The New River, which courses through Onslow County along North Carolina’s central coast, is considered the state’s best venue to catch a magnum-size spotted seatrout.

“People catch lots of 5- and 6-pounders every year,” said local guide Ricky Kellum, who believes fishing in the river is about to get better. 

First, in 1998, the city of Jacksonville opened the Sturgeon City water-treatment facility, to keep untreated wastewater out of the river.

Then, in 2011, the city of Jacksonville placed an artificial reef (AR 398) in the river halfway between Sneads Ferry and the city.

“It’s just off Hospital Point,” Kellum said. “The reef’s the best thing they ever did in the New River. From May until October, you can catch trout, black drum, redfish, blues and even ladyfish there.”

 Then, a couple of years ago, Pat Brandenburg, a marine scientist who works for the city, started a project to create an “Oyster Highway” in the river from AR 398 upstream to the Camp Lejeune area to help clean the water even more. 

That effort caught the eye of Eddie Bridges, executive director of the N.C. Wildlife Habitat Foundation, who was looking for a saltwater project to help fund.

“One oyster filters 50 gallons of water a day,” Bridges said. “Think of the impact hundreds of thousands of oysters could have on the New River.”

Originally, the highway was to include six “stepping-stone reefs” a quarter-acre in size, each planted with 45 oyster “castles,” each containing 250 planted “oyster patties” containing ‘spats’ or baby-oyster larvae. But with NCWHF funding in hand, the project has expanded to half-acre sites with 90 castles each. 

“The new model will allow us to place tons of oyster rocks and thousands of oyster larvae for a cleaner river,” Brandenburg said. “When you build a highway of oyster reefs, there’s a 212-percent increase in (oyster) growth and an 850-percent increase in other marine life.”

Brandenburg said maps will be available for anglers who wanted to fish the oyster highway. Oyster highway reefs will rise within 2 feet of the surface.

“It’s going to be fantastic for fishing, too,” Kellum said. “Just fantastic.”