Capt. Allen Jernigan of Breadman Ventures in Sneads Ferry said the rapid changes in the weather appear to be more confusing to fishermen than to redfish, which have ignored the occasional warm water and are beginning to gather into their larger, winter schools.

“They haven’t totally separated by size yet, but that will come soon enough,” Jernigan said. “The schools still have some under-slot and even a few over-slot fish in them, but that makes it interesting. You certainly can’t relax after catching a couple of smaller fish or the next one might take your rod and reel for his trophy.” 

Jernigan (910-467-1482) said not only are the schools made up of mixed sizes of redfish, but there are other fish with them also. He said it wasn’t a surprise to see some black drum around the edges of the schools and catch a small flounder or two, but the gator trout swimming with the reds will get your attention.  

“Those speckled trout I have seen swimming with the reds in the past few days would easily be citations,” Jernigan said. “I believe some of them might go seven to eight pounds. The problem is you can’t get them to bite. Well, that’s not exactly true; they may want to bite, but the reds are very aggressive and beat them to the baits even when you cast them right in front of the trout. It’s tough to take, but the action with the redfish is good enough you get over it pretty quickly.” 

Jernigan said redfish have been in the shallow bays and creeks off of the Intracoastal Waterway and in the New River’s channel. He said moving slowly and locating fish without spooking them is key. If you spook them, go ahead and leave that school and look for another for an hour or so. Odds are, he said, you will find another school, and if you fish them for a while, the school you spooked will settle down and let you approach close enough to cast. 

“The fish are in shallow water, and I’m seeing them or seeing them push most of the time,” Jernigan said. “There are a lot of opportunities for casting to a fish you see. A couple of days ago, we followed a school into a really small creek but were quiet, and everyone got to see hundreds of redfish swimming around us. One of those groups of large trout was with them, and my clients couldn’t believe how big they were.” 

Jernigan said he had been mostly fishing paddletails and jerkbaits from Texas Tackle Factory. He said the drum were in shallow enough water he only needed weight to get casting distance and had been using them on quarter-ounce jigheads. There are days they will hit almost any color, but pumpkinseed and motor oil had been the most reliable over the past week or so. 

Jernigan said the best retrieve speed has been medium-slow to slow. Sometimes they will hit the bait just crawling it across the bottom, but twitching your wrist and bouncing it a few inches off the bottom and letting it flutter back down has been the hot ticket. Most strikes will come as the lure falls, so keeping the line tight to feel it was crucial.