Catch a full house in New Bern’s waters

New Bern
(Photo by Jeff Burleson)

Multiple species are biting in the Trent and Neuse Rivers

Normally, it’s tough catching fish when they’re on the move, swapping places as the seasons change. However, when it comes to June, all the watery highways point to the area around New Bern, N.C.

Stripers in these waters are strictly catch-and-release. But that doesn’t make them any less fun to catch. (Photo by Jeff Burleson)

Striped bass, aka rockfish, are moving back down the river after their spawn, setting up shop around the pilings that support a handful of highway and railroad bridges. Speckled trout are moving out of the deep creeks where they spent the cooler months, heading for the big waters of the Trent and Neuse rivers – which meet at New Bern. And the redfish that have overwintered in the ocean have moved back into the Pamlico Sound and are headed back up the Neuse, all the way to New Bern.

That puts fishermen like guide Dave Stewart of Knee Deep Custom Charters, headquartered in Minnesott Beach, downstream from New Bern on the Neuse’s northern shore, in the catbird’s seat as spring fishing turns to summer.

With a little bit of forethought, Stewart can target all three species in the same day, just by moving around a little and tying on different lures. Here’s his road map to a great day on the water.

Once the fish move out into the sound later in the summer, good electronics are key tools in finding them. (Photo by Jeff Burleson)

Striped bass

“You can catch rockfish in the Trent or Neuse. They’re around all year,” Stewart said. “They’ll run up in the rivers in the spring to spawn. And then they come back down. We’ll have a lot of fish all through the summer – anything from decent fish to little fish.”

Stripers in the Trent and Neuse are strictly a catch-and-release fishery. Keeper season is closed year-round.

“You can start with topwaters early and late, in and around reefs and bridge pilings. You have two bridges (US 17 and US 70) and two railroad trestles,” Stewart said. “Later, you’ll find them in deeper water in channel turns where you have shallow water and current flowing around the turns.”

Lure choices

Stewart likes a D.O.A. PT-7, a small, cigar-shaped lure for most of his topwater work. He’ll also fish a 3-inch D.O.A. Shad Tail or 4-inch Jerk Shad – white with a chartreuse tail – on a ¼-ounce, chartreuse jighead for deeper work around the pilings. “Just jig it and hop it around the bridge pilings,” he said.

When he’s fishing deeper water, he goes to a ¼-ounce, D.O.A.TerrorEyz, which resembles a Little Fishie but with a built-in weight in the head.

“The way it’s rigged, it will go down and stand straight up,” Stewart said. I like throwing them around bridges and piers. The rockfish don’t just hit it – they suck it in.”

Once in a great while, Stewart said, you’ll run into a big, hefty rockfish that missed the spawning train up the rivers in April and May. Mostly, he said, “These fish are spawned out, skinny fish. They almost look fragile. They come down the river hungry. You can tell they’re spawned out. If you catch one, get it back in the water quickly.”

Redfish are plentiful around New Bern. And they will readily take a number of baits and lures this month. (Photo by Jeff Burleson)


“In June, all the reds that have been wintering in the ocean are back in here, moving into the river systems, into the bays and sounds,” he said. “They’ll be all the way up to New Bern, all out in the (Pamlico) sound and everywhere else. A lot of them are slot fish (18 to 27 inches).

“Up around New Bern, you concentrate on stumps and structure along the shoreline. You can pick up some quality fish, up to 25 inches, around those stumps.”

Stewart said targeting reds in the Trent and Neuse around New Bern is a lot like freshwater bass fishing in the spring. It’s mainly presenting baits to fish in extremely shallow water on the bank.

“These fish will cruise along the banks of the creeks and rivers, picking off fiddler crabs that the wind has washed off the banks,” he said. “I had a party one time, five people, and we kept five fish. I told them to look in the livewell when we were done. And it was just full of fiddler crabs those fish had spit up. And the fishing will get even better in July.”

