Try Bald Head Island’s marshes for winter redfish

Rennie Clark uses mostly soft-plastic, paddletail-style baits in the marshes north of Bald Head Island in January.

Bald Head marsh holds plenty of hungry, winter redfish

Bald Head Island, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, is a bit of an anomaly, leading to its attraction to winter redfish. It is the only location in North Carolina classified as subtropical climate. It is the northernmost location on the East Coast with this climate designation. The slightly warmer climate attracts winter visitors of the two-legged and finned varieties. The two-legged visitors often have memorable winter moments in the Bald Head Marshes chasing the finned visitors.

An abundance of marsh bays and creeks are between Bald Head Island and the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. Anglers can access them only by water. The easiest access is by staying on Bald Head Island. But many fishermen use the Federal Point boating access area at Fort Fisher or cross the Cape Fear River from Southport. In recent years, kayak fishermen have begun launching at crossovers in the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area.

Scented plastics like paddletails are great lure choices

The marsh system behind Bald Head Island holds fish all year but may be best known as a winter haven for redfish, speckled trout and black drum. The system includes three shallow bays and an abundance of small, interconnecting creeks. All of these are primarily dark, mud bottoms that absorb sunlight and stay warmer than the adjacent river water. The creeks have deeper holes and shallow flats, often adjacent. All of this is separated from the Cape Fear River by “The Rocks,” a rock wall constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the late 1800s to keep the Cape Fear River in its natural channel.

The warmer water and diversity of habitat makes this a special place for baitfish, crabs, predator fish and fishermen. The bays are shallow and the creeks laced with barely submerged oyster rocks, sand bars and mud flats, which requires caution or local knowledge to move through the area. The channels are narrow, and it isn’t a place for Sea Tow’s quick assistance. 

Rennie Clark of Tournament Trail Charters ( zips across the bays and through the creeks quickly because he fishes the area quite a bit. He knows the holes holding black drum and speckled trout and where red drum move onto the flats to feed. 

Clark primarily fishes this area with soft plastics. His favorites are Category 5 paddletails. He said it is important to fish slowly and keep the lure in front of the fish until it has to have it. A touch of scent also helps seal the deal and convince the fish to bite.

Click here to read more articles about inshore fishing across the Carolinas.

About Jerry Dilsaver 1171 Articles
Jerry Dilsaver of Oak Island, N.C., a full-time freelance writer, is a columnist for Carolina Sportsman. He is a former SKA National Champion and USAA Angler of the Year.

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