Although many anglers may think of wade-fishing as something you do to cut your teeth before getting your “big boy boat,” those leaving it behind are missing out on some great opportunities, especially for speckled trout and redfish.
When the north winds usher in October and water temperature dives below 80 degrees, many trout and reds head upriver from their saltier summer homes to haunt the bridge crossings of brackish water creeks and feast on bait, and these are the perfect places to slip in off the highway for a hookup. Whether you the lack of a boat or the time to splash it, don’t like rough weather or you simply want your feet on the ground, wading in October only requires a handful of baits, a decent pair of waders, and a destination.
Will Jones of Bounty Hunter Guide Service in Beaufort, N.C., runs charters in from Cape Lookout to the Neuse River, but he still has an affinity for taking a short hike to catch fish. Bridge crossings are his most-common targets due to ease of access. An aerial view can reveal plenty, but a productive area will have to meet a certain criteria.
“What you’re looking for is deep water adjacent to a shallow flat,” said Jones. “You need that shallow area adjacent so you can wade to where the current is going to carry all the shrimp and bait. The places I wade aren’t a secret; it’s just a matter of hitting them at the right time of year and the right stage of the tide. The best time to fish these spots is a couple hours after low tide when the water starts moving in hard. When you have more flow, there’ll be more bait, and the fish will be feeding heavier. At low tide, there’s not enough water to hold trout.”
This is where things can get a little tricky. Most tide tables only provide information on inlets and heavily traveled inshore areas; areas well inshore can differ by hours, but Jones credits apps like OutCast and sites like Tides4Fishing for covering more remote areas. If a particular area is not listed, you can estimate tidal stages by information provided for areas up and/or downriver. When in doubt, getting there early never hurts.
Once on location, a simple pair of nylon waders is all you need. Insulated or neoprene waders are not necessary nor recommended for water temperatures in the 70s, but fishing into November and December will require more padding. Chest waders are best, especially if water depths are uncertain, but waist-high or hip waders will do if fishable water can be reached from knee-deep depths. Rod and line setup will be a determining factor in the fish you can reach out and touch and the ability the sense the bite.
“You’re going to want to be able to make a long cast,” said Jones, “and if I’m fishing a light jig or a MirrOlure, I want to be able to keep in contact with them. I like a 7-foot, light-action Temple Fork Outfitters rod. They also make a 6-foot-9 rod that’s a 4- to 10-pound line-class (rod) with a split grip — it’s really sensitive. And 8- to 12-pound braided line is a good choice because it’s real thin and it’s easier to keep in contact with when you have a lot of line out and the current has it in a bow. It’s not going to get blown in the wind as bad, and you may be wading because it’s too rough to go out in the boat. I tie that to a fluorocarbon leader.”
On the business end of the line, Jones alternates between hard and soft baits, depending on the situation. In early October, when shrimp are plentiful, the 4-inch D.O.A. shrimp and the Storm WildEye shrimp are standouts amidst the multitude of options on the market. Ranging from 1/8- to a ½-ounce, Jones chooses the lighter variety for slow-moving, shallow water and the heavier for deeper water and swift current. The Betts Halo Shad is another soft-plastic winner. Chartreuse, pink and bone are solid inshore color choices.
Hard baits like a MirrOdine 17MR are go-to lures for Jones, especially in late October and November when shrimp have thinned out and trout are feeding opportunistically. His favorite colors are Mardi Gras and the legendary 808: black top, orange belly, and silver sides. Hard baits also excel in windy conditions and when long casts are crucial.
“Most of these bridge crossings will have a shallow flat that runs perpendicular to the bridge,” said Jones. “You’ll be casting from this flat across the tide or upcurrent and letting the current give the action on the bait. Just let it roll and barely turn the handle enough to keep line contact and twitch it a little — like swinging a fly in a mountain stream. You’re basically fishing the middle of the water column and varying the speed until you find out what the fish want. I cover the area by casting shorter or longer and walking up and down the flat. The flats are usually knee to waist deep with the sloughs running 4 to 6 feet deep.”
HOW TO GET THERE — Beaufort is a tiny fishing village at the eastern end of US 70. That’s the main access from almost anywhere in North Carolina. Public boat ramps are at Grayden Paul Park and Fisherman’s Park, both on Front Street.
WHEN TO GO — October is an excellent month to wade-fish for most inshore species.
BEST TECHNIQUES —Fish shallow, wadable flats that are close to deep water. Work baits in the deeper water, making long casts and allowing the current to move the bait. Soft-plastic shrimp are productive, along with other soft plastic imitations and hard-plastic baits such as MirrOlures. Long rods allow for longer casts, which are often needed.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Will Jones, Bounty Hunter Guide Service, 919-218-8551, www.bountyhunterguidenc.comm; Chasin’ Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, 252-240-3474; Cape Lookout Fly Shop, Atlantic Beach, 252-240-1427; Town Creek Marina, Beaufort, 252-728-6111. See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Carteret County Chamber of Commerce, 252-726-6350, www.nccoastchamber.com
MAPS — Capt. Segull’s Nautical Charts, 888-473-4855, www.captainsegullcharts.com; Sealake Fishing; Guides, 800-411-0185, www.thegoodspots.com; GMCO’s Chartbook of North Carolina, 888-420-6277, www.gmcomaps.com.