Cold yaks, hot reds

For winter Carolina reds, let your kayak takes you to the right spots.

Kayaks can put adventuresome fishermen into the extremely skinny water where many redfish spend their winters.

Approaching the mouth of a creek, Noah Lynk warned a handful of kayakers that the water would be shallow, that they might bump bottom a time or two, and that they would have to wade back across it when the left — but he was certain the fishing would be worth it.

They worked their way past several oyster bars and several creek bends before emerging into a pool roughly half the size of a football field. Lynk wanted to fish a falling tide, but the trip hadn’t taken as long as he expected, and the water was still rising. Any concerns he might have had disappeared when he spotted a small school of red drum working part of the pool, hungry and on the move.

Lynk, who runs Noah’s Ark Fishing Charters out of Harkers Island, N.C., knows places that hold exceptional numbers of fish, especially during the winter. Some are so shallow, or have blocked entrances, that even flats boats that draft the least amount of water can’t reach them. They might get in and out on high water, but that’s sketchy at best, and February isn’t a good time to be stranded until the next high tide.

That’s when Lynk, a member of the Hobie fishing team, breaks out his kayaks for adventuresome fishermen, and the reward is usually high. Winter weather isn’t a problem as paddling or pedaling to and from the launching ramp keeps fishermen. Even having to drag your kayak out if the water is too low isn’t terrible as long as the bottom isn’t soft mud.

“There is a lot of skinny water around Harkers Island, and a kayak is a great way to explore it,” Lynk said. “The water in some of these areas is too warm during the summer, and fish aren’t there. However, once the water cools in the winter, these places still hold a little bait, and fish — especially red drum — know where they are and how to get there. Unfortunately, some of these spots are too shallow even for shallow boats, and a kayak is the only way to reach them.

“Fish start making their way to these spots once the water temperature drops below about 60 in the open water,” Lynk said. “As it gets colder, especially during January, February and sometimes into March, there can be a lot of drum in these spots. Sometimes you catch a black drum or a trout, and when the water first begins cooling and as it’s warming back up, there will be a few flounder, but it’s mostly red drum. Even in really cold weather, they’re usually hungry and feed during the falling tide. If it’s real cold, they might be up in the shallows sunning to warm up, but often they are in the deeper pools between the flats.”

Lynk’s huge pool features a hole at the upstream end that’s been carved out by the falling tide. If he doesn’t see fish working in the pool, he’ll start fishing the scour hole. Fishing can also be good in a shallow section broken up by oyster rocks where the current flows more slowly, pushing the bait more slowly.

Lynk (252-342-6911) carries some mud minnows for those “just in case” times. He prefers fishing with artificials; his favorite is a Fishbites Fight’n Shrimp. He casts into the current and lets it push them along, just like it moves live bait. Most days, fish will bite the soft plastics, but occasionally, he uses a few live mud minnows to get them fired up.

“These spots stay warmer than the water outside the creek, even during the coldest weather,” Lynk said. “On sunny days, the action is a little better, and it continues to improve for the second and third days of warm, sunny weather. We often have these breaks of warm, sunny days, especially from mid-February on, so you can watch the weather and plan trips to take advantage of it.”

Capt. Tim Taramelli of NC Pierman’s Outdoor Adventures in Hubert, N.C., specializes in kayak-fishing and spends most of the winter in the channels, flats and holes in the marsh across the Intracoastal Waterway from the mainland between Swansboro and Camp Lejeune.

“I catch more drum during the winter than during the summer,” said Taramelli, a member of the Native Kayaks fishing team. “Drum concentrate in schools during the winter, and when you find them, they’re usually hungry as long as the water temperature is 50 degrees or warmer. Once they start biting, the deal is on, and you can catch a bunch. I’ve had days where we’ve caught 40 or more from a single spot.”

Taramelli (910-581-4287) uses a Versa Board to get across the flats, bars, oyster rocks and other shallow spots to get to the drum, he usually fishes for them in deeper water. He sometimes finds them sunning on shallow flats, but he usually has better success working deeper holes between the flats. He looks for places 5 to 8 feet deep but will fish down to 10 feet. Areas with dark bottoms are warmer, and that’s something to consider, especially if the water is colder.

“My Versa Board is a hybrid that has some characteristics of a kayak and some from a stand up paddleboard,” Taramelli said. “It takes less than 3 inches of water, so I can get to places boats can’t go. I don’t dislike boats, but I like to get away from them when I’m fishing and this is the best way I’ve found.”

Taramelli prefers fishing with artificials and usually does better with them. However, it sometimes takes pieces of shrimp or cut bait to get the fish going, and he always carries some. He primarily catches red drum but sometimes also catches black drum, speckled trout and even occasionally a flounder.

“I primarily use soft plastics, but sometimes a suspending or sinking MirrOlure works better,” Taramelli said. “My go-to setup is a JP Hammer Shad from Power Team lures fished on a light jighead. I usually fish a 1/16-ounce jighead so the lure will sink slowly and flutter. Power Team lures are freshwater lures, and the JP Hammer Shad was designed for drop-shotting, but it works well. I fish it slowly, and bounce it off the bottom a time or two and then pause and let it sit.”

About Jerry Dilsaver 1170 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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