Southeastern N.C. is one of few areas where saltwater inshore fish remain active during winter, especially in the Cape Fear River near Wilmington to the Southport area.

Local anglers currently have a couple of fishing choices - red drum and striped bass.

"We've had some really good days recently for redfish and stripers," said Jeff Wolfe, a Carolina Beach-based guide (Seahawk Inshore Charters, 910-619-9580). "But you have to get the right weather conditions (for reds). If it works out that the last three hours of the falling tide start around 10 a.m. on a light-wind, sunny day, and you fish through to the first two hours of the rising tide, that's ideal. (The weather) just has to be warm enough to turn them on and so you can stand to be out there."

Fishing mostly for sub-slot and slot reds (18- to 27-inches long), Wolfe uses light jigheads and soft-plastic lures that resemble mud minnows.

"I'm using Bass Assassin Slurps and Gulp! Shrimps in natural colors in the bays (north of Bald Head Island)," he said. "You have to use dark colors because the water's still dirty in the lower Cape Fear."

However, at low tide in the bays, fish are usually skittish, and Wolfe said patience is a virtue.

"We found a redfish school the other day at super low tide with probably 400 fish, but anything - a trolling motor spin, a push pole in the water, the boat's shadow - spooked them," he said. "We couldn't get close enough to throw a lure until the tide rose to the edge of the marsh grass. Then we caught six or eight straight reds on that many casts."

Wolfe said he also finds red drum in small, shallow creeks near mud flats in 1-foot of water.

"We were in 5-feet of water in the boat the other day and could stay off (the reds) and not spook them," he said. "They were right up on the bank; we caught six or seven."

Wolfe said striped bass are present from the Brunswick River's entrance into the Cape Fear River north to the I-40 Bridge, right through downtown Wilmington.

"We've been throwing mostly a Yum Money Minnow, a 6-inch long swim bait, at stripers," he said.

He rigs the lure with a 1/4-ounce Eagle Claw 5/0 swim-bait hook, pushing the hook through a slit in the lure's belly toward its back, then he buries the barb's point just below the outer edge on its back. That way it can be worked as a weedless sub-surface or surface lure.

"You can throw it across snags and never get hung up," Wolfe said. "You need that type of (lure) setup to throw the bait near all the stumps, docks and pilings up the river near Wilmington where the stripers are.

"You can work it on top, too, when you see (stripers) busting on top, which happens sometimes."

Cape Fear stripers, which must be released alive, are running from 4 to 12 pounds, Wolfe said.

"We're also using other topwater lures and shallow-diving and deep-diving plugs," he said. "You can pick up scattered fish working the shoreline, but the best places are the mouths of creeks on the falling tide or the edges of creek channel dropoffs."