Capt. Jeff Wolfe of Carolina Beach said speckled trout and puppy drum aren’t yet in their normal winter routines in the lower Cape Fear River, but some fish, along with black drum, are scattered through the marshes and creeks between Carolina Beach and Bald Head Island, and one of his parties landed a keeper flounder this past Sunday, rounding out an inshore grand slam.

“The red drum aren’t in schools in the bays like in usual years,” said Wolfe, who runs Seahawk Inshore Fishing Charters. “They are scattered through smaller pockets and spots in the creeks throughout the marsh. Usually at this time of year, I have located several schools of a hundred or more, but they just haven’t bunched up like that yet.

“I’m blaming it on the constant severe changes in the weather and I’m pretty sure I’m right, but something sure has them confused. The one constant that still hold true is they like places where the water is a little warmer.”

Wolfe (910-619-9580) said the trout are a little more predictable, as they like to be close to the warmer water, but they also prefer water a little deeper, and there is only so much of that in the area he is fishing. He said he has been able to find fish most days, but it hasn’t been as easy or consistent as in most years.

“Usually by the middle of January, we have either locked into a cold winter or one with more moderate weather,” he said. “So far, this winter has been a series of rapid changes that have kept the fish confused and made challenges for fishermen. When it is sunny and 70, and then two days later the temperature doesn’t rise above freezing all day, there just isn’t a way for the fish to establish a pattern, and without a pattern, fishermen must start over each day.”   

Wolfe said he was fishing with smaller paddletail soft plastics and fishing them very slowly. He said the lightest weight jig head that would get them to the bottom was the best and most days either ¼- or 1/8-ounce would do it. The lighter head allows finessing the bait with short movements and also allows the bait to flutter back to the bottom slowly and better imitate a cold or injured baitfish.

Wolfe said there was also a double whammy last week, with full moon high tides and a lot of rainwater runoff coming down the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear rivers. This water is dirty and moves the fish around, too. He hopes that will calm down some soon as the moon phase passes and the runoff from the latest rains make their way to the ocean. However, he is concerned about the Arctic blast forecast to surge into the region this week.