Capt. Allen Jernigan of Breadman Ventures in Sneads Ferry said there are red drum in the shallow bays off the Intracoastal Waterway and New River around Sneads Ferry, in schools of anywhere from 50 to 200 or 300 fish – and most of them are hungry.
"These fish are out of the main flow of the river or the waterway," Jernigan said. "They aren't going to use a lot of energy fighting the current with the tides changing. They ease up into one of the shallow creeks or bays and hover over dark bottom, which warms during sunny days and passes the heat on to the water around them. When they warm a degree or two, they feel better and want to eat. That's when and where we catch them."
Jernigan (910-467-1482) said the bays and creeks off the New River and the ICW between Topsail and Swansboro are different than most other places. Lots of places will stay covered with water, even during low tide, but they have dark bottoms that are barely covered and absorb sunlight and warm up a degree or two if there is any sunshine at all. Jernigan said he is finding drum in really shallow water, often less than a foot deep. He said it takes a shallow-draft boat to get to these fish and many bay boats aren't shallow enough.
"Sometimes it takes a while to get a school going," Jernigan said. "You can see them and land lures in the schools, but they just aren't biting. Finally, one of them grabs a lure and runs off through the school and gets them excited, and the deal is on for a while. Of course, sometimes you ease up to a school being really cautious and make a cast, and they are aggressive and go after your baits from that first cast on. That will get you going too."
Jernigan said there is a winter grass growth in many of the bays, and it will foul a bait and hook very quickly. If a large school of drum is feeding in an area, they will break a lot of the grass up and make the fishing easy. However, he still insists that setting baits up weedless is the only way to go.
"The water isn't deep, so I use a light jighead and a soft plastic to make my weedless setup," Jernigan said. "I add a hitchhiker spring to the eye of the jig and screw the bait onto the spring. The bait then runs along the top of the jighead back to the hook. I run the hook up barely through the bait and tuck the point lightly into the back of the bait. This makes it streamlined, and with no hook sticking up, it is virtually weedless. When a fish hits the bait, the hook point pops free to grab the fish."
Jernigan is using the Cigar Minnow and Redfish Minnow from Salty Bay Baits on his jigheads. The Cigar Minnow is a longer jerkbait, while the Redfish Minnow is shorter and with a shad tail to give a different presentation.
Jernigan said the final part of the right presentation is to fish as slowly as you can keep the bait above the bottom. The lighter jigheads don't sink too quickly, and that helps, as there is a fine line between too slow and digging weeds and too fast and not getting looked at. Jernigan said when you get the retrieve speed right, the fish will tug on your line to let you know.