Speckled trout are moving out of deep creeks and into the Trent and Neuse Rivers. They are one reason New Bern is a hot spot for anglers. (Photo by Jeff Burleson)

Watch the wind

Stewart said the Trent and Neuse in the New Bern area are not affected by lunar tides. But the wind moves the water. An easterly or northeasterly wind pushes water into the rivers. A southwest wind blows it back out. Stewart isn’t terribly particular, although he likes having a little more water on a bank. But the key is the wind.

“You need to be fishing windy banks – either up in the river or down in the marshes along the lower end of the Neuse,” Stewart said. “The reds will come up in water 6 to 8 inches deep looking for fiddler crabs. They like the water a little stirred up. If you’re fishing just for reds, I like it better when it’s windy.

“In a sense, what we’re doing is, because we don’t have any moving water, you’ve got to impart all the motion to your lures. Especially if you’re fishing a jighead. You’ve got to put that pretty, exciting action into the bait to get the fish to eat it – but not with a cork rig.”

Stewart’s favorite way to target shallow, bank-running reds is with a D.O.A. Deadly Combo, a cork and soft-plastic rig that can be pitched right to the bank and worked back to the boat with a series of pops and jerks that attracts reds.

“You can fish it right up in the stumps without getting hung up,” he said. “You take any weedless hook of your choice – I use a D.O.A. hook with a pinch-on weight – and use a shrimp or a 3-inch Shad Tail. Just pop the point of the hook through the bait and turn it around and make it weedless. But check it after every cast to make sure it’s still weedless, or you can get hung up. Make sure to bring some extra baits, because you can lose some.”

Speckled trout

Stewart said most of the speckled trout in the Trent and Neuse are resident fish that never find their way to the ocean.

“They just make a vicious loop out to the Sound in the summer, then up the creeks in cold weather,” he said. “In June, they’ll be coming out of those deeper creeks, moving into the river systems. You’ll find trout all the way up to New Bern, mixed with reds. Sometimes they’ll be in the same areas, but the trout won’t be as tight to the bank – out in deeper water.”

Stewart said he catches plenty of trout by working the cork rig all the way from the bank for reds out to several feet of water for trout. “If I don’t get a red right off the bank, I can work it out a few more feet and catch a trout. If I’m targeting trout, I’ll cast to about 5 feet or so off the bank.”

His favorite way to target trout, however, is with a soft-plastic bait on a jighead. He prefers a 3-inch Shad Tail or a 4-inch Jerk Shad.

Keep contact with the bottom

“I like to make a cast and pop, pop, pop it off the bottom,” Stewart said. “But you’ve got to stay in contact with the bottom to feel that thump.

“These trout love shrimp, little croakers – any little bait they can find,” he said. “The brown shrimp are just showing up in June. The trout like deep points – points that are shallow on one side and drop on one side. In little bays, they like water that’s a little deeper because the water is starting to heat up and they’re moving out to spawn.

“As the summer goes on, they’re going to be more down the river around Minnesott or out in the sound. You’ll have to fish around docks early and late, and in the marshes. They’ll be around oyster rocks and wrecks in the sound. People with good (GPS) numbers can get out and find plenty of fish – and good, quality fish.”

The color equation

Because of so much tannin-stained water in the Neuse and Trent rivers, Stewart said he chooses his lure colors based on the stain.

“Water clarity is what matters for lure color,” he said. “We have a lot of tannic water, especially in the summer. The baits I use 90% of the time will have some gold or red. And that’s because those colors show up better. My favorite is a 4-inch Jerk Shad in golden bream, which is gold and red. It seems to radiate through the water a little better. I also like to fish the new penny and glow gold colors.”

About Dan Kibler 887 Articles
Dan Kibler is the former managing editor of Carolina Sportsman Magazine. If every fish were a redfish and every big-game animal a wild turkey, he wouldn’t ever complain. His writing and photography skills have earned him numerous awards throughout his career.

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