Cape Fear speckled trout are thriving and feeding heavily
After four winters without a deadly freeze and/or stun event in inland waters, the speckled trout population in the lower Cape Fear River is thriving. The population includes a range of sizes from specks spawned this year to senior citizens of 5 years plus, and 5 pounds plus. Unless a weather event changes things significantly, they’ll all be feeding aggressively during November as the water cools and the last of the baitfish trickle from the creeks and marshes into the river and out to the ocean heading south.
In this 24-mile stretch of river, the salinity varies, as fall storms occasionally add lots of rainwater and the water turns brackish. It’s usually salting back up in November and many fish, especially speckled trout, seem to like this.
Capt. Stu Caulder of Gold Leader Fishing in Wilmington (910-264-2674) fishes this area regularly and said specks of all sizes are in the creeks and bays. But many larger trout prowl the river seeking schools of 3- to 5-inch menhaden that roam the river all year. These are ideal snacks for citation trout and they are often found around the islands in the river.
Many of these islands were created by dredging projects to dig and maintain the Cape Fear River Ship Channel. They may be sand, a mixture of mud and sand, and may also contain rocks and ballast stone from early sailing ships. The islands create shelter and attract bait. The abundance of bait brings fish, particularly large fall trout, to feed.
“Around these islands are great places to fish,” Caulder said. “In addition to trout, we catch redfish and stripers, plus even a few flounder that stay for the winter.
“I carry a variety of rods rigged with different lures because you never know what you’ll see or where the fish might be. The structure around these islands varies from sandy gentle sloping banks, to grass lines, to steep rocky drops. And shallow flats are nearby, with sand, mud and/or rock bottoms.
“I head out rigged with a topwater, a suspending bait, a slow sinking bait and a bait that will sink quickly,” Caulder said. “I like MirrOlure Top Pups and She Pups for fishing topwater, MirrOlure MirrOdines for suspending lures and switch to DOA shrimp, paddletails and jerkbaits for fishing the bottom. Trout will usually like one of them.”