Thursday photo

Charter skipper Lane Zimmer knows the value of using soft-plastic lures both tight-lining with a neighed and worked under a cork during south Louisiana's varying winter weather and temperature days. He works the depths of canals by tight-lining soft-plastics whenever water temperatures are below 60 degrees.

Among artificial baits, more Louisiana speckled trout have been caught on soft-plastic paddletails than all other lures combined. In fact, whatever is No. 2 isn’t even in the same area code as the ubiquitous soft-plastic paddletail.

Piles of the things are stuffed in every angler’s tackle box, in more colors, patterns and glitter combinations than in any arts-and-crafts store.

Most anglers have had great success with them, but for some, application this time of year can be a mystery. Speckled trout in the winter shift through the water column with every weather change, turning yesterday’s hot spot into today’s ghost town.

Anglers who don’t move with them, and who don’t change their presentation techniques, certainly won’t strain their backs picking up their coolers at the end of the day.

Where wintertime speckled trout are most concentrated depends almost entirely on weather, according to veteran Lafitte guide Lane Zimmer.

“This time of year, with the water temperatures going up and down, that’s going to be the deciding factor for us,” Zimmer said. “When that water temperature climbs and gets up around that 60-degree mark, we’re going to be more likely to throw corks. When we see a decline in the water temperature, we’re most likely going to switch to a jighead and start working the deeper canals and stuff like that.

“On those warmer days, that’s typically when those fish will get out on a flat area of a lake. They’ll come out of the deep water and get on those flats, and the corks will work really well,” Zimmer said. “You could probably tight-line them then, too. It wouldn’t be bad, but definitely when it gets cooler, they’ll leave those flats for deeper water, and you have to go fish the bottom.”

But even when the water temperature is up around that magic 60-degree mark, fishing with corks this time of year isn’t like it is in July, Zimmer said.

“I put less energy into a pop,” he said. “I’m not going to pop it as vigorously as I do in the summertime. I’ll sometimes rock the cork over, just enough to make it click, and then let it go back down.

“You don’t want that bait to look as active as it is in the warmer months.”

Under a cork, Zimmer likes to throw a Ghost Minnow, a long, slender bait he manufactures and sells in local tackle shops. He threads it on a 1/16-ounce Deathgrip jighead. He’ll try different leader lengths until he discovers where the fish are holding.

When cold fronts blow through, and knock water temps down into the 50s, Zimmer will retreat to canals and low-current bayous. He’ll also change his lure.

“When I fish the bottom, I like a minnow-type bait like the Mad Mullet, something with a little more action,” Zimmer said, adding that he fishes them on 1/4- to 3/8-ounce jigheads.

He’s definitely got a strong color preference in winter waters.

“I find a bait with a shade of purple outfishes any other color this time of year,” he said. “I don’t know what it is, if it’s something coming out of the mud that they’re feeding on, but purple just does really well this time of year.”

Redfish, too, shift locations this time of year, but it has more to do with water height than temperature, Zimmer said.

“If the water’s really, really low, and those redfish have pulled out of the marsh and into the canals, I’ll tight-line for them, just work the drop-offs going into the canals, but if the waters up, I’m going to fish the edges of the marsh as best as I can,” he said. “I do that most of the time with corks.”

When the water is both cold and dirty, he’ll tip his soft-plastics with fresh shrimp to catch reds.

Productive redfish areas this year have included the Texaco Canals and the Myrtle Grove Canal, Zimmer said.

Lafitte specks off

Zimmer has been loading up on redfish in recent weeks, but speckled trout have treated the Lafitte area like it’s got the plague. A day-long effort might result in a couple of specks, Zimmer said.

The problem may be related to vegetation. Or a lack thereof.

“We have almost no grass this year, which is maybe why we’re having such a tough trout year,” he said. “Normally Brusle Lake is entirely grassed over, but there’s hardly a stretch of grass in that whole lake this year. It’s nothing close to what it normally is.”

Zimmer said coastal planners moved a stretch of rocks to protect an island to the east of Brusle, and that opened the popular lake to impacts from northerly winds. Every cold front pounds the water body with cresting waves.

North winds also wrecked another area that had been producing specks for Zimmer.

“We had one area behind Plum Point that was pretty solid grass, and we were catching trout there, but those big fronts came through and beat it all to death,” Zimmer said. “That was the end of that.”