Reel in redfish, trout, flounder and sheepshead this month with these local secrets.
Story + Photos by Collins Doughtie
Fishing during the winter months isn’t for everyone, but luckily we live in a place that rarely sees snow, but the weather can change drastically from day to day. I can remember thunderstorms on New Year’s Eve along with incredibly drastic changes in temperature from one day until the next. You have to admit we have it pretty easy here, where it can climb to 75 degrees in January. Here are a few inshore fishing tips that might just turn a strikeout into a home run during this winter period.
As the water temperature drops, our normally cloudy water turns gin-clear due to the lack of micro organisms and plant growth that thrive when the water is warmer. Like us, fish tend to slow down the colder it gets. Because their metabolism has slowed to a snail’s pace, they just don’t jump on a bait like they do in the summer. The first thing I recommend is remove braided line from your reels and load them with monofilament. My preference is 8- to 12-pound test. With water so clear, bright colored braided line can be seen from a country mile. And if you can see it, so can a wary redfish, trout or flounder. The cold water also lessens the fight from most of these species, so reeling in a 24-inch redfish on 8-pound test is very doable. Reds also love gold spoons and GULP 3” shrimp in the New Penny color, while flounder prefer soft plastics that are white.
Count more sheep
The only exception to the mono switch is sheepshead. I keep one rod with braid because unlike the other fish mentioned, sheepshead get stronger in cooler water. I prefer 30-pound braid with a 1- to 2-ounce egg sinker, a small swivel and a foot or so of 20-pound test fluorocarbon leader and small #4 Eagle Claw hook. For bait, fiddlers, oysters or clams all work well. If you lack patience, go play golf. The rod you use needs to have an extremely sensitive tip, and if you see even the slightest tap, set the hook hard and fast. Sheepshead love structure and the more growth on the pilings, the better. Both bridges coming to Hilton Head have plenty of sheepies, and the best time to target them is when the tide has slowed to a crawl.
Live bait is often hard to come by in January, with the exception of mud minnows. My trick fishing these is to put two on a hook instead of just one. Instead of one just lying on the bottom, two struggle against each other, which often catches the attention of a flounder, redfish or trout. I like to target redfish an hour before and after low water right up close to oyster rakes and small creek mouths. When the tide starts getting up to the grass, I target trout with artificials. My go-to baits are grubs or screwtails fished slow with a twitch every so often or a Cajun Thunder cork with a DOA shrimp on a 2-inch leader. Drift it close to grass and make that cork talk with quick jerks as it drifts along. Lastly, the biggest mistake I see newcomers to the area make is they fish too far away from the shoreline. You’ll double your chances if you fish really close to the shoreline and fish slower because a lot of these fish are hunkered on the bottom just waiting for spring to arrive. Good luck and Happy New Year!
LOCAL Life Test Kitchen – Pan-fried flounder
4 (5-ounce) flounder fillets
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup dried bread crumbs
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
Black pepper, cracked (for garnish)
Parsley, chopped (for garnish)
 Whisk the egg yolks with the milk in a bowl. Spread the flour in a shallow plate or bowl. Spread the bread crumbs into a separate plate or bowl. Season all bowls with salt.  Dredge each flounder in the flour bowl, dip into the egg mixture and then dredge in the bread crumbs. Transfer fish to a plate.  Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan, then melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Fry each fillet over medium heat for about six minutes until golden brown, turning once. Transfer fish back to the plate.  Wipe out the pan and repeat step 3 until all of the fish has been cooked.  Wipe out the pan and whisk the remaining butter with lemon juice. Season with salt and spoon over the flounder. Garnish with cracked black pepper and chopped parsley. Serve with boiled potatoes, sliced carrots and Meyer lemon wedges.