It’s an axiom that the anvil-hammering sun of North Carolina beach summers pretty much ends productive inshore saltwater fishing, particularly for spotted seatrout.
Many anglers believe when the heat becomes so intense you can fry an egg on the deck of a boat, every species from baitfish to crabs to gamefish retreats to cooler, deeper water — except perhaps during the narrow window around sun-up.
If it’s heavenly to find and catch specks and red drum during April and May, then July and August can be hellishly uncomfortable for fish and unproductive for anglers.
For everyone, that is, except for fishermen who do their thing in the creeks, bays and inlets along North Carolina’s central coast, including guide Allen Jernigan of Breadman Ventures Guide Service in Sneads Ferry.
Jernigan, 39, worked as a commercial fisherman, then drove a bread delivery truck, hence, the name of his guide service.
“I think learning to commercial fish helped me (as a guide),” he said. “You learn a lot about where fish are at when your living depends on it.”
Like many former commercial fishermen who converted, Jernigan doesn’t use live or cut bait but prefers the greater challenge of artificial lures, even for his clients. And fishing an area known for spotted seatrout of all ages and sizes, he only targets trophy fish — even in the peak of summer.
“I don’t catch spikes,” he said, describing 10- to 12-inch specks. “During July and August, I’m typically looking for 5-, 6- and 8-pound fish. We’ll catch some 3-pounders, but we might land a 9-pounder.”
To target huge trout, Jernigan uses big lures.
“When I know a place has big fish, I’ll only throw mister big (lures),” Jernigan said. “For August, my favorite will be a 5-inch, MirrOlure ShePup (a topwater walk-the-dog bait). I don’t have a favorite color because I don’t think it matters that much. A trout looks for movement, so I think those lures look like a big, hurt (menhaden) or shrimp to a trout.”
The topwater bite can turn on at any time of day, too, he said; it isn’t reserved for the early morning. Another puzzling aspect of Jernigan’s summer trout tactics is where he finds specks — not in deep holes or on drop-offs, but on flats covered by only a foot or two of water.
The reason? The New River, where he does a lot of his summer fishing, is crammed with shrimp, especially in summer, and shrimp school over mud flats. And for trout, the chance to eat shrimp trumps hot, shallow water every time.
“You can have a flat that’s only 15 to 18 inches deep and a pothole that’s 4 or 5 feet deep,” Jernigan said. “Trout like to get in the holes, especially on low tide. Sometimes they won’t bite at a pothole, but you come back (later), and they’ll be fired up.
“Most of the river doesn’t have a lot of current or tides like other places. A pothole a couple of feet deeper than the surrounding areas is all it takes to hold trout in summer.”
However the small difference of a higher tide is preferable.
The trout bite, he said, “is actually is all tide driven. If we have a high tide an hour or two before dark, it’ll be game on.”
Besides the river flats, Jernigan spends plenty of time fishing along the Intracoastal Waterway, which runs almost east-west where it intersects the New. It roughly resembles an inverted check mark north of New River Inlet, with the tip top of the check mark where it intersects with Cedar Bush Cut.
“There are a lot of grass beds at the ICW and (the intersection) with New River at the cut,” Jernigan said. “They’re good places to fish for trout. I’ll often use a soft-plastic (jig) around grass beds.”
His top soft-plastic lure is a gray, 4- or 5-inch Saltwater Assassin Shrimp Cocktail. He also favors the bait in Poppa Smurph/pearl with a blue surface sheen.
“You basically rig them weedless on an unweighted 5/0 swim-bait hook,” Jernigan said. “You cast them in the current where they’ll sit perfectly level. You normally want it to stay level and wiggle. That will attract trout.”
But if he’s fishing drop-offs along ICW, Jernigan will use a ¼-ounce jighead with a screw lock with a Fluke-style lure.
“Some ICW points have a dramatic shelf with a 3- to 4-foot drop where trout lay,” Jernigan said. “Crimp a split-shot 2 to 2½ feet above the lure and work it over the edge, or you can let it fall weightless.”
Jernigan also likes a Mann’s 1-Minus, 3¼-inch, shallow-diving crankbait in grey ghost coclor, or a MirrOlure MR52, which sinks about a foot per second in current.
“My favorite in-current hard bait is a clear or pink Storm Shrimp,” Jernigan said. “If you go to a place like the NC 152 bridge and the tide’s moving, all you have to do is throw it in the current, stand and hold it and basically wait for the rod to double over.”
Another tactic is to put a soft-plastic imitation shrimp under a Cajun Thunder popping cork and pop it across an ICW ledge.
Jernigan likes to fish a 7-foot or 7-foot-6 spinning rod and 2500 or 3000 Series Shimano reel spooled with 12-pound test Windtamer braid and a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader.
“I like the toughness of original All-Star rods, but they’re pretty hard to find,” he said.
HOW TO GET THERE — Sneads Ferry is on NC 172 in Onslow County, which is best access from the north via US 17 and NC 210, and from the west via I-40, NC 24, NC 210 and NC 172. The most-popular public boating access is on Fulcher Landing Road of NC 172 east of Sneads Ferry.
WHEN TO GO — July through October.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Seek out flats of 12 to 24 inches of water with holes 4 to 5 feet-deep. Cast topwater lures such as She-Pups, Top Dogs, MR 17s, MR52s or Zara Spooks. Soft-plastics include 5-inch swimbait or Fluke-style lures rigged weightless. Another tactic is to find current — a falling tide is best — at a channel ledge, cast a pink Storm Shrimp behind the boat into the current and simply hold the rod as the lure vibrates.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Allen Jernigan, Breadman Ventures, 910-467-1482; Ricky Kellum, The Speckled Specialist, 910-33-2745; Pogies Fishing Center, Swansboro, 910-325-7876; Dudley’s Marina, Cedar Point, 252-393-2204. See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Hampton Inn, Sneads Ferry, N.C., 855-605-0317.
MAPS — Capt. Segull’s Nautical Charts, 888-473-4855, www.captainsegullcharts.com; Grease Chart, 800-326-3567, www.greasechart.com; GMCO’s Chartbook of North Carolina, 888-42-06277, www.gmcomaps.com; Sealake Fishing Guides, 800-411-0185, www.thegoodspots.com.