With the arrival of summer, gator-size speckled trout and many nice black drum are moving actively in the New River – and they're hungry.
“We've been catching lots of citation-size trout with black drum are mixed in,” said guide Ricky Kellum of Jacksonville. “I've had anglers catch 10 citation (5 pounds or larger) trout the last two weeks.”
The key to catching trout during summer is live shrimp, and the river's mud flats are full of them. Kellum throws a cast net at the end of each fishing day after he drops off anglers at the boat ramp in Sneads Ferry. He heads out to net dozens of shrimp and places them in a holding tank overnight for the next day's action. He doesn’t have to waste time looking for bait the morning of the fishing trip, which is crucial because he emphasizes being on the water before daylight to take advantage of the incoming tide.
"You have to get to the right places in the morning, and that means getting there early," he said. "A lot of people who live down here and fish regularly know most of the good spots."
Kellum has fished the river for four decades and has several places he can visit for the best results at different times of the year, including local bridges and several deep channels that sweep past islands, oyster beds and points with drop-offs that hold trout.
“You have to catch the tide right to be there when the best bite turns on in summer,” said Kellum (910-330-2745). “Once the tide switches, the morning bite at my No. 1 spot usually shuts down, but you can catch black drum all day long; the tide doesn't seem to affect them.”
Kellum’s basic terminal tackle for shrimp includes a 3-inch Billy Boy Bobber tied to 10-pound test running line, with a 2-foot leader of 40-pound mono tied to a swivel at the bottom of the float, then a half-ounce barrel weight with a pink bead under the weight above a 50-pound swivel, then a 2-foot length of 25-pound mono leader with a No. 4 3x treble hook tied to the end.
“I use the 25-pound leader below the 50-pound-test leader, so if somebody gets hung on the bottom, I can break the line and only lose the treble hook, not the whole rig, including the bobber,” said Kellum, whose also ties a bobber stopper above his float so the shrimp rides about two feet off the bottom.
“A lot of people will look at my shrimp rig in my boat and think I'm fishing 1 ½- to 2-feet deep, but they don't notice the bobber stopper up the line,” Kellum said. “So if I'm fishing in 10 feet of water, my shrimp actually is 8 feet deep.”
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries allow anglers to keep four trout per day, with a 14-inch size minimum, and 10 black drum between 14 and 25 inches, with one longer than 25 inches. Trout 24 inches or longer that are released alive can earn NCDMF citations, while black drum weighing 35 pounds or more or live-released black drum longer than 40 inches also can earn citations.