Winter redfish are biting in Fort Fisher bays

Warm, shallow waters in three bays between Fort Fisher and Bald Head Island are popular winter spots for redfish.
Warm, shallow waters in three bays between Fort Fisher and Bald Head Island are popular winter spots for redfish.

Lots of history in this winter redfish battleground

Fort Fisher, on the peninsula between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Wilmington, N.C., was a Confederate stronghold during the Civil War until its capture in 1865. Battles are still being fought at Fort Fisher, but between fishermen and fish.

During the 1800s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a rock wall that extends from Fort Fisher to Bald Head Island, preventing the Cape Fear river channel from flowing out of New and Corncake inlets, which started shoaling and were filled in by 1998.

What remains between the rock wall and the ocean is a thin strip of land, three shallow bays and a marsh creek system that hold fish all year. The Basin is closest to Fort Fisher, then Second Bay and Buzzard Bay closest to Bald Head Island.

Separated from the Cape Fear River by the rocks protects them from the wind chop, swells and ship wakes of the river. They also stay noticeably warmer than all of the surrounding water and have become favorite hangouts for winter redfish and the fishermen that chase them.

Shallow bays are good for skinny-drafting boats and kayaks

The easiest access is from the Federal Point ramp at the end of US 421 in the basin. This gives good access for shallow-draft boats and kayaks through Second Bay and Buzzard Bay. Access from the Cape Fear River behind Bald Head Island is through several creeks into Buzzard Bay, then on to the other bays.

The bays are shallow, and most of the bottom is dark, soft mud. Oyster rocks are scattered throughout, and oysters and mud flats are exposed to the sun at low tide. The sun warms the exposed bottom, which warms the water. The warmer water holds more baitfish and crabs, and the fish are more active. This is a popular winter redfish spot with many guides from Carolina Beach and Southport. So fish are pressured and may be spooky.

The primary winter fish are red drum, but with some black drum mixed in. Some speckled trout are scattered in deeper holes. Occasionally, someone even catches a flounder that warmed enough to feed.

Soft plastics are the preferred method of fishing here and slow is the retrieve speed. Either rig them on light jigheads or use swimbait hooks to tuck the hook and make it weedless. There is bottom growth and lots of snags. There are also hungry fish for those with the patience to locate them.

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.