Nearly every winter, it seems that when the holiday season approaches, the weather takes a turn for the warm. And when Butch and Chris Foster of Yeah Right Charters hear there is a zero chance of a white Christmas at their Southport, N.C., home, they head out to catch speckled trout.
“In winter, I trade my big, offshore boat for my little 19-foot Carolina Skiff,” Butch Foster said. “Most people who fish offshore with me don’t know I cut my teeth on bass, crappie and other smaller freshwater fish. It was only a natural progression when I came to the coast that I would also enjoy inshore fishing. I love catching speckled trout.”
Catching specks is one thing, but it begins with finding them. Butch Foster said you need to cover a lot of water to find concentrations of December specks, so when he and his son launched their skiff, then put multiple baits in the water and trolled.
“I like to start out by trolling,” Butch Foster said. “It is a great way to locate a school of biting fish. After making a couple of passes in a productive area, we stop the boat and start casting.”
Chris Foster set five rods along the transom in rod holders identical to the style used by freshwater anglers who target crappie and catfish. He adjusted them until the rods were sufficiently fanned out, varying the length of the line as well as the types of lures.
“I rigged the rods with jigs and soft-plastic trailers,” Chris Foster said. “It is a great way to find out what colors they are going to key on any particular day. I have some reliable colors that seem to work well. Christmas tree is always a good one to use around Christmas. Sometimes they want it with a pink tail, and other times, they want the green tail. I also like to use solid green and smoke/silver metal flake.
“Most of the time I use orange jigheads, but I vary the weight from 1/8- to 3/8-ounce. Current flow usually dictates the size of the jighead. If it’s strong and the wind isn’t slowing the boat down while we are trolling into it, I might get away with a lighter jighead. But if the wind is blowing hard or the current is fast, it takes a 3/8-ounce jighead to get down to where the fish are eating.”
Butch Foster said changing conditions, including wind direction, can turn one day’s hot spot into the next day’s big zero.
“All I know is that if you are not catching fish, it is time to move,” he said. “When I say move, I mean miles, not just a few feet to try another spot within spitting distance.”
Speckled trout have a reputation for being finicky about color and size. However, Butch Foster believes they are more selective when it comes to water chemistry and color. They bite best in clear water, he said, because it has the highest salinity, so he’s constantly looking for the clearest, cleanest water — be it in a tiny marsh creek or a larger waterway.
When he’s fishing in a creek, especially close to a spot where he’s caught fish recently, Butch Foster likes to throw hard-plastic baits as search baits.
“I like casting hard plastic lures,” he said. “It reminds me of bass fishing, but it is also one of the most-effective methods for catching speckled trout. Lures don’t seem to hang up and cut off as badly as jigs do when you are fishing in the creeks, which are full of oyster shells.
“You never know exactly where the fish are going to be, so the lure comes in handy when you are searching for them. They may be in the same spot they were yesterday, but they could have moved a few feet to where you would miss them if you didn’t have the ability to cover a lot of water.”
When he and Chris are fishing together, they’ll often use lures of different sizes, like a Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow and a 17MR MirrOlure suspending twitch bait.
“If the fish are being size selective, you need to know that right away,” Butch Foster said. “If you don’t keep switching lures across a broad spectrum of styles, sizes and colors, you are going to miss an awful lot of fish.”
Arriving in one creek, it wasn’t long before Chris Foster hooked a fish. Soon afterward, he hooked another, and his father switched to the bigger lure, but the bite fell off.
“We were fairly late in the tide to fish that particular spot,” Butch Foster said. “I like fishing for specks on the falling tide, but the sandbar the fish had been biting on was already showing by the time we got here. They nearly always associate with some type of structure. It could be a sandbar or an oyster bed, a grassy lump away from the bank, a point, a sea wall or a boat dock. Anything that looks different than everything else is worth a cast because it might attract a speck.”
Butch Foster will target structure by anchoring and casting to he downcurrent side of the structure.
“At this stage of the tide, the downstream side of this dock usually holds some fish,” he said. “In this case, it seems more like crappie fishing than trout fishing, because crappie love being around boat docks.”
This time, the fish wanted Butch Foster’s smaller lure, so Chris switched over, and the best fish of the day wound up hitting a pint-sized Rapala Clackin’ Minnow.
“I usually use No. 9 or 11,” Chris Foster said, “but, when Dad started outfishing me with that little MirrOlure, I tried a No. 7, and it worked.”
“Here, they were looking for something the same size of the baitfish they were eating,” Butch Foster said.
The Fosters spent the day jumping from spot to spot, fishing different creeks along the ICW and even crossing the Cape Fear River. At each new spot, the trout preferred something different from the previous spot, whether it was the size, style or color of the lure.
“We didn’t have a banner day,” Butch Foster said. “But we caught more than 20 trout and have several nice keepers in the box.”
HOW TO GET THERE — Southport is on the western bank of the Cape Fear River just upstream from the inlet, accessible from US 421, US 74 and I-40 via NC 211 and NC 133. From their intersection, take NC 133 south. A popular public boat ramp is on SR 1101, Fish Factory Road, just off NC 133.
WHEN TO GO — Speckled trout fishing is excellent in the Southport area through November and into December. As long as the water temperature remains in the mid-50s (sometimes the entire month of December), speckled trout will be biting.
BEST TECHNIQUES — With water temperatures on the cool side, trout will be in deeper water, where they’ll hit orange jigheads with curlytail trailers in smoke/metal flake, Christmas tree and green. Also, MirrOLure Catch 200, 17MR and TT series lures will work, along with Rapala Clackin’ Minnows.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Butch Foster, Chris Foster, Yeah Right Charters, 910-845-2004. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Comfort Suites, Southport, 317-791-9610; Hampton Inn, Southport, 888-370-1940; Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce, www.brunswickchamber.org.
MAPS — DeLorme North Carolina Atlas and Gazetteer, 800-452-5931, www.delorme.com; Capt. Segull’s Nautical Charts, 888-473-4855; www.captainsegullcharts.com. SeaLake Fishing Guides, 800-411-0185; wwwthegoodspots.com.