Winter redfish action is cranking up around Cape Fear

By on December 12, 2014
Capt. Jeff Wolfe has fished the Cape Fear area for more than 30 years. (Courtesy Seahawk Inshore Fishing Charters)

When the coastal waters along the Southeast U.S. cool heading into winter, redfish head into coves and the backs of creeks, making the season some of the best fishing for the species.

“It’s just now getting cranked up,” said Jeff Wolfe, who operates Seahawk Inshore Fishing Charters with his son out of Wilmington, North Carolina. “If I’ve had 100-fish days or 80-fish days or 70-fish days on redfish, they’ve all come in late December and January.”

The creeks and shallow backwaters along the lower Cape Fear River have areas of dark mud bottom that absorb afternoon sunlight, creating warmth that the redfish seek out. The trick is finding the right hole or cove where the fish are congregating. He’ll drop the trolling motor and cover some ground while picking off fish until coming up on a school that can range from 10 to 200 fish. Then it’s time to hold up and fish the area for a while.

Even once you’ve found them, it can take a little encouragement if the fish aren’t feeding.

“A lot of times it takes 15, 20 casts to get them fired up. Once they start feeding, they start feeding,” Wolfe said, with a little emphasis on the last three words. He theorizes that one fish sees another bite and follows the lead, and then more fish see that, kicking off a chain-reaction frenzy in the hole.

Wolfe primarily uses artificial baits, including scented Gulp! and other soft plastics. When those don’t do the trick, he’ll turn to shrimp, which he buys a couple hundred pounds at a time from shrimpers in the fall and freezes in 1- or 2-pound bags. He’ll put a whole, small shrimp on a jig-head and throw that to a hole.

“They’ll eat that,” he said. “The scent gets them really on the shrimp.”

The ideal conditions for catching winter redfish come in mid-day during low tide between the middle of the fall and the middle of the rise. “We catch them early in the morning, but ideally it’s in the afternoon,” Wolfe said. And while the winter fish are a little slower in the cool water, people say they fight like a striped bass, but harder.

Redfish are also known as spottail bass (Courtesy Seahawk Inshore Fishing Charters)

Redfish are also known as spottail bass (Courtesy Seahawk Inshore Fishing Charters)

“They definitely thrash on top of the water,” he said. “They don’t jump, they pretty much bulldog. They’ve got a lot of power in their tail.”

And the redfish certainly aren’t the only species in these waters. Anglers fishing shrimp will also catch black drum, which Wolfe said is a good eating fish with a limit of 10 per person compared to just one redfish. Artificials will also pick up speckled trout in the same holes. “Catching both of those, you’ll have a lot of action,” he said.

While the winter may be the best time numbers-wise to go after redfish, they’re a blast to fish for year-round, Wolfe said from the surf to the docks to schooled up tailing on flats, there’s a great variety of places to catch them and techniques to do it. For the most part, they’ll hit anything that a largemouth bass would, including topwater lures in the summer.

“People really don’t think they’re designed to hit a topwater plug because their mouth is on the bottom, but they will absolutely crush a topwater plug,” Wolfe said. “They’re a bass on steroids, man.”

Top image: Capt. Jeff Wolfe has fished the Cape Fear area for more than 30 years. (Courtesy Seahawk Inshore Fishing Charters)

About Jeff Gillies

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *