Rocks, river, reef, trout? No big boat needed to fish this NC reef

An artificial reef in North Carolina’s New River is ground zero for trout fishermen in the fall.

Ever wanted to fish an artificial reef but didn’t feel like you had enough boat to go offshore? Maybe you didn’t want to chance a risky inlet or challenge questionable weather conditions on the ocean? Well, you’re in luck. AR 398 lies in the middle of the New River, halfway between Jacksonville and Sneads Ferry. And one of Jacksonville’s top guides catches some of his biggest trout there.

“Speckled trout will be really good out there in late September and October, on through November,” said Ricky Kellum, who runs Speckled Specialist Inshore Fishing Charters. “That’s primarily what it’s been holding. We’ll catch some black drum and a few red drum. But primarily speckled trout has been what’s holding up on it the best, because of the bait. Menhaden, glass minnows and some shrimp will use it.”

Rising from the ruins of Jacksonville’s old US 17 bridge, AR 398 is the final resting place for the net proceeds of nearly 8,000 tons of donated material. The first load was dumped in 2010 and the last in 2012. But the fish didn’t wait that long to arrive.

The reef is set up in an angler-friendly pattern

“We were catching trout while they were out there working on it,” said Kellum. “I mean, it’s 30 acres. Everybody thinks they just pushed over rock, well they didn’t. They actually went out there and surveyed it off. It’s laid out like big corn fields.

“They put out PVC pipes, then went out there with a barge and an excavator. Everywhere there was a PVC pipe, they’d lay a scoop of rock and pull the pole out and go to the next pole. It’s in a straight line and in rows.”

In addition to its strategic placement, the old bridge wasn’t simply broken up and dumped in the river. The raw materials were transported to the nearby Sturgeon City Environmental Education Center, where a contractor broke it down to baseball- and basketball-size pieces. The chunks were stripped of any remaining asphalt or metal and washed before being carried to a landing area on Camp Lejeune where they were loaded onto a barge.

The reef is clearly marked

The finished reef is 300 yards long and 500 yards wide, with 15 individual structures. It’s marked with yellow can buoys on its corners and rests between Hospital Point (Hadnot Point) and Town Point at an average depth of 7 to 8 feet. Each scoop of the excavator contained about 1.8 cubic yards of material. This created a mini-mound, rising about 2 feet from the river bottom, 10 feet apart.

After several years of marinating, the reef is reaching its prime. But how should it be fished?

Accorded to Kellum, the best answer is, “trolling motor down.”

One of the reef’s biggest advantages, its size and availability of cover, can be its biggest challenge. While it can support a fleet of fishermen, the areas chosen by fish are best discovered by time on the casting deck. Kellum said that dead center is a good place to start. Nervous bait schools will often have trout underneath.

“It’s one of those places that you have to try every day,” said Kellum. “But over the years our biggest trout have come off of it. I had a client, Jason Crowder from Raleigh, catch an 8 ½-pounder one time.

A variety of lures make good options

“He caught it on a ¼-ounce, glow Halo Shad. That would be my No. 1 bait because it’s so easy for customers to use. But an MR 17 Mirrolure is hard to beat. We’ve also had good luck on the broken glass, green back, silver side color. Yo-Zuri makes a glass minnow, that’s been a really good lure, in the 808 color, which is orange, silver, and black.

“If you catch the right day, before the water temperature really gets cold, topwaters are good,” he said. “When there’s a lot of bait there, you can catch them good on top. You always need to have one tied on to check it.”

Baits fished off the bottom are suggested due to the propensity of hang-ups between the concrete junks that are often experienced with jig heads. However, Kellum notes that the chunks can often be rolled over and lures retrieved because of their relatively small size.

Good current makes this a good trout reef

According to Kellum, the reef is roughly equal distance from Sneads Ferry or Jacksonville, about 7 miles or 15 minutes by boat. Its placement in the center of the river, between the banks, gives it excellent current flow, which is crucial for trout fishing. Kellum said that direction of the tide is not important, as long as it’s moving, and the tide stage will be approximately 2 hours behind that of New River Inlet.

“The location they put it in is a really good place for a southwest wind,” said Kellum. “The high tree line lays the wind out.  It can be blowing 20 miles an hour, and you can still fish it. But it’s not a good place for a northeast wind; that knocks it out.


HOW TO GET THERE — Jacksonville is on US 17 about midway between Wilmington and Morehead City, and several ramps offer good access to the New River and its artificial reef: a public ramp at Fulcher’s Landing on Fulcher’s Landing Road and New River Marina on Jones Road. Both landings are downstream from the reef, AR 398, which is at 34 39.600’N/77 22.451W.

WHEN TO GO —  Anglers can catch a variety of fish off AR 398 in spring and summer, but September through November are top months for speckled trout. Schooling red drum and trout can also be found around nearby shoals in shallow water. Fishing is productive day or night during periods of moving water

BEST TECHNIQUES — Daytime fishing usually involves artificial baits, including Billy Bay Halo Shad, Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows, MirrOlure MR 17s and topwater walking baits. Colors mimicking menhaden and glass minnows — glow, chartreuse and the legendary MirrOlure color 808 are winners. After dark, fishing calls for slip corks and live shrimp. Fish 7- to 71/2-foot, medium-light sinning rods and reels spooled with 10-pound braid, with a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader.

FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Ricky Kellum, Speckled Specialist Inshore Fishing Charters, 910-330-2745,; Brent Banks, “Speck”tacular Fishing Charters, 910-389-4941, See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.

ACCOMMODATIONS — The Seaward Inn, Sneads Ferry, 910-347-0469,; Holiday Inn Express, Sneads Ferry, 888-465-4329,; Topsail Shores Inn, 910-685-0969,; Holiday Inn Express, Jacksonville, 800-315-2621,

MAPS — Capt. Segull’s Nautical Charts, 888-473-4855,; GMCO’s Chartbook of North Carolina, 888-420-6277,; Sealake Fishing Guides, 800-411-0185,

About Dusty Wilson 274 Articles
Dusty Wilson of Raleigh, N.C., is a lifelong outdoorsman. He is the manager of Tarheel Nursery in Angier and can be followed on his blog at

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