North Carolina and South Carolina offer tremendous habitat along their coastlines for a myriad of saltwater species. As the weather cools and heads into winter, most baitfish and predators evacuate inshore areas and seek refuge in deeper water or places with relatively warmer water, such as the section of the Intracoastal Waterway between North Myrtle Beach and the North Carolina state line.
This section of ICW is known to hold baitfish in winter along with redfish, speckled trout and striped bass — the inshore trifecta. Anglers able to tough out winter conditions can expect any one of these three species on each cast.
Tom Cushman of Captain Cush’s Calmwater Charters fishes those waters every chance he can get in December and January because the fishing can be off the chain.
“The ICW holds a substantial amount of bait this time of year, and we will rarely leave the main channel,” said Cushman (843-997-5850). “We cast a lot of soft plastics, and when you get a bite, it could be a trout, red, or a striped bass.”
For most of the estuaries on both sides of the state line will typically hold speckled trout and redfish; striped bass is not a fish many anglers are accustomed to seeing.
Since baitfish congregate in the Little River section of the ICW, stripers are right at home, but competing with speckled trout and redfish for groceries. The best fishing for this fishy trifecta is between the Robert Edge Parkway in North Myrtle Beach and the state line, where all three species feed in the same types of habitats.
Cushman concentrates on places where fish can easily ambush bait, including the access to marinas, creek mouths and docks.
“For most of the day, fish may hold in the deeper water and then transition up on the shallower ledges along the ICW to feed,” Cushman said. “Most of the ledges contain hardbottom, rock, or some sort of horizontal or vertical structure and the fish will patrol these areas to feed. The inlet at Coquina Harbor is typically a good place to find stripers, redfish and trout in December.”
These fish aren’t real picky this time of year, and anything small enough for them to swallow can be a contender for an upcoming meal. Both soft plastics and hard baits are good options.