Redfish in surf are top target for NC saltwater anglers in February

Winter reds in North Carolina’s inshore waters gang up for protection from porpoises. (picture by Jot Owens)

Redfish are predictable winter fish along N.C.’s coast

February is a tough month for saltwater anglers along North Carolina’s coast, unless they want to brave long, bouncing trips to the Gulf Stream.

In inshore and nearshore waters, the winter menu also is sparse except for one species: red drum.

Jot Owens of Jot It Down Fishing Charters in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., finds and catches plenty of inshore redfish during winter.

“The coldest weather affects the bite because it keeps most people off the water,” said Owens (910-233-4139), “but in February, there are two areas where you can find red drum: in the surf and inside.”

Chasing ocean reds is dicier but a better shot at big fish.

“You only want to fish the surf from the ocean in pretty weather with a light wind, no swells and clear water,” Owens said.

Redfish are biting a variety of lures

Getting tossed over the side into frigid water is a recipe for hypothermia. The upside is that schools of redfish in the surf may hold thousands of fish.

“I look for them up and down the beaches at inlet mouths, shoals and drop-offs,” Owens said.

When he spots a purple or maroon ball of reds, he casts 5-inch Gulp Jerkshads in pearl/white or chartreuse/pepper/neon threaded onto 3/8-ounce jigheads. His other favorite winter lure is a MirrOlure Catch 2000, a suspending twitch bait.

Owens uses 7- or 7 ½-foot-long Fenwick HMG Inshore medium or medium-heavy action spinning rods mated to 2500 or 3000 Series Penn Battle III reels spooled with 15-pound braid and 2- to 3-foot fluorocarbon leaders.

“Surf reds average 22 to 30 inches,” Owens said.

In inside waters, he also prefers mild days when the water temperatures flirt with the mid-50s.

Be careful to not spook these fish

“At higher tides on dark mud flats, the sun warms up the bottom and increases feeding activity,” Owens said. “Oyster rocks also are good places.”

He casts a 3- or 4-inch Gulp Shrimp on a 1/16-ounce jighead. The best winter technique is to barely move the lure.

“If the bite’s lethargic, I use little pieces of fresh-cut shrimp on a small circle hook with a 1/4-ounce split-shot up the line,” he said. “I try to throw just in front of but not into (reds) to avoid spooking them.”

In creeks and shallow bays, reds may hang out in groups from three to 40.

“They’ll hang around the same places day after day if you don’t pressure them,” Owens said. “Reds will go into really shallow water to get away from porpoises. Porpoises can be brutal, especially on trout, but also reds and black drum in winter, so drum try to get shallow.”

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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