If it’s September on the New River in Onslow County, N.C., the speckled trout bite often will be sizzling during the coolest part of the day.

And guide Ricky Kellum will be in the middle of the action.

“We usually have some good topwater days,” he said. “You can catch topwater trout on calm days, days with a little chop or when you have medium-size waves,” said Kellum (910-330-2745). “(Wind) only changes the size of the lures I throw.”

The key is to arrive at the spot you want to fish just as the sun chases away darkness.

“I try to be there at first light,” he said. “Trout feed at night, and if you arrive just as it starts to lighten up, you can catch the end of the night bite.”

Kellum does most of his damage out on the main river, out of the many creeks that feed the New.

“Trout come out of the creeks into the main river in summer and stay on the main body until the water cools down in late fall,” Kellum said. “I’m consistently fishing the banks of the river, following the crab-pot line, which is along ledge drop-offs. Trout will be there because of shrimp, menhaden and mullet are on the same breaks. I’ll also fish the New River reef.”

In September, water temperatures should fall to the mid-70s, he said, and baitfish will respond by schooling.

“I’m watching to spot baitfish schools on top, and if I see fish working a school, I’ll go there and cast at ’em,” he said. “The main thing is to not spook fish. Often, they’ll scatter if a big lure splashes the water on a calm morning, so I’ll use smaller ones.”

His favorite topwater lure for such conditions is a Zara Spook Jr., a “walking” lure that moves in a zigzag pattern when retrieved properly.

“I like smaller lures because, some mornings, trout want a quiet lure,” Kellum said. “A Spook Jr. with a chartreuse head and white body resembles a finger mullet because it’s got a slender look. When it moves, it looks like something in distress.”

He may go with a black-and-gold Rapala Skitter Walk or a MirrOlureTop Dog Jr., lures only 31/8 inches long.

“If it’s really choppy or the weather’s bad, white-capping, I’ll throw a regular Spook or bigger topwater lure because I want (it) to overcome the noise of waves so fish can hear it,” Kellum said. 

When the topwater bite ends, Kellum often switches to a popping cork with a soft-plastic shrimp on a jighead about a foot beneath the cork.

“You can catch some big trout in the river, as most everyone knows,” Kellum said. “Usually about half the fish you land will be keeper-size trout.”