Even though it’s catch-and-release only for another two months, the speckled trout fishing around New Bern has been tremendous for the past two weeks, according to Capt. Joe Ward of Flydaddy Charters.

Ward said specks have been in the Neuse and Trent rivers and their tributary creeks all winter, but lately, numbers have been incredible; he fished four days last week and caught and released more than 200 fish.

“The situation with these trout is different than in most years,” Ward said. “Most years, our early spring trout have spent the winters in the backs of creeks and we see them as the water warms and they work their way out. Those fish aren’t bright and shiny and are darker overall from being in tannic stained water for so long. 

“The trout we are catching now are bright and shiny and really look different,” Ward said. “The snow and ice back in January and February obviously pushed these fish out into the main bodies of the rivers, and now they are working their way back into the creeks, following the baitfish. The creeks are also six to seven degrees warmer than the rivers – up in the high 60s – which is what is making the trout so active. The numbers we are seeing indicate they fared well overall in the cold, and there will be lots of trout when the season reopens in June.”

Ward (252-229-4656) said said good numbers of stripers are in the Neuse and Trent, often mixing in with the trout, feeding on the same, smallbaitfish and hitting the same lures and baits – including topwater plugs. He said most of the trout are running 18 to 23 inches, and the stripers have mostly been 22 to 25 inches. and there are some larger ones.

“I like to fish artificials, and the (stripers) and trout are responding to them really well right now,” Ward said. “They are chasing bait in shallow water, and topwater lures are just the thing. A lot of what they are chasing is mullet that spent the winter, so some of them are large finger mullet. One lure that has been working very well is the Popa Dog, a large lure that walks like the Top Dogs and She Dogs, but it also has a cone on its head so it grabs water and pops. It is easy to create noise and action and is just the thing when fish are aggressively feeding on top on larger baits.”

Ward said he’s found that silver has been an important color; the lure needs to flash so it’s easier for the fish to find. But he said he’s got one Rapala Skitterwalk that’s been drawing plenty of attention all spring.