Allen Jernigan launched his 18-foot tunnel-hull skiff and pointed the bow into the channel of a coastal river. The wind was calm, the water slick. Within minutes, he turned out of the main channel and headed into a shallow bay.
“The weatherman said a cold front is coming,” Jernigan said. “When a cold front hits, the fishing can be epic or it might be a flop. You never know unless you go.”
Jernigan dropped his a trolling motor and began cruising along the bank. From the bow, he could see the propeller whirling scant inches above the sandy bottom.
“I am looking for a ledge or drop-off that falls 2 to 4 feet,” he said. “That’s where you find speckled trout ahead of a front.”
Jernigan found a likely looking spot, and he also saw something disturbing the water just under the surface, which made it look even better. He began casting a MirrOlure MR17 MirrOdine suspending twitchbait, allowing the lure to sink for a few seconds before beginning his retrieve, the rhythm of which consisted of a few turns of the reel handle to take up the slack followed by a pause to let the lure stop, dead still. Then he twitched it gently before taking up the slack again.
“You have to fish the lure all the way to the boat,” he said. “Sometimes a speck will nail it right as you are taking it out of the water. You also have to vary the retrieve until you find the sequence that works best.
“You can fish right beside your buddy, using the same lure, and you are catching all the fish while he is not catching anything. The smallest difference in your retrieve makes all the difference in the world.”
While he was casting, Jernigan kept an eye on the sky. A solid wall of clouds was rolling toward him, stretching from the water’s surface on the horizon to thousands of feet high in the sky.
“That is the front moving in,” he said. “The fishing is usually best right before the wind hits, so we need to find the sweet spots, fast.”
Jernigan made another cast. As he let the lure sit after a twitch, a trout struck.
“There he is,” he said. “He’s a good one, too. Let’s see if we can upgrade to a bigger fish.”
Putting a 2-pound trout into his livewell, he fished the spot slowly, moving a few feet and stopping whenever he caught a fish to make a few more casts to the same spot. He caught several small trout along with a couple of keepers. Since time was of the essence, he switched rods, picking up one that had an artificial shrimp tied to the leader.
“I like using the Storm Shrimp because the trout like it,” he said. “When the weather turns cold, most fishermen use live shrimp. I catch more trout using artificial lures without the expense of buying live bait.”
Jernigan caught a 4-pound trout on his first cast, fishing the shrimp very slowly, allowing it to sink to the bottom before lifting the rod tip and giving it a twitch.
“You have to make an artificial shrimp look alive, but move it slowly enough to make it easy for a trout to catch,” he said. “Some fish will take the lure all the way down their throats because it fools them so well. When that happens, you know you are fishing it slowly enough.”
He caught a fish on nearly every cast until the bite tapered off and he moved to another deeper spot. This time, he began casting a soft-plastic Bass Assassin rigged Texas-style with a weighted hook that had a spring-keeper to secure the lure’s nose.
“The spring-keeper hook gives the lure more freedom of movement than a standard jig head,” he said. “When I am fishing this slowly, I want to make the lure look alive with the least amount of movement possible.”
Jernigan fished a stretch of a hundred yards, stopping whenever he caught a trout. In total, he caught more than three-dozen, including several that weighed more than 4 pounds, before a fog bank surfed into a cove on a powerful wind. He zipped up his foul-weather coat against the chill and headed for the downwind side of a high bank.
“The fish usually stop biting when the wind hits,” he said. “But I will keep trying for a while. Sometimes they move from shallow water to deeper water or orient around a particular piece of structure.”
Jernigan kept casting, switching rods and lures as the temperature dropped 20 degrees. He found a deep spot with downed trees along the bank. Several stumps protruded above the water or had tops visible just beneath the surface. The first fish he caught was a red drum.
“If drum are here, trout are, too,” he said. “We will keep trying to see what happens.”
After fishing for another hour, he had landed only three more trout. What had been an epic bite was suddenly over, blown away by the wind.
HOW TO GET THERE — Sneads Ferry is in Onslow County, inshore from New River Inlet, on the west bank of New River, on NC 172. A popular public ramp is Fulcher Landing on SR 1541.
WHEN TO GO — The cold fronts of December, January, February and March stack up the fish in shallow water.
BEST TACKLE — TTF Gun Dog, 7-foot medium or fast-action rod, Shimano Sahara 300 reel, 10-pound FINS braid with 20-pound fluorocarbon leader, Storm Wildeye Live shrimp in pinks, or MirrOlure 17MR Mirrodine suspending bait in 808 pattern (black back/silver sides/orange belly).
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Allen Jernigan, Breadman Ventures, 910-467-1482. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Hampton Inn and Suites, Jacksonville, 910-347-3400. Best Western Courtyard Resort, Jacksonville, 888-944-8835; Days Inn, Jacksonville, 910-467-8271.