Hot New River reds

Cold weather doesn’t slow down the redfish bite in the New River around Jacksonville.

When trout fishing slacks, reds still bite

For someone known as a year-round speckled trout specialist, guide Ricky Kellum of Jacksonville may be just as efficient on red drum — especially during the winter.

“Trout become lethargic when the water temperature drops, but red drum in the New River are active nearly every day,” said Kellum (910-330-2745), who said reds will be in 100 percent of the river’s tributary creeks, often in the backs.

Good spots include Northeast, Southwest and Wallace creeks, plus creeks, bays and marsh islands near New River inlet.

“They get in the backwaters of deeper creeks, (where) the water is 8 to 12 feet deep,” Kellum said. “It’s a lot like fishing for bass; I throw grubs at tree tops and stumps and let ’em sink.”

His favorite soft-plastic lures for red drum include the Betts Halo Shad and Perfect Sinker Shrimp.

“I throw them when there’s skim ice and (fish) want a slow presentation,” Kellum said. “These baits have a good, slow fall. Reds in winter don’t want big baits, and they want you to present a bait right in front of their faces.”

Marshes near the inlet are excellent spots in winter.

“If you only wanted to concentrate on red drum, you should go back in the marshes on high, flood tides and fish as it’s falling out,” he said. “I’ll often throw a 4-ounce Gulp shrimp and just let it sit on the bottom.

“The water’s usually clear so you can see (reds) and wait for ‘em to put (a lure) in their mouths.”

During calm days or days of light breezes, red drum will hit topwater lures. Zara Spooks and Zara Spook Jrs. are favorites, along with SheDogs and TopDogs.

“Around the marsh islands where the water’s super shallow, 3 feet at the deepest, where you can get in there on a high tide and the water starts falling out, there’ll be pockets (of deeper water) where you can take a kayak and fish for them,” Kellum said. “But the bottom’s muddy, so you can’t get out and push, and you won’t have a lot of time to fish.”

Soft-plastic lures or live baits such as mud minnows, glass minnows or finger mullets will work.

“You can find (bait), even in winter,” he said. “The action can be non-stop because reds get corralled in those pockets. If it’s a warm day in the 60s, the reds can really get active. You might get into a school of 26 to 27-inch fish that’ll hit topwater lures.”

However, when redfish get spooky, anglers need to use lures with no rattles.

“A 4-inch Gulp Shrimp with a 3/16-ounce jighead — or a gold spoon — are good lures,” said Kellum, who recommends pinching down the barbs on hooks.

“You’ll have better luck getting fish back,” he said, “and hooks are easier to remove if a fish swallows a soft-plastic bait.”

About Craig Holt 1382 Articles
Craig Holt of Snow Camp has been an outdoor writer for almost 40 years, working for several newspapers, then serving as managing editor for North Carolina Sportsman and South Carolina Sportsman before becoming a full-time free-lancer in 2009.

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