Like Shearon Harris Lake and its magnum-size largemouth bass, the New River in Onslow County continues to hold the top rating as North Carolina’s mecca for “gator” spotted seatrout.

Guide Ricky Kellum, 51, of Jacksonville, N.C., has been fishing the river since his father first put him in an aluminum john boat more than four decades ago. And his dad knew plenty; in 1973 Rendel Kellum caught an 11-pound, 10-ounce speck that’s the second-largest ever caught in North Carolina waters.

In the 1970s, cold-stun kills in shallow, inland waters were largely unknown. Weather patterns obviously have changed; these days, instead of being rare, cold stuns are fairly common along North Carolina’s coast, including two over the past winter that caused the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries to close speckled trout fishing from Jan. 5 to June 15. 

But Ricky Kellum said New River specks were largely spared  this time.

“We didn’t lose any trout in the river,” Kellum said. “(It) didn’t have a sudden snowfall run-off of oxygenless water in shallow creeks where trout go in the winter. It just started out cold but gradually got colder. So (trout) had plenty of time to move to deeper, warmer spots.”

Another reason for the New River’s apparent force-field shield again extremely cold-weather events is that its shallow shorelines warm quickly and its deep, escape routes to the main-river channel. 

“We got tons of baitfish and shrimp in the river, even in winter,” Kellum said. “I think the baits draw specks. There’s a lot of stuff for them to eat all year-long.