Dark temptations – To catch summer trout around Wrightsville Beach, N.C., it takes a loud lure and a dark sky

Wrightsville Beach’s summer speckled trout take a special approach.

Two Wrightsville Beach guides explain that the dark hours are prime times to target speckled trout, especially with noisy, topwate lures.

The sun hadn’t showed when Jamie Rushing launched his boat at Wrightsville Beach. While it is important to launch early from any boat ramp from Topsail Beach to Carolina Beach — just to be able to find a parking space for their tow vehicle and trailer— the main reason he was leaving early was for the summer speckled trout bite.

“If you want to catch big trout, you have to be in just the right spot at dawn,” said Rushing, an inshore guide who runs Seagate Charters.

Being at the right spot often means bouncing from place to place. Specks are notoriously finicky about where they might be on any given morning, and they are also be picky about the lures they’ll strike.

“I’ve been catching them beside little bumps and dips along the shorelines,” he said. “These places don’t really look like anything special to us, but for some reason, specks like it. I think it is a combination of water temperature, baitfish concentrations and some sort of hard wall that trout can drive the baitfish against. It’s only my theory, but I am sticking to it.”

All along the Intracoastal Waterway and around all of the southern inlets are places that look just like the one Rushing was fishing.

“I usually head for a spot where I have caught them during that tidal condition or wind direction on a prior trip,” he said. “Trout will hit at a certain spot that might be a hundred yards or just a few feet long. I shut down the engine well upwind and upcurrent, then put down the trolling motor. I move along the shoreline or structure I want to fish with current flow.

“If I get a strike, I use the trolling motor to help fight the fish if I have to, then hover in the area, slowing the speed of the boat and keeping it within casting range of the sweet spot to see if I can hook another fish. If I don’t, I let the current move me along, adjusting distance from the bank or structure with the trolling motor. Then, after drifting along until I run out of the structure I want to cover, I head away from the shoreline, pick up the trolling motor and head upwind and up-current of the same spot again.”

If his first spot doesn’t pan out, Rushing tries a different place. It is always a race against time because dawn is coming. Trout usually strike best as soon as the sky lightens and stop when the sunlight hits the water. He said a great way to beat the summer’s heat is to fish all night; temperatures are low, and so is the boat traffic. Big speckled trout may strike lures that make a lot of noise, but they do not stick around in places with a lot of human-generated commotion.

“The first thing you may see are baitfish coming to the surface,” he said. “Then you might see swirls made by feeding trout or other fish. If you can reach them, you should cast to the boils and swirls. If not, just make a few blind casts to see if you get any takers.”

One key to attracting speckled trout is vibration. Rushing is a twitchy kind of guy, always animated, but the twitch that counts most is in his wrist.

“I use lures that are erratic during the retrieve, because trout seek out injured baitfish,” he said. “I also use lures that make a lot of noise. If it doesn’t shake, rattle and roll, I don’t use it.”

Rushing typically starts out by casting a walk-the-dog lure, with a chartreuse Super Spook Junior his favorite. It is a big lure that mimics a wounded mullet, and the rattle is loud enough for an angler to hear from the length of a cast away.

“It has everything,” he said, “the action and the sound, plus, you can cast it a long way. These big summer trout can be spooky, so you don’t want to get the boat too close to them.

“You are going to have a lot of misses with the topwater lure,” he said. “Sometimes they will hook-up on a popper easier, but the big advantage of the topwater lure is that, even if the fish misses hooking up, you know he is there.”

Rushing’s other go-to lures include subsurface MirrOlures and Rapalas, which must also have rattle chambers. He casts, takes a turn of the reel handle, gives the lure two hard twitches, and cranks in another turn of line.

“It is during the pause between twitches and turning the reel handle that the strike occurs most of the time,” he said. “The trout is following the lure, and it seems that jerking that hard would scare it away, but the opposite happens. He’s startled into striking, and the hit is usually a hard one. It’s not a subtle tap like it is when you are slowly reeling a soft bait on a jig.”

With the sun coming up, Rushing switched to a Rapala stickbait.

“When that sun makes its first appearance, the bite may end right then,” he said. “You need to get in as many casts as you can. That means making only a few casts in anyone spot unless you are getting strikes. You also have to make sure to fish the lure all the way to the boat. More times than you can imagine, a fish has hit my lure as I was taking it out of the water. They see the boat and think the baitfish is about to get away, so they nail it.”

Rushing quickly moved to another spot. Drifting along with the current, he felt a strike and set the hook. The fish turned out to be a gray trout.

