The marshes from Surf City to Emerald Isle have a reputation for holding big schools of red drum during the winter. Even better, they are usually feeding, so once a school is located, the fish will usually provide a few hours of tug-of-war fun. Capt. Allen Jernigan of Breadman Ventures in Sneads Ferry is one of a handful of guides who spends a lot of time in the company of these fish and has a long list of clients who enjoy their time in the marsh also.

“I don’t know why these redfish gather up in this particular section of the coast, but I don’t have any complaints,” Jernigan said. “As long as you don’t continually pound a school or they don’t get netted, you can fish them a time or two a week all winter. However, it doesn’t take but a week or so of daily pressure or one or two nights of being netted and whatever fish are left in that bay will move somewhere else.”

Jernigan (910-467-1482) started a recent trip in several of the creeks up the New River toward Jacksonville because the tide was too low to get in the bays and marsh he wanted to fish. The creeks produced a couple of strikes before Jernigan checked his watch, cranked his outboard and headed to his best spots.

“Maybe it’s the dirty water and all the rain a few days ago, but something isn’t right,” he said. “This sure is a pretty day, but maybe the barometer is already starting to fall and they feel the weather changing and it has put them off a little. Just last weekend, we caught a mixture of trout and reds and one flounder, but they aren’t interested today. Let’s take a little ride.

It took two stops, but on the second, in a fair-sized pond back in one of his favorite creeks, he stopped in mid-sentence while explaining how he wanted to approach the spot. 

“Do y’all see those fish?” he asked, pointing to a nice-sized school of redfish holding almost motionless in two feet of water about 30 feet away. On his instructions, fishermen cast to the edges of the school. The water erupted as two of the three lures connected. One pulled free, but a nice, mid-slot red was led to the boat. 

Although the fish weren’t particularly aggressive, Jernigan followed them for an hour or so, picking a fish off here and there before the school reformed and his fishermen produced a double.