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Warmer than normal winter leads to unique catches in local waters

Monque Autry helps untangle his 10-year-old son, Kyle Autry’s line during a fishing trip to Cherry Grove last summer. JASON LEE jlee@thesunnews
By Greeg Holshouser
For The Sun News

Estuary
Look For: Spotted seatrout, black drum, red drum, flounder, sheepshead, tautog.
Comments: The warmer-than-normal winter has continued right along through most of January. Capt. Mike McDonald of Gul-R-Boy Guide Service and Capt. Lin Fore of Lowcountry Expeditions went fun fishing on Sunday, and observed a water temperature of 58 degrees in the Winyah Bay area. The pair of anglers used artificial grubs to catch about a dozen trout and eight red drum. “They weren’t hitting very aggressively,” said McDonald. “We were just switching around grubs and colors. We caught enough to smell up the box.” On the north end, Capt. Patrick Kelly of Capt. Smiley Fishing Charters also found active fish on a Tuesday trip, as he embarked on a 2 1/2-hour fun-fishing trip. Kelly and his fishing partner caught two trout, seven black drum and two red drum. “It was windy, but fishing was pretty good for it being the end of January,” said Kelly. On Sunday, Kelly had a charter that produced well over 30 trout, with most of the fish in the 12 to 13 1/2-inch range. Kelly has used Vudu shrimp and small Mirrolures for trout and fresh shrimp for black drum. The red drum were hitting fresh shrimp and Gulp shrimp.
Inshore
Look For: Bluefin tuna, black sea bass, weakfish, black drum, tautog, flounder, whiting, croaker.
Comments: If you needed proof that it’s been a warm winter thus far, check out the species that has been caught off the Cherry Grove Pier, and the ocean water temperature. Ronnie Godwin of the pier reported a water temperature reading of 56 degrees, surface and bottom, Thursday afternoon, and then noted an angler had caught three bluefish, one a 12-incher. In late January. Another angler caught a spotted seatrout off the pier, another rarity in the surf in January. Fishing has not been on fire off the piers, but there also have been a few whiting, croaker and black drum caught this week. Overall, bluefin tuna catches have slowed off the southeastern North Carolina coast but whales were spotted just off the beach in North Myrtle Beach earlier this week, so there’s a legitimate chance the giant tuna are still around. On hard-bottom areas and artificial reefs, look for black sea bass, plus sheepshead, weakfish, tautog and flounder. And maybe even bluefish.
Offshore
Look For: Wahoo, blackfin tuna, vermilion snapper, black sea bass, porgy, triggerfish, grunts, amberjack.
Comments: It’s been a windy and rough week, with little activity offshore. But that doesn’t mean the fish aren’t there. Find a calm day and trolling action for wahoo and blackfin tuna can be very productive. Bottom fishing is very good, although red snapper and the shallow-water category of grouper cannot be kept. Species you can put in the cooler include vermilion snapper, black sea bass, triggerfish, grunts, red porgy and amberjack. The annual Shallow-water Grouper Spawning Season Closure is in effect through April 30 and red snapper cannot be harvested and must be released in the South Atlantic region
Freshwater
Look For: Crappie, bream, bass, catfish.
Comments: Catches have slowed a bit as the rivers – especially the Pee Dee and Little Pee Dee – have a rise in them. But Ronald ‘Catfish’ Stalvey reports catches have still been decent this week. “Everything’s slowed down a little bit, but they’re still catching them pretty good,” said Stalvey. Crappie action continues to be good on minnows and bream are hitting worms and nightcrawlers on the bottom. Catfish are taking eels and large shiners. Stalvey notes bass action is good in the Ricefields on crankbaits and plastic worms.