Don’t let the winter chill deter you

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

Fishing has improved for some folks this week as anglers are beginning to focus on traditionally cold-weather species. Fish such as black and red drum, whiting and speckled trout will still provide a lot of action for folks as the fishing season comes to an end.

One winter fish that has already made a surge is the black drum. Black drum can be caught all year, but they really come to the forefront in the colder months. They are among our most dependable fish when a lot of better-known species have left for warmer waters or aren’t biting in the cold.

Black drum are usually caught on some sort of bait, with shrimp or other shellfish being the most reliable, and in warmer weather bait-stealing pinfish are a big problem. Black drum hang around the same sort of structure that attracts pinfish. During the winter that is not an issue since the pinfish leave and won’t return until the warmth of spring.

Black drum will occasionally show up in the surf but are best known for hanging around piers, bridges and over oyster beds. You should fish for them on the bottom with the freshest shrimp you can find. If you don’t mind the chill, black drum are infamous for making runs on cold winter nights when there usually aren’t many people out trying to catch them.

A black drum that weighs a few pounds is a white fish with broad black stripes on it, sometimes mistaken by folks for a sheepshead. At this size they are great to eat, fried or cooked up in any number of seafood recipes. Although there are no size limits on black drum, larger fish (and they can get huge) should be released. They aren’t good to eat.

One fish that has a high reputation on the table is the whiting, a fish called by many different names, including sea mullet. This has been the main panfish on the move in the past few weeks, and sometimes the only action going on the piers. Whiting are easily caught on fresh shrimp or other common baits on the bottom, often near the surf line but sometimes in deeper holes. They will not stay around through the cold of winter, but there still should be a few weeks of good whiting fishing left.

The bite has also picked up for the two most sought-after species of the colder months, red drum and speckled trout. These two fish really get active in late November and through December, and the majority of anglers out there for the rest of the year will be trying for one or both of theses species.

Red drum hang out in many different places, often attracted to structure like the bridges and jetties but also roaming broad flats and in the surf. They can be caught in a variety of ways, ranging from bottom fishing with bait to a wide variety of lures that imitate shrimp and small fish. One difference between red and black drum is that redfish will hit cut fish readily, whereas black drum prefer shellfish. Red drum love shellfish, too, but are much more accommodating in their feeding habits.

During the winter, red drum gang up into potentially huge schools, so if you catch one there are probably more around. If you do get into a bunch of redfish, it is important to remember that, unlike black drum, reds have strict size and creel limits. Currently, you can keep one red drum a day, and this fish must be between 18 and 27 inches.

Speckled trout are also moving around and they school up as well. Since you can keep 10 of them more than 12 inches a day, they can provide you a nice batch of filets if you’re at the right spot. Trout anglers come out in force during the winter hoping to find them ready to hit.

It is the nature of the fickle specks to hit for a while and then disappear, but they do follow patterns and are consistently found in the same places year after year. The best bait in the winter would be live shrimp, if you could find it, followed by live minnows, such as mud minnows or finger mullet. As it gets colder these baits are impossible to come by, so most winter specks fall to artificial lures made to resemble live bait.

November and December are good months locally for fishing, despite the fact that many folks put away their rods waiting for spring. Those out there giving it a try are likely to be rewarded with a variety of fish that can provide a good supper. Don’t let the chill deter you, cold weather fishing can be surprisingly rewarding around these parts.

JEFFREY WEEKS is a fishing columnist for the Beacon. Reach him at saltyweeks@gmail.com.