Mud minnows, artificial baits are speck and red killers around Morehead City in December.
Matt Lamb paid strict attention to the water as he maneuvered through the Haystacks marshes above Morehead City, being careful to stay in the channel, even though he was running behind at first light, trying to get to a spot on the right stage of the tide.
“You better know where you’re going back here,” Lamb said, “but these fish have been biting best on the falling tide, and we need to get there before it reaches halfway down.”
A few turns later, Lamb, who runs Chasin’ Tails Outdoors in Atlantic Beach, pulled close to the right bank, eased back on the throttle, then cut off the outboard and dropped the trolling motor to sneak to within casting range of a spot he thought would hold feeding fish.
“See where the water ripples up good there coming off that point,” Lamb said, pointing to his left. “That is the current pushing across an oyster rock that is barely underwater. Bait is being pushed across it by the tide, and when the current speeds up to cross it, the bait gets bounced and disorganized. The larger fish know this and should be here to feed. There should be some reds, plus maybe a few trout and even possibly a late flounder.”
On the first cast, a small trout grabbed the mud minnow suspended under a popping cork. About three casts later, Lamb caught another trout, then another a few casts later.
“Wow, I’ve never caught specks in here like this,” Lamb said. “This has always been primarily a redfish spot. I catch a few flounder occasionally when the water is warm enough, and a speck or two along, but this time of year, with the water a little cooler, it should be redfish city.”
Before they caught the first redfish, Lamb and his buddies had caught seven trout, some of them nice fish, 18 to 22 inches long, that went in the livewell to be introduced a few hours later to seafood breader and hot grease.
“I really don’t understand this,” Lamb said. “I know trout eat mud minnows, but this usually later when the water cools enough there aren’t any shrimp or mullet minnows. That sure isn’t the case today. I don’t think they could hit live shrimp any faster or harder than they’re hitting these mud minnows.”
A couple more stops at “redfish spots” put enough trout in the boat that Lamb’s party only had room for one trophy fish each and left the guide guessing that rain and runoff had reduced the salinity in the areas, flushing mud minnows out of the marsh and into the main creeks where the trout were waiting.
Lamb said trout are a favorite of most fishermen in December, and the angling corps often head straight to the Cape Lookout rock jetty. However, some reds, trout and even an occasional flounder will be all together in the creeks and marsh systems inside the inlets. The inside fish are also usually accessible when the winter winds drive small boats from the ocean.
Switching to a 4-inch Gulp! Shrimp, Lamb caught a couple of lower-slot reds, then moved to a point in a small creek drain with an oyster rock just off one of the points outside the drain. After a few cast, one cork disappeared in a swirl, Lamb set the hook, and a broad tail and black spotted popped out of the water for a few seconds, eliminating any doubt about its size or identity. The over-slot red pulled drag against the little Daiwa spinning reel , eventually getting into some grass that cut the line with its sharp edges.
“Well, we know one big drum was there,” Lamb said.. “They aren’t schooling yet, but I’ll bet he has a friend close by. Man, he was strong. I was putting all the pressure on him I thought the hook and line could stand and he was still taking drag.”
A few minutes later, Lamb’s cork was slowly pulled under. He let it go for a handful of seconds and then set the hook on a small flounder that completed his inshore slam. His next cast drew a strike from a fish that took line from his reel again, but this time, he kept it out of the grass, and a 26 ¼-inch drum came over the side a few minutes late, tugging the scales on Lamb’s Boga Grib to slightly more than 7 pounds.
“We’ve done something today more fishermen could do if they tried,” Lamb said. “We’ve landed an inshore slam and done it all inshore. Many fishermen believe they need live shrimp to attract trout, but they were definitely munching on mud minnows today. The key is suspending the baits just above the bottom and popping corks do that plus use their sound to attract fish.
“I like popping corks that have ceramic inserts and beads so they make the splash and then a clicking sound,” Lamb said. “These popping corks are from Bomber, but there are several that have this, plus a pair of brass beads that click loudly under water. Our water never has great visibility, so the splash and click help fish locate the baits. As the water cools, you click less often as the fish aren’t as active. Still, they recognize the sounds as something feeding and will come and find you. It certainly worked today and they jumped on these mud minnows like they were the special in a 5 star restaurant.”
HOW TO GET THERE — US 70 and NC 24 cross North Carolina from west to east, leading to Morehead City and Atlantic Beach. Four public ramps are primarily jumping-off points for inshore fishing trips in the fall: one off US 70 on the ICW behind the Crystal Coast Welcome Center, one in Beaufort at the end of Front Street, one between Morehead City and Beaufort on Radio Island, and the other in Beaufort next to Town Creek Marina.
WHEN TO GO — While speckled trout are caught year-round in the Cape Lookout area, the best fishing is typically from mid-October until late December, when there are both good numbers and bigger fish.
TACKLE/BAITS — Medium-action spinning or baitcasting tackle with fast tips will do the trick. Look for rods in 6 1/2- to 7-foot lengths and 3000 class reels spooled with braided line. Live bait is a great way to go, but live shrimp aren’t always available once the water cools appreciably. Mud minnows are often the only live baits available in December. Soft-plastic artificials, especially those that imitate shrimp, can be very productive fished on jigheads or under popping corks.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Chasin’ Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, 252-240-FISH, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Crystal Coast Visitors Bureau, 800-SUNNY-NC or www.crystalcoastnc.org.
MAPS — Capt. Segull’s Nautical Charts, 888-473-4855, www.captainsegullcharts.com; SeaLake Fishing Guides, 800-411-0185, www.thegoodspots.com; Grease Chart, 800-326-3567, www.greasechart.com; GMCO’s Chartbook of North Carolina, 888-420-6277, www.gmcomaps.com.
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