The warmer, sunny days between cold fronts at the end of winter have provided some excellent fishing in the marshes behind Emerald Isle, Bear Island and Browns Island near Swansboro. Capt. Rick Patterson of Cape Crusader Charters said the water in the marsh creeks and ponds has stayed crystal clear, and sight-fishing for redfish has been and continues to be excellent. Some black drum and a few speckled trout have been mixed with some of the redfish.   

“I can’t say I’m finding schools of several hundred redfish, but maybe I’m just not there at the best time for that,” Patterson said. “However, I’m seeing a lot of smaller schools, say, 20 to 25 fish.

“In this clear water redfish are really spooky, so you have to move slowly and carefully or you’ll blow them out,” said Patterson (252-342-1513). “The odds are they saw you well before you spotted them, but if you don’t move quickly or erratically, they’ll often let you get within casting range. However, sometimes they’ll be gone if you run your trolling motor within 100 yards of them, especially if your prop hits the bottom or an oyster rock. The bottom line is if you get too aggressive and approach them too quickly, you’ll see the water hump up and watch wakes as they disappear.”

Patterson said fish are hungry and feeding, but they are still cold and usually not aggressive. If you get a bait really close without spooking them, they’ll usually take it. Once a few fish in the school have eaten and gotten excited, the others get more aggressive, and you can catch several unless something happens to spook them.  

“There are a couple of things you can do to encourage cold redfish to bite,” Paterson said. “The easiest is to downsize your bait. I switch from larger soft plastics down to the 3-inch versions. I also switch to lighter jigheads and fish more slowly. 

“Scent will sometimes seal the deal, and I use scented baits or add scent,” Patterson said. “Some days they just won’t take a lure, and I always take some fresh cut mullet to fish on the bottom to get them started. Once a few have eaten and gotten the school excited, they will often start hitting lures.”

Patterson said patience is a virtue when chasing redfish in clear water, and not actually chasing them is a big part of it. If you see them, they move and you move towards them, it will probably push them away. If you are patient and don’t spook them badly, you can often stop, and the school will reform in the same area. It may be as quickly as 15 minutes, but be prepared to give them 30 to 45 minutes to regroup.  

Patterson said the odd weather patterns late this winter have confused both fish and fishermen, but checking your notes from past years should help locate fish. His best advice was to move slowly and look for small schools, not those large ones. Let that be a really big surprise if you find one.