Fall has always been my favorite fishing season, and here in North Carolina, my favorite fall target is the spotted sea trout or specks, and I’m basically a surf fisherman.
I moved to the Old North State in 1992, and many of those early years, I remember the peak of the speckled trout in the surf wrapped around the Thanksgiving holiday. While I lived in Winston-Salem, I would come down to the beach for the week before and week of Thanksgiving and trout fish the surf nearly 24-7.
In the recent decade or actually longer, I have noticed the peak trout season slipped backward into October, and by early November, we see the “spikes,” the juvenile trout, march by, traditionally signifying the end of the fall surf trout season.
This year, as we approach November, the trout season has barely gotten underway. There have been some catches from our fishing piers and scattered fish in the surf, particularly around Fort Macon and Atlantic Beach, with lesser action as one goes toward Emerald Isle and Bogue Inlet.
With the great abundance of fish throughout the summer all over our backwaters, marshes, creeks and rivers, the hope would be that the best is yet to come, and the best will look more like a Thanksgiving peak of the trout season.
Lately, the weather has been balky with coastal storms, wind, dirty water and rough seas being the norm, and particularly non-friendly to the typically fussy speckled trout.
So, here are some of my thoughts on catching specks from the surf:
Equipment: Make no doubt about it, this is specialized fishing. So for trout, the hardware rules. Rods and reels and line, must be matched to the fish and the rigors of incessant dawn-to-dusk fishing with artificials, the way many of us fish for specks.
For trout, light, not might, is right. Light action with 7- to 9-foot rods and appropriate petite 2000 or 2500 class reels, lightweight mono line, or even better, a quality non-stretch braided fishing line is best. Personally, I use the PowerPro, a high-tech, micro-filament braid, and it has been very, very good to me. Sensitivity to that light “tap” and lightning-quick hookset are a must. I also go with a fluorocarbon leader, usually, 20-pound test tied directly to the braid with a four-turn surgeon’s knot.
Baits: First, use artificials. Clearly the most popular lures are the MirrOlures, whether the traditional 52M or TT (aka tiny trout) models or the fancy new holographic bait with the red hooks.
By far, the most popular MirrOlure is the red-headed one with a white/silver body (52M 11) or its cousin with spots (TT 11). It has never been clear to me if these fairly unnatural looking lures are most popular because they catch the most fish or they catch the most fish because they are the most popular. Which is the cause and which is the effect? In either case, these standards go back to pre-plastic decades in tradition and are still most popular and most effective.
Other popular models include the pink-backed MirrOlure with the white and silver body (52M 26) and the finger mullet-looking lures with a dark back silver body and white bottom (TT 18). This lure has many cousins with a variety of side and bottom colors. One of my favorites is the gold and orange and black 52M808 or the 52MR808 with rattle.
For suspending varieties, I like the Catch 2000 with the same 808 color. Speaking of rattles, don’t forget the Rat-L-Traps, both silver and gold. These are proven winners in surf or sound for trout, flounder and drum too.
Next are the soft plastic baits. Of course, Berkley Gulp! baits have replaced some of the traditional soft plastics, with the most popular of these flavored include the swimming mullet, jerk shad and shrimp. Although I often use Gulp! baits, single or in tandem, some of the newer softies have proven to be big winners. I often use the straight 4-inch Trout Killer grubs in clear with sparkles (Christmas tree) or pearl white, Zoom Super Flukes, Betts Billy Bay Halo Shad and Shrimp, DOA softies and Z-Man tough stretchy baits. Recently, I’ve had excellent success catching red drum and trout with split-tail mullet baits made by Tidal Surge Lures. White or white with chartreuse split tails are my favorites. I’m sure you have your favorites too.
Finally, if you want some fun, don’t forget topwater!
Live baits can also be used effectively from the surf, live finger mullet or live shrimp are favorites, as long as you can get them. They can be fished from a standard Carolina Rig, or if the conditions allow, they are very effective from a cork.
Where? The first places to try, often the most productive areas, are adjacent to the piers. East may be least for wind, but for the piers that remain, EAST is where the trout are found, a coastal legend. East of Bogue Inlet Pier, east of the late great Emerald Isle Pier, east of the now remaining bits of Indian Beach Pier and Iron Steamer and so on. It just is! Another accessible and popular fixed structure, is the Fort Macon rock jetty, located on the far east end of the barrier island.
Next, you have to know where the holes are. Read the beach at low tide, mark the holes and the sandbars that define the holes and sloughs. One can also surf fish from the beaches at Cape Lookout and Shackleford Banks, and don’t forget the beach at Radio Island where you can get access to the Radio Island rock jetty if you walk down to the fence by the military landing area.
