaries.
Rod and Reel: Six-foot, two-inch St. Croix medium-action, extra-fast IPX baitcasting rod customized by Pautuxet Rods matched to a Shimano 300 reel. “Bait casting set-ups are more accurate for casting into tight areas,” he explains.
Line and Leader: 30-pound braided line and 30-pound fluorocarbon leader to pull striped bass out of dock pilings and rock piles.
Lures and rigs: For fishing the rock islands, Whitley likes to cast a Yozuri Crystal Minnow. “Land the lure in crevices and holes where the rocks meet the water,” he says. At night, Whitley rigs a six-inch soft plastic on a weighted, weedless hook. “Dark colors get the most attention in the lights,” he adds.
Sea Trout in the winter
Angler Marty Mood
Location Pensacola, Florida
Background: “Winter is my favorite time to catch gator trout,” Hobie pro Marty Mood says. With impending cold fronts marching in, Mood says trout put on the feed bag. “When the wind starts blowing and the temperature drops, big girls concentrate in known trout holes,” he says.
Find the Fish: To find big winter trout, Mood looks for shallow flats, with dark, muddy bottom close to deeper water. The fish can warm up on the shallows and escape to deeper water when the temperature drops. Mood likes two weather scenarios. First, several days of warm water, which will move the fish into the shallows. Or, he likes the first few hours of a strong cold front to spark the bite. “Night time is always the best time to target winter trout,” he adds.
Rod and Reel: A seven-foot St. Croix Legend Extreme Inshore medium-fast spinning rod paired with a 2500 Penn Clash reel.
Line and Leader: Spool with 20-pound Fins Windtamer Braid and four feet of 15 pound fluorocarbon leader.
Lures and rigs: In cold water, Mood goes with smaller topwater lures he can work slowly such as a Zara Spook Jr. On windy cold fronts, he goes with a Rapala Skitterwalk. Big soft plastics, like an eight-inch Hogy HDUV paddletail, he rigs on an 1/8 to 3/8-ounce jighead or on a swimbait hook and treble trailer. “Rapala’s Shadow Rap is my confidence lure,” he admits, crediting the swimming lure for some of his biggest catches.
Red hot | Featured photo: Jason Arnold