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December: Time to fish red drum, speckled trout

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By Jeffrey Weeks, Fishing Correspondent

Red drum and speckled trout fishing are already into their wintertime pattern, even though the outside temperatures are still touching 70 some days.
That is great news for local anglers who want to pursue redfish and trout in boats, looking for the schools in the shallow water without having to endure the harsh cold that will eventually come. If you are a small-boat angler in Brunswick County, now is a good time to get on the water.
There will be some rain associated with another cold front coming through, but that is fine, the water temperatures are still high enough. All a cold front and a little rain are going to do is stir up the redfish and trout bite for a few days after the front hits.
Trout have been a little on the small side, which means due to the new four-fish and 14-inches speck limits, getting your keepers might be a little more difficult than just catching fish. Small spike trout between 11 and 14 inches are more the norm, so if you hit a school of nice specks, park it there and try to get four big ones.
If you just want catch-and-release trout fishing, you won’t have to zoom to too many spots to find it. Just remember to start early (and that’s early, early…even though the water is colder now, trout still rise with the sun) and don’t linger in one place too long. The fish will be in schools and finding the schools is what December fishing is all about.
Trout like points, creek mouths, rock walls, bridges, docks and any area where fast water crosses into slower water. All of these places hold small fish and shrimp that get disoriented or wounded around the structures and the current and the cold water trout want to prey on them instead of chasing their prey around. Specks will stack up at jetties, sea wall, bridges and creek mouths and run the tides.
If there is no current, there will be no action. It is the motion of the water the trout use to their advantage to snap up the skittish fish and shrimp.
While trout fishing, keep your drag light because the red drum are cruising around in their own big schools, and many of these are not small fish but legal size brutes that will fit into the one fish 18- to 27-inch slot. Of course, smaller redfish are schooling, too, but a red of most any size can just about knock the rod out of your hand if you are waiting on the slow, insistent pull of a spike trout.
Redfish like just the same areas that trout do, and are even more drawn to obvious physical structures. Piers, docks, seas walls, rip rap, oyster beds and creek mouths are redfish magnets. One reason redfish get in closer to structure than specks is that they eat more crabs.
Crabs are hiding around structures looking to grab meals of their own and redfish will actually swim close around dock pilings and similar structures to find a tasty blue crab meal. When casting for reds, get your bait or lure as close to the structures as you can, sometimes a redfish will be right up against or under a dock or bridge.
The water is still warm enough that if you are fishing slowly, you might even hook up with a surprise flounder. Many folks don’t know it, but some big flounder are always taken in Brunswick County during December.
Speaking of structures, if you are using live shrimp or shrimp-imitation lures, you can also slowly probe the bottom for black drum. In fact, while everyone else is chasing the specks and the reds, it is the perfect time to wait until sunset and hit a bridge or dock area and fish shrimp or clam meat for black drum.
There are a lot of times anglers will fish a rock formation or a group of pilings literally swarming with black drum and never know it because they are whipping their lures by the slow-moving drum looking for trout.
If you want to take a break from casting live bait or lures, bottom fishing for black drum is only going to get better. Just remember they sometimes turn on at night. I have fished bridges basically all day without a bite only to have the black drum start hammering my fresh cut shrimp as soon as the sun goes down.
Once the pinfish are mostly cleared out, the black drum will still be there and that is fun fishing if you like inshore bottom fishing. Just remember you need a running tide and you need to be close to some structures to find the black drum.
One last good thing about black drum is that there are no size limits in North Carolina. Throw the little ones and any big ones back (really big black drum are not good to eat) but keep the ones that weigh a few pounds and you’ll have some delicious fish for the table. Black drum are highly underrated in every department, including taste.
So get out and get after them if it isn’t raining too hard. You’ll find still comfortable temperatures and a lot of trout and drum schooling up. December is the month a lot of anglers put their rods away and go hunting, but if you elect to stay on the water you’ll find some of the best inshore fishing of the year.
On a last note, the sales of my new fishing book have been wonderful and I have appreciated all the positive responses from the readers. The critics’ reviews are also in and universally positive, so if you are looking for an inexpensive Christmas present for a Carolina angler, check it out at www.surfandsalt.com.