March marks the first turn toward spring fishing along the central North Carolina coast as water temperatures begin to warm.

After a huge cold-kill of speckled trout in January, anglers such as guide Jot Owens of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., will target March red drum around oyster beds.

“I’ll fish almost exclusively in estuary creeks with oyster rocks on dark, mud bottoms,” said Owens (910-233-4139). “The dark mud holds heat from sunshine and attracts redfish, especially on bottoms with grass near them. Also, any day that’s warmer than a previous day is gonna be a better time to fish for creek reds. Sometimes, you might have to wait until the afternoon and let the sun warm the water and bottom a little to get reds active.”

Redfish are bottom-feeders that look for tiny, black mole crabs that live between oyster shells and in crevices around oyster rocks. Because the water is clear and visibility is excellent, it’s a sight-fishing game from the green flag.

“You might see pods with from five to 30 or more redfish,” said Owens, who favors 61/2- to 7-foot medium-action rods mated to 2500 to 3000 series reels spooled with 6- to 10-pound braid and 2 to 3 feet of 10-pound mono leader.

“Because the water is cool, you need to put lures or baits near ’em,” Owens said. “When you see which way they’re swimming, you try to put a lure a few feet in front of reds.”

Gin-clear water means red drum will be spooky, so dropping a lure or bait on top of them scatters fish. 

The water temperature (50s and low 60s) also indicates little to no lure chasing, which dictates lure sizes and small live-bait rigs.

“My favorite lure is a 3-inch Gulp! shrimp with 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jigheads to reduce splash when they hit the water,” he said. “I can cast real tight to fish and not spook ’em.”

Any color, as long as it contains some white, will work.

“I use (solid) white, pearl/white or sugar spice/glow, which is white with a few black pepper flakes in its body,” said Owens, who also sometimes uses 5- and 6-inch Gulp! jerk shads in pearl, chartreuse, pepper, neon and new penny fished on light jigheads.

“Sometimes, I’ll crimp a split shot about a foot above a 1/16- or 1/8-ounce Gulp! so it’ll spiral down toward the bottom and resembles an injured shrimp,” Owens said.  

If reds aren’t interested in soft plastics, he’ll switch to pieces of fresh, peeled shrimp on a No. 2 Lupton or octopus hook 12 to 18 inches below a 1/8-ounce split shot.

“Gotta be peeled, fresh shrimp, through,” he said. “They don’t like old or frozen shrimp. They’ll often hit a shrimp piece that’s falling toward the bottom, if all else fails.”