“We catch a few gray trout, too,” he said. “But you might catch just about anything by covering enough water. The way to catch more fish is to make more casts. It’s a lot like tournament bass-fishing that way.”

The way Rushing works the rod would wear out most anglers  within a few minutes. The ferocity with which he jerks the rod seemed to be all the line could take without snapping off the lure. Still, the best bite only lasts 30 to 45 minutes, so most anglers can keep it up long enough to see if any fish are in the area.

Right after a second twitch, Rushing’s rod bent, and the drag sang out.

“There he is!” he said. “That is a nice trout.”

Rushing played the fish a few minutes. Eventually, he netted the big speck, which registered 4 pounds, 2 ounces on his digital scale.

“Most people think trout that big are only around in the fall and winter,” he said, “but they are here all year. Trout fishing is better down in Florida, Texas and Louisiana. That shows they are warm-water fish; you just have to wade through everything else to catch them. You might catch red drum, flounder, ladyfish, sharks, bluefish or other species. But if you can find a few good areas where they are holding before the boat traffic gets too crowded and the sun gets too high, you can catch them. You just head out when it’s dark with your sights set on specks and let her rip.”

Jot Owens of Jot It Down Fishing Charters also fishes the ICW and Cape Fear River for summer specks. He finds the best bite early, but he also tries to times the tide.

“I fish the last few hours of the rising tide and first few hours of the falling tide because the water is cooler,” he said. “Foggy and cloudy days also give you more fishing time.”

Owens relies mostly on topwater MirrOlures, including Top Dogs, Top Pups and She Dogs. In dark waters, he uses chartreuse and bone colors. When the water is clear, he picks hot pink and red.

“I cast to the grass lines, targeting points and current breaks or oyster rocks,” he said. “I look for a drop-off and a water push. If small finger mullet or menhaden are jumping and fish are chasing them, I am definitely going to check it out, especially if the structure is right.”

Owens covers the area using his trolling motor. If he gets a strike and the water is shallow enough, he’ll dig in with his  Power Pole.

“There are usually other fish off to the side of the first one to strike,” he said. “In summer, I am looking for bigger fish, and they tend to be more solitary than the smaller schooling fish of the fall. On the best day, we might catch 10 fish topping 3 pounds. On a bad day, we might only catch six fish weighing 1 to 3 pounds, so it’s always a gamble.

Owens’ best tip for catching big specks involves working the lure. He said the typical way of walking-the-dog is best.

“Trout like that slow, methodical, side-to-side action,” he said. “They are lethargic in hot water, so they want it slow. It also makes it easier for them to get the lure in their mouth so you can set the hook. Sometimes, they seem to hit half-heartedly; other times, the water just explodes. If they are not really into the topwater lure, at least you know where they are. If you miss the topwater hookup, you can go back with a subsurface lure and catch the same fish most of the time.”


HOW TO GET THERE — Wrightsville Beach is east of Wilmington, across the Intracoastal Waterway on US 74. A public boat ramp is at the base of the drawbridge that takes US 74 from the mainland to the barrier island. After crossing the bridge, three right-hand turns will carry you to the ramp.

WHEN TO GO — Speckled trout are in the area year-round, but during the summer, anglers have particular success catching fish at dawn, dusk and after dark.

BEST TECHNIQUES — Specks can be caught in low-light conditions on a variety of lures, including soft-plastics under popping corks, topwaters like Rebel Pop-Rs and Clackin’ Minnows, MirrOdine C-Eye suspending twitchbaits, Zara Super Spook Juniors, MirrOlure Top Dogs, Top Pups and She Dogs. Chartreuse, chartreuse/black body and bone are popular colors in dark waters. Clear-water colors include hot pink or red/black body.

FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Jamie Rushing, Seagate Charters 910-232-9693, www.seagatecharters.com; Jot Owens, Jot it Down Fishing Charters, 910-233-4139, www.captainjot.com. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.

ACCOMMODATIONS — Fairfield Inn and Suites, Wrightsville Beach, 910-791-8082. Blockade Runner Beach Resort, 910-256-2251; Waterway Lodge, 800-677-3771; Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce, 910-458-8434, www.pleasureislandnc.org; Sleep Inn, Wilmington, 910-313-6665.

MAPS — Sealake Fishing Guides, 800-411-0185, www.thegoodspots.com; GMCO’s Chartbook of North Carolina, 888-420-6277, www.gmcomaps.com.

About Mike Marsh 356 Articles
Mike Marsh is a freelance outdoor writer in Wilmington, N.C. His latest book, Fishing North Carolina, and other titles, are available at www.mikemarshoutdoors.com.

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