Finally, here are some of my Bogus tips: 1) Let your lure sink before retrieval. You’ll find many hookups during the drop-down. 2) Drift the bar. This is a great technique in a cross wind or a rip current. Cast your lure onto the sandbar bordering a hole or slough and let natural forces sweep it off into the hole. Expect a hit just as the plug roles off into the hole. This is where the trout are waiting for an easy meal. 3) Open-hook jig trick: slightly open the gap of the lead-head jig hook with a pair of pliers. This results in a much more secure hookset and less lost fish. 4) One sticky problem that we all confront, if in fact we lucky enough to actually catch trout, is the slimy hand syndrome. The solution is right at your feet. Just swish your hand in the sand, and it’s gone in a flash. 5) When all else fails, try persistence. It really works when all else fails!
It’s only time, and it’s on YOUR side.
So how is the trout season holding up?
The last few days, the surf has been particularly bumpy but friendly to the bottom feeders, sea mullet and black drum, but not to the speckled trout. Hopefully the current and late-week cold fronts and northeast wind will clear up the surf to speckled trout standards.
My hooks are sharp, my line is fresh and my hopes are up. In general, fishing along the beach has been slow but slower to the west and not so slow toward Fort Macon. In the Atlantic Breach surf, there have been pompano and sea mullet and a few reds, some over slot. Last week in Emerald Isle, there were also good catches of big sea mullet, pretty pompano and some spots. But if you fish the point in Emerald Isle, you would be hard-pressed to bring anything home. By the way, where are the red drum?
If not the surf, where do you go for trout? How about the usual spots: Core Creek, the Haystacks and the previously mentioned Radio Island jetty? The specks are starting to stack up there. Of course, the Neuse and New River creeks are still producing some of the biggest fish. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard about Slocum and Hancock creeks which bookend the Cherry Point Marine Corp Air Station.
There are also catches reported from the all the Highway 24 creeks not named Deer. I have recently fished Deer Creek, also known as Schoolhouse, which has plenty of baits of all sizes, but no trout or reds that I could find.
Another traditional hot spot has been the Cape Lookout rock jetty, but several reports from the jetty and Bardens Inlet and environs have not been encouraging. This area, which used to be THE place for trout has disappointed the last several years.
The Lookout area, however, has been hot for big bluefish, some false albacore, and I’ve heard a report that some bluefin tuna have made a showing already! That could be great news for our bluefin tuna season. By the way, that is usually the exit zone for big Spanish mackerel as they leave for the season, particularly just east of the shoals.
Then there is one of the diminutive spotted sciaenids, the spots. Again, the season has been forgettable with some in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) south of the White Oak River bridges, the Emerald Isle ICW around the Emerald Isle bridge and Gallants Chanel, the Morehead City Port turning basin, Beaufort Inlet out at Buoys 18 and 19 and the hole around the Duke Marine Lab.
Think Fishbites, bloodworms and fresh shrimp at the port. The Beaufort Inlet area has had days when nothing will bite and others where you can fill your cooler with big sea mullet, grays and blues along with the spots.
From the piers, it’s was a good week until the ocean got churned up once again.
Oceanana Pier has had great nighttime trout bite, as well as spots at night, gray trout, black drum to 7 pounds, some slot-and-above reds and blues.
Bogue Inlet Pier have had slot and below black drum, speckled and gray trout, big sea mullet and pompano on sand fleas and blues and Spanish. They also had another shark-bitten king mackerel and a bunch of otherwise keeper flounder were released to 24 inches. Flounder were caught on live finger mullet.
Seaview Pier reports spots, sea mullets, pompano and trout.
Surf City Pier reports a good variety with blues, spots, trout, black drum, pompano and six-pound sheepshead.
Jolly Roger Pier also reports spots, blues, trout and pompano, and last week, weighed in a 25-pound king mackerel.
There are still king mackerel along the beach, but the bite has been on fire around the Northwest Places, and as has been the case the last few weeks, and east of the Lookout Shoals has produced some big fish.
If you can get offshore, the wahoo catches have been excellent with some blackfin tuna in the mix too. Think the Big Rock, Swansboro hole and to the Rise.
2) “Ask Dr. Bogus” is on the radio every Monday at 7:30 a.m. WTKF 107.1 FM and 1240 AM. The show is also replayed on Sunday morning at 6 a.m. Callers may reach me at 800-818-2255.
3) I’m located at 118 Conch Ct. in Sea Dunes, just off Coast Guard Road, Emerald Isle, NC 28594. The mailing address is P.O. Box 5225, Emerald Isle, NC 28594. Don’t forget a gift certificate for your favorite angler for fishing lessons or my totally Bogus Fishing Report subscription. Please stop by at any time and say “Hi” or call 252-354-4905.