Saltwater Series: The Neuse River

The waters from New Bern to Oriental are full of fish-producing spots. Here are a few.

Jerry Dilsaver

August 05, 2011 at 10:00 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Saltwater Series: The Neuse River
Photo credit: Jerry Dilsaver
Almost all North Carolina residents know where New Bern is, but few think of it as a saltwater fishing destination. The former state capital, New Bern sits at the junction of the Trent River and Neuse River. The railroad trestle crossing the Trent and the site of a former US 17 Bridge across the Neuse mark the boundary between inland and joint (coastal/inland) waters, but many saltwater species ignore the boundary, especially during dry summers, and take up residence in the two rivers and the myriad of creeks that join them in this area.

Oriental is a little farther down the Neuse River, situated on the north bank across from where the Intracoastal Waterway emerges from Adams Creek as it works its way northward from Morehead City. Just a few miles upriver from the Pamlico Sound, Oriental might actually be a little easier to reach by boat than by vehicle, but NC 55 east from New Bern ends there. Oriental is far enough down the Neuse that the water is always salty.

Numerous launching ramps are found in this area, especially on the north and east side of the Neuse River, so access is good. Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point occupies several miles of prime real estate on the south and west banks of the Neuse River, so while there are ramps, there aren’t as many as across the river. 

The city of New Bern operates Lawson Creek Park and its two free ramp facilities on the Trent River and Union Point Park and its free ramp on the Neuse River. Downstream, the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission has free ramps on the north/east side of the Neuse River at Upper Broad Creek, Dawson Creek and Oriental.  The Commission also has free ramps on the south/west side of the Neuse at Slocum Creek (Havelock) and Hancock Creek.  There are fee ramps at landings and marinas on both sides of the Neuse River.  The GMCO Chartbook of North Carolina (http://www.gmcomaps.com/) shows these ramps. Information and locations for the Commission ramps may be found on their website at http://www.ncwildlife.org/.
   
Many fishermen pass over the Neuse River or ride beside it for a while as they pass New Bern headed for various points to the east. Not giving this body of water the respect it is due may be a mistake. There are saltwater fish here, and while some of the catches are surprising, they shouldn’t be. This is a wide, slow-moving coastal river, with many bays and adjoining creeks. There are numerous opportunities for catching fish.  

Be aware, though, that the Neuse River is wide and, while it is not particularly deep, it is not a river to be trifled with. Breezy winds can bring choppy waters quickly and make it an unpleasant and potentially unfriendly place, especially in a small boat. At the bend at MCAS Cherry Point, afternoon sea breezes and summer thunderstorms often converge, and local fishermen have learned to keep an eye to the sky to monitor possible approaching thunderstorms.

Fish in the Neuse River range from striped bass, red drum, speckled trout and flounder to huge red drum and tarpon. In an unusual claim to fame, during one particularly dry summer in the 1980s, two large bull sharks were caught just downriver from Union Point Park in New Bern. The salinity of the water varies with the amount of rainfall, but knowledgeable fishermen usually find something fun to target.

Capt. George Beckwith (252.671.3474) is a native of New Bern. In addition to having spent several decades fishing and hunting on the Neuse and Trent Rivers and in their many tributary creeks, Beckwith has a degree in marine biology that gives him double working knowledge of how the fish react to various changes in the weather. He also spent a year on the BASS Tour before deciding guiding was what he wanted to do.
 
Beckwith founded Down East Guide Service around 15 years ago. His specialty then was tarpon and red drum, but he targeted puppy drum, flounder and speckled trout, then branched out to the fall false albacore run off Cape Lookout and the spring striped bass run up the Roanoke River and now operates charterboats on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica for billfish and the Atlantic Coast for tarpon and snook were prominent. He even offers his clients dove and waterfowl hunts in Argentina.

Even with Down East’s growing success, Beckwith has not allowed himself to become a manager, but works the water daily and knows plenty of great spots on the Neuse.

1. Trent River at Wilson Creek
35.04.42 N/077.06.20 W

“This spot is several miles above the boundary for Inland and Joint/Coastal Waters, but it holds a surprising number of saltwater fish,” Beckwith said. “While it used to have some saltwater fish at times, things have changed in the Trent River since the hurricanes of the late 1990s, and some saltwater fish live here most of the year. There are stripers, pups and flounder all year and good trout fishing in the fall.”

Beckwith said this area consists of a flat, a hole and a creek mouth. The flat has some tree stumps, and those attract stripers and red drum.  The deeper section and any current generated by water flow from the creek mouth are preferred by trout. Flounder may be in the deep water, but they often hold along the edges and on the slope from the flat to the deep.

Beckwith suggests fishing this area with lures to cover more area, and he favors soft plastics.  He said the current is minimal, so light jigheads can reach the bottom and still allow more natural action from the baits. Be sure to use a jig head with a good hook, however, because large stripers have been caught in the area.

George Beckwith can be reached by calling 252-671-3474 or accessing www.pamlicoguide.com.

Editor’s note: Download the digital edition of this magazine right to your computer or smartphone to learn about out the rest of the spots on the Neuse.

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