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There are not a lot of people out there fishing right now, as even the most hardcore anglers have resigned themselves to either watching basketball or going to boat shows.
This is winter in the Carolinas which means days continually pop up that are pleasant enough for fishing. And since there are still some fish out there, some folks are still trying.
No one is catching them in the numbers we will see in a month or two, but I assure you all the fish haven’t fled to Florida.
Quite a few reports continue to come in from people catching redfish in the shallows.
Red drum pack up very tightly in the winter, and sometimes the schools are huge, monstrous pods of fish experienced anglers estimate at 1,000 or more.
Inexperienced anglers don’t get to estimate because they see all that bronze in the water, drop their rods to the boat floor in amazement and scare off the whole school.
Redfish are very easily spooked right now and not because they are scared of anglers. They are scared of dolphins. You would be too if you were a redfish.
To a human, a dolphin is a cute, peaceful fellow named Flipper who does tricks. To a redfish, a dolphin is a huge eating machine that glides in and gobbles you up, unless you swim away quickly so he eats your buddy instead. In the winter, a dolphin thinks of a redfish school about the same way we think of a buffet at a steak house.
If you can get them, the best bait for reds right now is mud minnows. Come to think of it, I don’t guess mud minnows are all that fond of redfish either.
You fish the mud minnows on light Carolina rigs with as little weight as you can get away with, concentrating along the banks and creeks of the waterways, rivers and inlets. Fighting winter reds on light tackle is a great way to warm up on a cold day.
Speckled trout are around, of course, a frustrating fish that is here one day and gone tomorrow. Actually, if you can find a place where they stage a bite they will often show up at the same tide and time in that location for about a week before they disappear.
A lot of local anglers have gone to the imitation shrimp lures (these work for redfish too) and had great success. The most commonly used models are the Berkley Gulp! and the DOA, although there are other brands. Live shrimp would be the best bait, but you won’t find any of those now.
It takes a while to get the hang of fishing the imitation shrimp. You can use them different ways—on a popping cork, with a weight or just as they come. Some models have the weight already inside the lure.
However you do it, you go very slowly in the winter, moving the bait with little hops like a shrimp. This is light line fishing, and if you use a leader it should be minimal.
There are some black drum around, and they stay near structure like bridges, piers and docks. You will rarely catch them on mud minnows or lures, although occasionally a hungry one decides he doesn’t really care what he eats. Mostly, you need shellfish like cut shrimp or crab to do the trick.
Winter is a good time to fish for black drum since the pinfish aren’t around to pick apart your cut shrimp. The only things you have to contend with are the blue crabs and the occasional passing skates.
A few whiting might be in the surf and up the rivers, but we won’t see many of them until March. Early whiting are one of the first fish to show up when the piers open. They hit cut shrimp, and the fresher it is the more you will catch.
Some folks believe all the fish vanish in the winter, but that is simply not the case. The past few winters have had especially solid fishing, and there have been fish caught throughout this year.
Most redfish, black drum and speckled trout simply don’t leave local waters; they just school up and are a bit harder to catch. It is true that during the coldest of spells it may be impossible to get a bite, but just a little warmth will bring the possibilities of success back again.
Even if you don't like the reduced odds, spring is just around the corner. March will bring increased action from all these fish, and the end of the month will see the return of more traveled species like bluefish to our shores.
Fishing is a cycle that never stops around here, and you can have as little or as much of it as you care to enjoy.
Jeffrey Weeks is a fishing columnist for the Beacon. Reach him at email@example.com.