Sarah Gagliardo

Tidelines – Winter 2016 – 2017

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There are plenty of guides and anglers catching speckled trout throughout the year, but I believe most of us wait for the approach of the winter months before putting a significant amount of effort into the species. At least that’s my approach with trout.

Ethan (left, age 4) and James (age 9) Hurley with two of the red drum they caught drifting mud minnows under a float along a Swansboro marsh bank. They were fishing with Capt. Jonathan Garrett of On Point Guide Service.

Ethan (left, age 4) and James (age 9) Hurley with two of the red drum they caught drifting mud minnows under a float along a Swansboro marsh bank. They were fishing with Capt. Jonathan Garrett of On Point Guide Service.

When fishing off my own boat, I’m very predictable: soft plastic on a jig head, and usually a pretty light jig head. That’s why I like getting on boats with buddies because it often results in me trying something new, whether it’s casting topwaters with Jamie Rushing, floating a live shrimp under a bobber with Kyle Hughes, throwing Storm shrimp and more Storm shrimp with Ricky Kellum, or committing to MirrOlures with Mike Pederson and Lee Parsons.

This year I took yet another step away from predictability and joined Ben and Ryan, both employees of Intracoastal Angler in Wilmington, to cast to winter speckled trout from the sand.

Ryan has been working on the craft of surf casting for speckled trout for about 10 years now, and in recent years he’s brought Ben into the club. And I purposely say “craft” and “club” because it seems to be a specific subset of the fishing community, and even a very specific subset of the surf fishing community, that prides themselves on the ability to throw hard baits into the 55-60 degree ocean waters off southeastern North Carolina in search of quality speckled trout.

Ben Chesney, of Intracoastal Angler, with a 3 lb. trout caught from the Topsail Island surf on a MirrOlure C-Eye CTTR-MGTR sinking twitchbait. He was fishing with Ryan Christopherson.

Ben Chesney, of Intracoastal Angler, with a 3 lb. trout caught from the Topsail Island surf on a MirrOlure C-Eye CTTR-MGTR sinking twitchbait. He was fishing with Ryan Christopherson.

Typically Ben and Ryan target the Wrightsville Beach surf, each keeping waders, a 7’6” rod, 12 lb. fluoro, and a small collection of MirrOlures in the back of the car/truck so that they can quickly steal away for a couple of hours (or maybe more than a couple of hours) of casting either before or after work.

The fish had been slow to show up off Wrightsville this year, so to make the trip happen before going to print with this winter issue, we decided to road trip to Topsail Island where steady reports had been coming in of average surf trout (2.5-3.5 lbs.) but also fish up to 8 lbs.

The drive to Jolly Roger Pier from Intracoastal Angler went by fast, as Ryan shared stories of surf striper fishing up in New York where he had to swim in a wetsuit to flat-topped jetties that held fish. Ben and I were impressed with the dedication, but that didn’t keep us from making bad jokes about all New Yorkers stereotypes.

The road also gave Ryan an opportunity to coach me a little before heading out on the beach. He likes a swell, but what he really likes is current. Waves help him better identify the holes and sloughs, but it’s the current that gets specks feeding. They sit in a hole or behind some small relief out of the current and wait for bait to swim by.

Basically my goal was to cast above the hole, let the current swing my bait into the hole, and retrieve as slow as possible while maintaining steady tension on the line.

We had a clear night and were a little less than a week away from a full moon, so there was plenty of light to guide us along the shoreline. The amount of light, Ryan told me, made a difference with lure selection. His basic rule: use light-colored baits on light nights, and use dark-colored baits on dark nights.

So I untied my Purple Demon and tied on a classic red head and white body. I let Ben and Ryan walk in front so they could choose the best areas to stop and cast, and when we stopped I tried to stay close but also far enough away not to get in the way.

The tide, thanks to that near full moon, had the water levels lower than we expected, so our timing to start with the last of the falling tide wasn’t ideal, but still Ben managed to bring in a 3 lb. speck before the ebb.

Me? I found a couple of spikes later in the night and called that a success. Ryan? He had the curse of bringing a novice along—instead of finding his “Surf Trout Zen,” he played the role of gracious host by focusing more on getting me a fish than himself.

I owe both Ryan and Ben for their hospitality, and I’ve already promised to buy the beer on our next trip together. In the meantime, I played host myself, taking my two youngest boys on a red drum trip out of Swansboro. I say that I “played host,” but really I just drove them to meet Capt. Jonathan Garrett of On Point Fishing Charters.

Jonathan had patterned a school of small reds along a marsh bank, and that allowed Ethan (age 4) to finally catch (and release) a red drum, just like his older brothers. James (age 9) helped me make a big deal over every fish Ethan reeled in, and we all drove back to Wilmington in a type of holiday spirit.

I hope everyone gets some winter trout and/or red drum fishing in, whether it’s catching fish or helping someone else catch fish. And be sure to send us your winter fish photos. The Fisherman’s Post staff will keep busy with boat shows and fishing schools until mid-March when we come out with our first issue of 2017, but a good fish photo or two will help March, and spring fishing, get here a little sooner.