Winter Fishing on the Inner Banks is one of the most overlooked and underrated recreational activities in our area. We are fortunate to have many opportunities for adventurous anglers in pursuit of winter gamefish. While not every day’s weather will be the most angler-friendly, paying careful attention to the forecast, picking the pretty days, having your boat ready for action, and knowing winter fish patterns will yield some incredible results for dedicated fishermen.
First let’s discuss what species overwinter in our estuary from January through March. While scattered flounder and puppy drum can be found in our river year round and some of them do stay in the Pamlico system for the winter and do not migrate out to the nearshore waters of the ocean, striped bass and speckled trout are by far our most numerous winter gamefish. Speckled trout are abundant year-round and tend to congregate in the upper extremities of our deeper creeks in their traditional wintering grounds. They overwinter is these areas for several reasons: deeper warmer water, the warming effect of the black mucky creek bottom (on the shallower flats) from the sun’s energy, and an abundance of bait. They are particularly susceptible to hard freezes, and their metabolism and feeding activity greatly reduces in water below 50°F, thus the consistency of the spec fishing is very dependent on the harshness of the winter. A milder winter will have far more consistent fishing that an exceptionally cold one.
A slower presentation using an artificial bait such as a soft plastic jig or a hard sinking twitch bait can be deadly when you can find actively feeding fish. Fishing hard the few days before and after the full moon of each winter month is also very important and will usually lead to more consistent success, as the trout tend to feed more around this time. Some of my favorite soft plastics include the 3” Z-Man MinnowZ paddletail and the 5” Scented JerkZ jerkbait on 1/8 or ¼ ounce lead jigheads. My favorite hard baits include the Yozuri 3D minnow and the crystal 3D shrimp as well as the Mirrolure MR-17. For particularly wary trout, I also like to fish anything very small such as the 2.5” Little Fishy or a double 2” curly tail grub on a 1/16 ounce lead jig head. I believe that many of the winter trout feed on small minnows such as bay anchovies and glass minnows. Presentation is extremely important when fishing both soft plastics and with hard baits, so do a little research and experimentation to figure out what works.
Tight Lines and Great Winter Fishing in Eastern N.C.,
Capt. Richard Andrews