Q&A with a top-fishing guide about speckled trout

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

Capt. Rennie Clark has been fishing the coastal waters of North Carolina for more than 25 years. In Wilmington, his charters cover inshore and offshore areas from our own Brunswick County beaches all the way to the lower Neuse River. I recently asked him for some tips and advice regarding speckled trout fishing in the winter.

Weeks: Why do so many speckled trout anglers wait until November or December to really start fishing for trout?

Capt Rennie: Speckled trout are in our coastal waters all year but they bunch up in deeper pockets and holes in the fall.

Weeks: Everyone says live shrimp is the best bait for trout. At what point is it impossible to find live shrimp or minnows, so that you have to fish with lures?

Capt Rennie: There are mud minnows and some mullet minnows year-round in our backwaters, but most mullet and shrimp head south with the cooling water temps. It really depends on that particular year, but bait starts getting scarce sometime as early as October.

Weeks: Where are the specks during the colder months?

Capt Rennie: For the most part, specks school up and winter in deeper holes and pockets, where there are current breaks. In our coldest weather months, they can be found in the end of canals and some creeks. Specks are in sloughs in the surf in the winter as well.

Weeks: The last decade has seen an explosion of different lures that can be used for trout. Which of these new styles and brands do you find most effective?

Capt Rennie: For topwater, I am partial to the smaller skitter walks and spooks for trout. You can catch specks on topwater in the fall, spring and summer. Curly and paddle tail grubs fished on a jighead are very effective in current and deeper water. The key is choosing a jighead that will reach the bottom in the current but will move with the current when twitched off the bottom. In calmer waters, Mirrolure Mirrodines and Mirrodine XLs, along with the Mirrominnow, are deadly on specks.

Weeks: What is really the color (or colors) of lure specks like best?

Capt Rennie: The most popular colors over the years have been chartreuse and white, mainly because that was our only option at the tackle shops. Having said that, they still work.

Weeks: What is your favorite trout lure?

Capt Rennie: Being a big topwater guy, my favorite trout lure is a small skitterwalk. Nothing explodes on a topwater lure like a trout. For catching numbers of trout, my favorite lure is a DOA CAL 4-inch jerkbait rigged on a jighead or weighted hook.

Weeks: A lot of anglers use popping corks for specks. Is this the best live bait rig? Is it also good when fishing certain lures?

Capt Rennie: A popping cork rig is very effective when targeting specks. In fact, a soft plastic rigged under a popping cork is my go-to lure when looking for specks in new or stained water. The cork sounds like a baitfish or gamefish feeding, depending on the style cork, and entices them from a long distance to strike the offering. A popping cork can also be fished over structure such as oyster mounds, where you could not fish a bottom live bait rig. This not only saves you tackle but allows you to keep your bait in the strike zone without getting hung up.

Weeks: Specks are known to be fickle and unpredictable. But do trout really have patterns that anglers can key on?

Capt Rennie: Specks move around a lot. With weather patterns and systems moving into the coastal area, specks will usually move closer to the inlets. Trout are very aggressive fish. If they are in the area and you are not catching them, change your presentation first. Then change color, size and the type of lures until you find their mood.

Captain Rennie Clark and Tournament Trail Charters can be contacted at (910) 262-5402 or by e-mail at captainren@live.com.

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