With November comes the best shallow-water speckled trout fishing of the year, and after a few mild winters, the fish are healthy, fat and plentiful. As the water cools, specks are active, schooled up and gorging themselves in anticipation of cold, winter weather. Whether you target trout with popping corks and bait, jigheads with plastic trailers on spinning or baitcasting tackle, or fly rods, the action is as good as it gets.
At times, trout venture into very shallow water and over oyster bars, chasing bait, but mostly, they congregate in slightly deeper water. Strikes are often subtle, and hooksets should be smooth and relatively gentle compared to redfish because of the trout’s softer mouth. But at the bite of steel, trout turn on the power. Large, gator trout fight especially hard, and of course, all of them are great table fare.
Two factors will determine whether you will catch trout this fall — being able to find them, and then, knowing how to catch them. Shannon O’Quinn, an Orvis-endorsed guide who works out of Bay Street Outfitters in Beaufort, S.C., said some generalities apply to finding trout.
“I find them in moving and relatively clean water that is not clouded with sand or pluff mud,” O’Quinn said.
Trout often hold in 2 to 5 feet of water relating to structure, which generally means oysters. Focus near oysters on points, standalone oyster bars with current, up-tide and down-tide sides of creek mouths, and grass-line edges — especially where oysters break the current flow. Trout move in and out of areas depending on the availability of food and the tide stage, so when you find them, keep hitting that spot until they quit biting.
So that’s the where; what about the when? Trout feed at all stages of the tide in November, but O’Quinn and many seasoned anglers prefer the top half of the tide, either rising or falling. He favors the falling tide when baitfish and shrimp are moving out of the grass. At other times, on low tide with rising or falling water, focus on points; during mid-tide periods, both incoming or outgoing, work the shoreline grass and oyster bars; at high tide, work the grass edges.
When he’s guiding anglers using spinning or baitcasting tackle, O’Quinn positions his flats boat an easy cast from the shoreline and moves with his trolling motor — into the current when possible. They cast toward the grass line or structure and retrieve their lures the direction most bait would naturally move: with the current. His artificial lure of choice is the Z-Man Swimmin’ Trout Trick, a paddletail trailer threaded onto a ¼- or 1/8-ounce jighead. He prefers lighter jigheads that allow the paddletail to pulsate as it sinks. If he wants extra scent for a slower approach, he will use the Gulp mantis shrimp, but he feels most trout strikes are visually prompted rather than scent-related.
Other places O’Quinn finds trout are around boat docks, in deeper creek holes, in depressions in the middle of creeks and at times, just outside of redfish flats where the bottom drops off into slightly deeper water.
O’Quinn, an experienced freshwater bass angler, loves throwing plugs, spinnerbaits and plastics for our redfish. He has found topwater plugs very effective on big, gator trout, especially in low-light conditions or early and late in the day. His favorites are large saltwater Zara Spooks or MirrOlure MirrOdines.
When guiding fishermen who use live bait, O’Quinn goes with the standard fare of live shrimp or mud minnows under a Cajun Thunder popping cork. Work shoreline banks by drifting the float rig along the grass lines so the bait is suspended just above the submerged shells, constantly adjusting the depth as the tide rises or falls. Even bait fishermen often switch to a jighead with a plastic trailer when they locate a school of fish and also when local shrimp thin out, moving out of inlets into the ocean.
Anglers trying to find their own trout drops should do some low-tide research along likely looking shorelines. Drift along at low tide and make a mental note — or even enter GPS waypoints — of the oyster shell outcroppings. These will be likely holding spots for trout when the water covers them. Then, go back with the rising tide and float a cork over the shells with the bait almost touching the bottom. Work the area over and over in the rising water and note where you get strikes and the water depth. Now you have a plan for that area that is time-of-tide specific.
For most inshore action in South Carolna’s Lowcountry, a medium or medium-light spinning rod with a 2500 series spinning reel is about right. Load the reel with 20-pound braided line — it has a much-thinner diameter than monofilament — and add a 3-foot section of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader for casting jigheads or topwater plugs. For float fishing live bait, you can make the leader longer.
Bait is still plentiful in November, so you can catch your own shrimp and finger mullet with a cast net, or minnow traps for mud minnows or buy them from bait shops. Some very good guides use Kahle hooks — a style between J-hooks and circle hooks — when fishing live bait for speckled trout. They have a very wide gap between the hook point and the shank that allows them to hold larger baits, and they are made of thinner wire, which causes less damage when threading on live bait.
Whether you chase speckled trout with a spinning rod and jigs, bait, or with a fly rod, November is the perfect time to go. Keep what you can use for the frying pan or smoker and throw the rest back to grow up even more.
Our trout are plentiful right now, but there is no reason to waste the resource. All it takes is a severe winter to knock back the population. Have fun while they are here.
HOW TO GET THERE — Hilton Head and Bluffton anglers have good access at the Chechessee River landing at the foot of the SC 170 Bridge. Beaufort anglers have easy access to the landing on Lady’s Island, down Sam’s Point Road, CR 802 and the Jenkins Creek landing, located down Eddings Point Rd. off US 21, in Frogmore, St. Helena Island and the landing at Station Creek. Many other free public landing options are available.
WHEN TO GO — Trout fishing peaks in November as the water cools. The top half of the tide, either rising or falling, is a great time to be on the water.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Find shallow oyster bars and drift live bait past them under a popping cork on rising water, or cast to them with jigheads and soft-plastic trailers. Topwater lures are great choices in low-light situations. Also look at creek mouths and the edges of grass lines that drop off into deeper water. Light- to medium-light spinning tackle is usually the ticket, but trout will hit sinking flies on fly tackle.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Bay Street Outfitters, Beaufort, 843-524-5250; Grayco Hardware, Lady’s Island, 843-521-8060; Boat and Dock Supply, Port Royal, 843-986-0552; Capt. Richard Sykes, 843-838-2245; Capt.a Tuck Scott, 843-271-5406; Capt. Shannon O’Quinn, 843-368-1558; Capt. Dan Rourke, 843-263-3863. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, www.beaufortsc.org (843-986-5400).
MAPS — Top Sport waterproof map No. N233, is available from local tackle shops.