Don’t let the cold stop surf fishing

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By Jeffrey Weeks, Fishing Correspondent

November and December are great months to get into cold-water surf fishing for red drum in Brunswick County. We do not have the huge populations of big bull reds that the Outer Banks does during the colder months, but many redfish cruise the surf before they go inside when the water gets really cold and school up waiting for next spring.
Cold-water surf fishing for red drum is not a sport for the faint of heart. It involves going after redfish that roam the beaches chasing big and increasing isolated schools of mullet. These red drum often appear in the early dawn smashing baits as sunset hits. They also are a great target around sunset and at night.
Ten-foot surf rods are about the minimum for cold-water bait fishing. I like a 10-foot rod myself. Some anglers go for even larger rods up to 13 feet. You can go with a rod that big but that is a lot to hold onto throughout a long fishing session.
Reels can be conventional or spinning (I prefer spinning) and should be spooled with at least 12-pound monofilament test line. Heavier line or some of the popular braids and fluorocarbon can be used.
Waders are optional for a while, but must be used once the water becomes too cold for your skin. After the middle of December, you won’t be able to stand the chilly surf, so you need a good pair of waders if you are going to surf fish.
Two kinds of rigs are ideal for red drum in the late fall and winter surf. One is a simple one-hook bottom rig, which is hand-tied and doesn’t contain a lot of snaps and swivels. This is a common high-low setup with the hook fixed above the sinker. You can utilize a three-way swivel in making this rig—just attach a clip for the sinker to one loop, tie your leader to one loop and tie the last loop to your running line.
You can also use a fishfinder rig to maintain a feel for the bait and so the red drum doesn’t pick up on and feel the weight. To make a simple fishfinder rig, just slide the sinker (pyramid, bank sinker or other surf weight) onto the running line from the rod.
Then thread on one small red bead. After the bead, attach a two-loop swivel and to the other loop of the swivel attach your leader and hook.
As leader material, you can use fluorocarbon or monofilament line. I like a mono leader of about 25-pound test for redfish drum in the surf. Do not use a really long leader, because the current red drum limit is one fish in an 18- to 27-inch slot, so you will likely be releasing fish. Go with a short 6- to 12-inch leaders, very short if you are just planning to release everything.
Hook sizes should be saltwater 1/0 to 5/0 hooks. Some anglers use circle hooks these days, which are great for catch and release. Just remember with circle hooks the fish hooks itself so you do not set the hook. Traditional J-style hooks are popular with bait and Kahle-style hooks work great with live finger mullet.
The best bait when winter cold-water surf fishing for red drum is fresh cut mullet. Cut bait for fresh pinfish, spot, bluefish, pogies (menhaden) or silver perch are good choices as well. These cut baits will also catch you any big bluefish cruising along in the surf. Very fresh cut shrimp is also a decent surf bait for anything, including red drum.
Lively live finger mullet are a strong bait while you can still cast net them. Before the weather gets too cold, live finger mullet may land you a big flounder, as they hang around until about mid-December in smaller numbers but good size. You might also catch a feisty speckled trout. Live mud minnows and pinfish also work.
If you can’t find fresh or live bait, previously frozen mullet or other cut bait will work. But if you can use fresh cut bait, then do so. The difference is amazing.
Redfish feed in the surf and also out beyond it. The surf is where you will be standing to cast. You can make long cast but neglect the whitewater area close to you as well.
Besides the suds, the other important feature for surf fishing is a slough (pronounced slew). Sloughs are areas where deep water exists between the beach and the outer bar. You can often see them as places where there is a sudden end to the white cresting waves or where there is fast-moving rippled water.
You want to cast into these areas. Sometimes sloughs are not far off the beach. They may even be exposed at low tide, when you can find them and come back to fish them later.
Sloughs are magnets for mullet schools and crabs, and thus for red drum as well.