Truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan of winter. I’m okay through the Holidays, but once the New Year comes around, I’m over it. It’s about this time of year when I start dreaming about hot summer days, sand between my toes, and breaking a sweat by 8am.
One thing that helps me maintain my sanity this time of year is the fantastic red drum fishing we have in the Carolinas. One of the best moments in my fishing career, was when I realized that I could successfully catch redfish twelve months out of the year. While most fishermen have hung up their waders and packed away their tackle until spring, a handful of folks are out in the marsh consistently catching redfish in December, January, and February. We can have some nasty winter days, but half of the time the weather is pretty pleasant, with temps in the 50’s and sometimes even the 60’s. On top of that, the water turns crystal clear around December and stays that way through March. The redfish are still around but most are schooled up tight in the marsh, in groups of 100 to sometimes a thousand. Unlike the summer when they are scattered everywhere, this time of year they are only found in a few select places. You have to put in a bit of time on the water and do some detective work, but once you find them, you’re in business.
There’s not much in the way of redfish snacks this time of year, so they will usually eat a well placed fly or soft plastic. A deer hair slider or a seaducer fly works well, something that lands softly and suspends in their face. If I’m throwing a spinning rod, a very lightly weighted DOA shrimp is usually the first thing I tie on. This time of year, these fish are very aware of their surroundings, the water is clear and predators are never too far away. A cast that lands with a splash, or anything else that alerts them to your presence will send them scattering. All it takes is one or two spooked fish to send their buddies rushing back up the creek. But if you lay low and take your time, you can experience the best sight casting for redfish you’ll see all year.
Water temps are very important during the winter, so there’s no need to get out there until the sun gets up in the sky. If you get a few warm days in a row, the fishing can really turn on. Focus on the low tides, which flush the fish out of grass and into the creek channels and bays. Black muddy bottoms absorb heat from the sun…find that and you’re in winter redfish territory.
Put your time in and it will pay off. Once you locate a school, treat them well and they’ll return the favor. When you have that many fish in front of you, the hardest part is catching a few and leaving the rest for another day. If you catch a couple and move on, leaving them feeling safe, they will stay in that spot all winter for you. Sometime around March the water will start to turn muddy again, and the big schools of redfish will break up and spread out through the marsh. But by then, you’ve survived another winter and kept your sanity, thanks to those winter time Reds.