Even during the harshest winter, the bays of east of the mouth of North Carolina’s Cape Fear River are a haven for red drum, and they hold some black drum, speckled trout and even an occasional flounder.
Three shallow bays and a creek system stretch between Fort Fisher to the north and Bald Head Island to the south on the east side of the Cape Fear across from Southport. The bays are separated from the Cape Fear by The Rocks, a water-control structure built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the late 1800s, so they are protected from swells and wakes, and their waters don’t freely mix. The Basin is the northern bay, with Second Bay in the middle and Buzzard Bay to the south.
The Federal Point boat ramp at the end of US 421 near the Fort Fisher Ferry Terminal is the only ramp with direct access. There are several spots in the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area to launch kayaks into The Basin and Second Bay, but it requires a four-wheel drive vehicle and a daily or annual pass to access. There is no land access to Buzzard Bay, but boats may enter from Second Bay or from the Bald Head Island end through Deep, Cedar and Still creeks.
These bays are very shallow and are best fished from shallow-draft boats and kayaks. Much of the bottom is soft, so wading isn’t a good option. Fishermen should carry extra food and warm clothes, as missing a channel by a few feet or tarrying a little too long on a falling tide may mean waiting eight 12 hours until the rising tide brings enough water to float again.
The tide change is approximately 4 feet, and low tide exposes acres of dark, soft mud or sand flats and oyster rocks. This exposed bottom and absorbs warmth from the sunlight and warms the water in the bays several degrees.
The water doesn’t drain completely from all the bays each tide. The area doesn’t have to completely reheat every day and maintains those few degrees of warmth. During the winter, baitfish look for the warmest water possible, and in this area, these bays are it.
Jeff and Christian Wolfe of Seahawk Inshore Fishing Charters fish this area often and know it well. They usually fish with soft plastics on light jigheads and retrieve them slowly, concentrating on hopping the lures off the bottom a few inches to get them noticed. They also carry shrimp and pieces of mullet.