TROUT TALK: ‘Winter is good time to go fish’

With Fish Finder Charters Capt. Phil Rooks watching, Sonny Granger of ESPN Radio 1450 demonstrates a properly balanced fishing rod and reel.

Emerald Coast Saltwater Seminar Series hosts Sonny Granger of ESPN 1450 radio and local Capt. Phil Rooks of Fish Finder Charters offered tips on catching speckled seatrout, and redfish, at North Light Yacht Club in Niceville Wednesday evening.

With scores of anglers watching, the duo took them on an imaginary fishing trip in the bay or other inland waters, such as river mouths.

“Winter is a good time to go fish,” said Granger. “You just have to do it differently.”

“Really, the difference between this time of year and summertime is not that much,” added Rooks. “The colder it gets, the deeper and slower you have to go.”

The tip-giving started with a discussion of rods, reels, and tackle. Both men preferred light-action rigs with light lines.

They tend to use braided lines, though thin monofilament, if you can bear more break offs, works well, too. Seven-foot-long rods were suggested because they permit longer casts.

The farther you can throw a lure or bait from the boat the better because big specks spook easily, explained Rooks.

This tendency is exaggerated by the clear water that is often common during the winter.

Moving on, the duo talked baits and lures.

They suggested that a tackle box hold topwater and sinking hardbody lures that can be twitched.

Topwaters are useful on warmer days when trout might head for shallower water around seagrass beds.

Combining a jighead with a plastic body shrimp or jerk shad was strongly recommended. The jig lure can be used near the surface, jigged, or bumped along the bottom.

“Your No. 1 killing (lure) in the bay right now is going to be your 3/16-ounce jighead, “ said Rooks.

Live baits such as menhaden can still be found in the bay and bayous. Small pinfish and small mullet also are available, though it takes effort to find them.

The best bait for a gator trout is croaker and, according to Rooks, the bigger the better. Look for croaker around oyster beds.

“If you get bit on a big bait, you know there’s something going on,” he said

Both fishermen like to use popping corks or slip corks to suspend bait at various depths. And, they use big hooks.

To nail a trout, the anglers suggested freelining and avoiding trying to set the hook too early. The fish has to be swimming away before there is an attempt to set the hook.

The seminar hosts concluded with where to fish and reminded the audience that the “when” includes nighttime.

The bridges – Brooks, Mid-Bay, and Navarre – got the nod. Bayou, river, and creek mouths can be productive, too.

Holes in the bay and bayous also hold fish and they don’t have to be in deeper water. Rooks said look for a drop off because it could be in water that is warmer.

Other recommended fishing grounds were Santa Rosa Sound where the boating channel runs beneath docks.

Asked where the best spot to fish is currently, both anglers thought for a few seconds.

“If I was going to go catch a big trout right now, I would go to Navarre Beach,” said Rooks.

Granger and Rooks often strayed into talking about catching redfish because the species prowls many of the same places in winter as trout.

And, if there is surface action, head for it and be ready to cast a topwater or swimming hardbody lure.

“We still have a lot of menhaden in the bay,” said Granger. “If you see a bunch of birds in the bay diving, you need to get over there because the redfish are pushing them up.”