by Mike Marsh
Mike Marsh’s new book, Fishing North Carolina details fishing opportunities at 100 rivers, lakes, sounds, piers and beaches. Fishing North Carolina ($26.60 ppd.), Inshore Angler – Coastal Carolina’s Small Boat Fishing Guide ($26.20) and “Offshore Angler – Carolina’s Mackerel Boat Fishing Guide” ($22.25) are available by check or M.O. to Mike Marsh, 1502 Ebb Dr., Wilmington, NC 28409. For credit card orders or more hunting and fishing information visit www.mikemarshoutdoors.com.
For Top King Mackerel Action, Take a Trolley
If the average angler believed everything he sees on TV, he might think that the best time for shark fishing is when the water is as warm as a tropical sea. But dogfish sharks actually prefer cold weather and swarm the surf, and piers and artificial reefs in wintertime after other fish have been pushed out by the cold.
Spiny dogfish and smooth dogfish are relatively small sharks that are good enough to eat they are often the main ingredient in a fish and chips recipe. The spiny dogfish has a spine on each of its two dorsal fins that can give a painful stab wound to the unwary angler. It also has light spots on it sides to further distinguish it from the smooth dogfish, which has no spines.
Toss a piece of fish from a pier or into the surf and a dogfish may cut it off with its sharp teeth. Therefore, to land dogfish consistently, the fisherman must use wire leader.
Dogfish achieve weights exceeding 12 pounds, so they are fun to catch when hooked on suitable tackle. A good rig for catching dogfish is a medium-action spinning rod and reel that holds around 250 yards of 15-pound test line. That’s just enough rod and reel to let the successful angler know he’s been in a real dogfight after he one of these interesting sharks.
Capt. Patrick Kelly (Capt. Smiley’s Fishing Charters, 843-361-7445) said red drum would be actively feeding in the shallows.
“The red drum will be in deep holes in the creeks,” he said. “You can pole a small boat or wade to catch them. It is a sight-fishing opportunity. But you can also catch them by anchoring and casting pieces of crab.”
Red drum will form large schools, so anglers can spot them in the clear water typical of cold weather. Sometimes it can be so cold the fish won’t bite. But when the fish are warmed by the sun redfish action can be red hot.
Berkley Gulp Shrimp scent-impregnated soft baits fished on jig heads work best for catching red drum. Other good natural baits include mud minnows, mullet and shrimp.
Speckled trout action should also be excellent. Soft plastic shrimp imitations rigged on popping cork rigs fished at the Little River swing bridges and at marina entrances will work well for catching specks. Anglers will locate the fish at oyster beds, at deep holes in the creeks or beneath bridges, docks and other hard structure areas.
Anglers may hook flounder at the same hard structure areas that hold speckled trout and they will strike the same live or natural baits.
Dave Barnes (Apache Pier, Myrtle Beach, 843-497-6486) said fishing through the colder weather was fun, if an angler goes out on the right day.
“It’s a great time to be on the pier, as long as it’s one of the warmer days,” he said. “There’s not much biting, except for the whiting that bite through the winter.”
Shrimp is the best bait for whiting. Most anglers catch them on two-hook bottom rigs weighted with a 3-ounce sinker, although rough sea conditions may call for an increase in sinker weight. Some of the best whiting runs occur during cold, windy weather, so it is the most dedicated anglers who get in on the best action by bundling up.
For anglers who want to catch fish under all conditions, the pier has two shelters, with one located at the end of the pier and one in the middle.
Small sharks, including sand sharks and dogfish will also strike shrimp. Cut fish or squid are other good baits for sharks.
Frankie Hardin (Springmaid Pier, Myrtle Beach, 843-315-7156) said a few species stay around through the coldest part of winter.
“Most of the fish we see in winter are whiting,” she said. “But there will also be catches of trout and silver perch. We might still have a few spots, but there won’t be many of them.”
The pier has shelters with overhead cover for bad weather, so anglers don’t have any excuse not to head for the pier to give it a try. The good thing about a pier is that the pier house is never too far away for anglers who need to get out of the weather to warm themselves before heading back to the rails to go fishing again.
The best bait for winter fishing is frozen shrimp, which is available at the pier house. Anglers might also catch some small sharks, which prefer cut bait.
Capt. Jay Biesch (Fishfull Thinking, 843-902-0356) said fishing action would be excellent.
“Back in the creeks, we will be fishing cut pieces of shrimp on the bottom over oyster beds to catch red and black drum,” he said. “The jetties will hold sheepshead and tautog.”
For red sheepshead and tautog the best baits will be fiddler crabs and barnacles. Sheepshead action will also be good at the nearshore reefs, including Pawleys Island, Paradise, Ten-mile, and North Inlet reefs.
Depending on how cold it gets, some speckled trout may still be biting at the inlet. However, if several freezing nights occur in a row, the specks will leave the area for the winter. The best ways to catch specks are by trolling MirrOlures and casting jigs with grub tails.
Capt. Mike McDonald (Gul-R-Boy Guide Service, 843-546-3625) said the fishing would be hot, despite the cold weather.
“It ought to be jammed up,” he said. “The best bite will come from red drum. They will be on the shallow flats trying to warm up. They gang up in the wintertime and will be in schools of mixed sizes. You might catch a 15-incher on the first cast and the next fish might go over 30 inches.”
The water will be very clear and the red drum will be hanging out over the mud bottoms catching the sun’s rays as well as the absorbed heat radiated from the dark mud. The flats have water temperatures in the 60s while the deeper channels will have water temperatures in the 40s. But once the tide starts to fall, the fish have to move to stay wet, so they head for the deeper channels where smart anglers are waiting for them.
McDonald finds the nearest drain that holds a couple of feet of water at low tide. He casts soft plastic lures of various styles and manufacture. If no one has disturbed the fish, they will attack with abandon. Catches of 60 to 150 fish are possible. However, the fish can’t stand that much pressure day-in and day-out, so it’s a better idea to catch a few fish, then back off and try to find another school. Hard-pressed red drum will eventually move away or scatter.
Black drum will be in the deeper drains along with the red drum and will strike lures, but shrimp is better bait.
Speckled trout action should get better. The specks will be in deeper water than the red drum. Anglers should try fishing for them in deep holes with four to 11 feet of water and cast soft plastics or live shrimp.