Winter features cold weather, near-freezing water and an occasional snowfall, but North Carolina anglers are fortunate in January and February where the temperature may rise to the 70-degree level for several days.

Much of the waters in Pamlico Sound and its tributaries are stained by tannic acids originating from the massive swamps, pocosin and other forested wetlands in the immediate watershed. The dark, stained waters absorb the sun's rays quickly, and during warm periods, shallow flats in depths of four feet or less will warm significantly, attracting baitfish and predator fishes lurking in the deepwater refuges.

Speckled trout will respond quickly to a change in water temperature along these shallow flats, but it usually takes several warm days to raise the temperature enough to get fish in the mood to look for food outside of their winter depths.

Look for flats immediately adjacent to their winter holding areas. Also, the bite will usually be better in the afternoons, when the daytime temperatures and the sun's rays have affected these areas the most.

If weather conditions remain favorable for an extended period, driving the water temperature on these flats into the upper 50s, the winter trout bite can be exceptional, with topwater action possible.

Pamlico Sound drains lots of creeks and swamps, but the region is also surrounded by huge agriculture fields with associated drainage ditches. Water in these ditches and the runoff from fields will be warmer during periods of unseasonably, warm weather. Richard Andrews of Tar-Pam Guide Service targets these "hot ditch mouths" - as he calls them.

"Surface water entering the river or creek from a ditch will have warmer water, attracting any bait in the area," he said. "These warm-water discharges or hot ditches can be great places to find a school of trout in winter."

While weather affects trout fishing throughout the year, these wintertime warm spells can boost feeding activity to another level for trout and their dedicated anglers.