A good pair of binoculars in your tackle box is probably just as important as the jighead you’re throwing and the color lure you’ve selected when targeting speckled trout and redfish this month on Black Lake.

Capt. Nick Poe, with Big Lake Guide Service, continually scanned the cobalt blue horizon with binoculars on a recent trip to the estuary located just west of Calcasieu Lake in search of flocks of working birds.

Most speckled trout anglers have fished birds before, and know about approaching slowly from upwind to within a long cast of the flock. 

But Poe drills down even more, coming in stealthily with his trolling motor while keeping an eye on the flock for subtle clues about the life-and-death battle playing out between shrimp and fish just under the water’s surface.

“If there are no other boats around, I’ll troll for miles to get to the birds because I believe it makes that big of a difference,” he said. “Any kind of unnatural noise is not good, and hull slap plays a big role in that. 

“As long as the shrimp are still jumping out of the water, the birds will come eat them. But if you bust the fish up, they move. They might move 80 yards and come right back, but sometimes they don’t.”

Poe constantly assesses his distance to the flock on the approach, and looks for hints to see if he can tell which way the school of feeding fish is moving.

“You’ll pull up to a group of birds and consistently watch them pick in the same area over and over again. Then you’ll have one or two birds that will stray off and pick the other side,” Poe said. “Whichever end they’re picking on consistently is more than likely the direction they’re headed. The head of the school will be wherever they’re picking the hardest.”

Birds should be plentiful on Black Lake for at least the first half of the month, but Poe said there’s lot of other spots there that should be holding fish in December.

“We’ve got a lot of deep water. The actual lake itself isn’t that deep, but you’ve got a lot of dead end canals you can fish in the area that are really good this month,” he said. “Lots of oyster reefs in the canals. You get the tide right, and you can catch a lot of fish.”

He prefers an outgoing tide this time of year, but he said any movement is better than none at all.

“The banks in Black Lake can also be really good in December. Once it gets a little colder, those fish seek the mud because it warms up quicker than everything else,” he said. “Some have good flats on them, like the north bank of Black Lake. It’s got some real hard sand and good oyster reefs. The trout won’t abandon the reefs completely, but I know where I catch them — that’s usually in the mud with some scattered oyster shells.”

Another important point to consider as water temperatures gradually cool throughout the month is to slow down your presentation, and Poe gets that process started with a lighter jighead.

“”I’m a firm believer in the wintertime that your bait needs to fall slow, so I’ll stick to my ⅛-ounce jihead unless I need to change it, and I’ll even go to a 1/16-ounce,” he said. “That goes for under the birds, too. 

“As it gets colder, those fish want the bait to fall slower. There will be days you’ll out-fish someone three to one just because they were fishing with an ⅛-ounce jighead and you were fishing with a 1/16.”

One of his favorite soft plastic lures in December is MirrOlure’s Lil John in chartreuse ice. That particular lure makes things a little easier when you’re fishing with a lighter jighead, he said. 

“It’s one of the main reasons I fish the Lil John,” Poe said. “The bait has a lot of weight to it and flies like a bullet, so there’s no whirly-birding and no twisting. It flies really well.”