This old picture, from the 1980s, is of an outstanding Trout excursion to the South end of Amelia Island. We kept 35 Trout over four pounds and fed everybody at the car dealership where I was then employed a fried fish dinner!
Wintertime Trout action takes place in the deeper portions of the water column in deep holes, rocky dropoffs and around deeply submerged pilings. One prime example of a cold weather spot that can be reached on foot with a warm car nearby to duck into is the former Down Under Restaurant parking lot located under the TJ Shave bridge on the mainland side. This area features rocky banks, deep pilings that form a fender system for maritime passage under the high bridge, and the most narrow and deep section of the intercoastal waterway in this area. This section of the channel is also unique because a little south of it is where the water begins to flow in the opposite direction during the high and low tidal changes. The tide flows out and in toward the Nassau sound south of this point, and toward the St. Mary’s inlet north of it. Trout hold near the bottom of the channel around the natural and manmade structure feeding on shrimp and mullet that flow past in the swiftly moving current. This area is best fished during the high and low tide phases as the current slows enough for your bait to reach the deep strike zone.Using fresh local shrimp, this bait is deadly when hooked in the top of the head, in front of a dark spot visible through their shell. This allows for a natural presentation by not impeding the natural flipping action of the shrimp. I like a #1 or #2 “Kahle” hook, a little larger than my usual Trout hook, but a better choice I believe as these Trout can be in the 5 to 10 lb. range and a larger hook is a must. Tie the hook to a 10 to 14 lb. leader about 15 inches long, then a small swivel with a bead above on the 20 lb. mainline, then add a barrel sinker of appropriate weight for the length of your balsa float. A bead and small knot which can be slid up and down on the mainline determines how deep your sinker carries your bait. The deeper you fish, sometimes up to 20 ft., the more weight you will need and thus a longer float to carry the bait just off the bottom. I like the leader to be of lighter pound test so if you get hung up on something, and you will get hung up, only the leader should break and all you will need to replace is the hook instead of your entire rig. The beads I mentioned are to protect the balsa float from the sinker hitting it during hooksets, they also emit a clicking sound that is attractive to Seatrout. Be ready for action when your float disappears by keeping your line in order and your rod tip near the water for the quick hookset needed to catch bait stealing Trout.
Count on the most bites to occur when you are opening a cold beverage or making a sammich. An 8 ft. rod works well especially during windy weather because you can take up line quicker during a hookset. A large landing net is also important to keep your catch from escaping during the landing process. Many sad fishing stories are attributed to the one that got away at the last moment. Keep your live bait cool and airated in a livewell or in a floating bait bucket for best results and replace dead baits regularly with frisky ones.
If this rigging process sounds complicated I’ll happily show you during your winter fishing excursion aboard the CleanSweep charter boat. I’ll even bait your hook, remove the catch from your hook, as well as clean and pack fish for you. Call me for details about your trip and remember that fishing charters make the best Christmas and birthday presents.
Captain Jim Wormhoudt