- Special Sections
- Public Notices
The extremely mild winter continues and Brunswick County anglers are still enjoying unusually good catches of speckled trout and redfish, and I have never seen a winter when so many flounder were still inshore. The usually high activity of baitfish, shrimp and crabs in the water is making this winter a little like an early spring.
Redfish schools are hanging around in the backwaters, feeding and hiding from dolphins, and you can find schools that number in the hundreds of fish.
Gulp baits and DOA grubs are popular but any synthetic or plastic grub has a shot at working. Lures with dark green or black backs work well in the early morning and around sunset.
One live bait that is still available to anglers are fiddler crabs. The low country Carolina mudflats are fiddler crab havens, and the best thing about them as bait is you can gather them for free.
Many redfish and flounder are likely eating fiddler crabs on the mud flats, where they are being caught. When cleaning redfish, flounder and black drum in the winter, I have often found their stomachs full of fiddler crabs as well as small blue crabs and rock crabs.
But fiddler crabs are really the preferred bait for sheepshead anglers, another great-tasting but hard-to-catch fish that is still present in cold water, hanging around structures like bridges and docks.
Fiddler crabs are found in many coastal states. The Carolinas have three species and there are 97 throughout the world. There are fiddlers along the entire Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, and the Pacific states have their own species. Everywhere they occur, fiddler crabs are great bait for certain local fish.
Fiddlers live in salt marshes, where they have holes burrowed near the grasses. They come out of their holes as the tide lowers and feed on small organisms that were washed in with the tide.
You can catch fiddler crabs at the coast along inshore waterway and creek banks. You have to locate a marsh area where they are plentiful and chase them down. I catch them by hand but some folks use a crab net or other methods.
The pinch of a male fiddler crab (the ones with the claws) is not painful. Just be careful not to try to pick up a small blue crab by mistake, as one of those will pinch the mess out of you. Male fiddlers have those large claws to attract the lady fiddlers (size does matter in the fiddler community).
To prepare a fiddler crab as bait, break off the large claw if it is a male and hook the crab thorough the back. Make sure the hook point comes out of the other side, sheepshead and redfish will not mind.
Fiddler crabs are best fished on fishfinder rigs. Simple homemade rigs are better than store-bought varieties because fish like sheepshead are turned off by too many snaps and beads. All you need is the weight, a swivel, the leader and a hook.
To make a fishfinder rig, first thread an egg sinker to the line running from the rod and reel. The size of the sinker depends on the conditions you are fishing and how much weight it will take to get the crab to the bottom. Go with the smallest sinker you can get away with but make sure your rig is getting where it needs to go.
Hook sizes vary but don’t go too large. I use hooks between No. 4 and 1/0 when fishing with fiddlers, depending on what I am targeting.
For inshore saltwater fishing, I rarely use more than about an ounce of weight but there are places where the current calls for much more. Fishing from an ocean pier around the pilings (where sheepshead and black drum hang out), you will probably need an ounce or more.
Fish don’t usually hammer a fiddler crab bait as they might a piece of bloody cut mullet. Instead, they often take the bait in their mouths and peck at the shell to spit it out. Sheepshead fishermen have long said the time to set the hook is just before they bite. While that is likely impossible, keep a finger on your line and set the hook if you feel anything strange.
As long as the mild weather holds up, inshore fishing should remain good. Take advantage of it, because we never know what kind of havoc Mother Nature will throw at us in the winter months. To get a solid fishing winter is something we haven’t seen in a while.
Jeffrey Weeks, author of “Surf and Saltwater Fishing in the Carolinas,” is a fishing columnist for the Beacon. You may reach him at email@example.com or follow updated fishing reports on his blog at http://saltyweeks.blogspot.com.