It might be the Rodney Dangerfield of fishing spots along the North Carolina Outer Banks. Everyone rushes through Manteo on the way to Hatteras or other Outer Banks destinations, and with the Virginia Dare Bridge in place, they barely have to slow down.
Fishermen are making a mistake if they overlook the waters around Roanoke Island as top-notch fishing spots. A variety of fish is available, as well as plenty of places to find them. Certainly, the big three of speckled trout, flounder and red drum are abundant in the waters of Croatan and Roanoke Sounds, but stripers, bluefish and some big croakers are around, and fishermen occasionally run into a spot run.
Roanoke Island is bordered on the east by Roanoke Sound and Nags Head and on the west by Croatan Sound and Manns Harbor. The village of Wanchese is on the southern end of the island, which is mostly occupied by the city of Manteo.
Getting to Roanoke Island isn't difficult. US 64 begins in Brevard and works its way across the state, through Raleigh, and it goes all the way to Nags Head. US 264 splits off from US 64 east of Raleigh and runs along the eastern edge of Pamlico Sound, reconnecting to US 64 at Manns Harbor. A northern route is US 158, which begins in Winston-Salem and runs just south of the Virginia state line all the way to Kitty Hawk and the northern Outer Banks.
Four public ramps and several pay ramps at marinas serve the island, plus another free ramp is on the mainland side of the Manns Harbor-Manteo Bridge.
Guide Bryan DeHart is a local in every sense of the word. His family tree is deeply rooted in the Outer Banks; one of his great-grandfathers worked for the Wright brothers and witnessed the first flight. As a youngster, DeHart terrorized fish in the creeks and marshes he could reach with a small skiff and old outboard. It was only natural that he would become a guide.
1 Kellogg Camp
35 52 94N/75 3665W
The Kellogg Camp is on a marsh island in Roanoke Sound south of the Baum Bridge. DeHart said it is a good place to catch speckled trout, and also holds some puppy drum and a few flounder at times. For fishermen just wanting dinner, lots of croakers and spots are caught here at times. Some shell bottom, a bulkhead, a dock and some older underwater structure attracts bait and fish.
"The reason this spot is pretty consistent is the predominant winds are southwest or northeast, and that usually has the water in the sound moving a little," DeHart said. "Most fishermen find it difficult to understand, but most of the water around Roanoke Island is not tidal and influenced by water moving through Oregon Inlet. Any difference in water level is because of wind or other factors that are moving water in the sounds. You rarely know which direction it is moving until you get out here."
Getting hung up on the bottom is common, so make sure you bring some extra terminal tackle. And getting hung up is the only way to find the productive bottom structure.
DeHart said live baits can sometimes be a factor when fishing here, but he is comfortable using soft plastics and scented baits.
2 Broad Creek Point
35 51 01N/75 36 81W
This is a sand point where Broad Creek splits from Roanoke Sound and heads up into Roanoke Island above Wanchese. It is a spot to catch flounder and speckled trout but will sometimes also hold schools of puppy drum. The drop off is gradual as it works out to the channel and needs to be worked at all depths to locate the fish.
DeHart said wakes from passing boats can make fishing difficult, but the fishing makes the rocking and rolling worthwhile. one of the worst things about fishing this point. He suggested working the point and both sides for a hundred yards or so to locate the fish on any given day. Live baits or artificials will usually produce here.
"I think of the different depths as zones," DeHart said. "There is the shallow zone from the bank out to a couple of feet deep, the mid-depth zone from there to about five feet deep and the deep zone from there to the channel. Every depth should be explored, as fish sometimes respond to factors we can't (determine)tell. Once you find the depth the fish are holding, they will usually be holding in that depth along the bank up from the point a ways."
3 South End Marsh Islands
35 48 94N/75 37 01W
"These marsh islands are where Roanoke and Croatan sounds meet, and that means two things," DeHart said. "First, there is always some current and second, the islands are always changing. This is the extreme south end of Roanoke Island and is the one place around Roanoke Island that sometimes gets a little tidal influence from Oregon Inlet. You can see the Oregon Inlet Bridge across the sound to the southeast, and it is difficult to believe it doesn't affect this area more, but the tides from the inlet only influence this area when the weather has been calm for a while, and water isn't moving in the sounds,"
DeHart said the constant battering by waves rolling up the sound keeps the islands changing. He likes to cast to visible cover, but there may be mounds and other underwater obstructions that can block or split currents up to 100 yards or more off the islands. He suggests moving slowly and carefully so as not to bump anything hard enough to do damage.
This was a good spot to catch flounder, specks, pups, croakers and bluefish, and DeHart said that watching and understanding the current is a key to finding fish. The currents will position baitfish and areas behind current breakers are great places to fish.
DeHart said the current makes this a great place to use scented baits. He uses live baits and artificials here.
4 North Island (Point)
Cedar Bush Bay
35 49 75N/75 40 08W
Cedar Bush Bay on the southwest corner of Roanoke Island is at a spot where the waters of Croatan, Roanoke and Pamlico sounds meet. Some current is always running past or into the bay, and this brings in bait and predator fish. The small bay has pronounced points on the southern end where it opens into the sounds.
"There is usually good fishing at both points entering Cedar Bush Bay," DeHart said. "The narrow island that separates it from Croatan Sound sticks out just enough to catch any water moving up the sound and run some up the inside of the island, creating current in the bay. This moves the baitfish around and gets the fish excited."
DeHart said the bay is a spot that holds several species of fish during the year. Puppy drum often work along the inside bank of the island near the point and feed on minnows and shrimp. Sometimes, the flounder are up on the edge, but they are usually a little farther out on the slope in deeper water. Trout and croaker usually hold just a little farther off the bank in the deepest water in the bay, which is less than six feet in most places.
Dehart said fish tend to move up and down the bank here, so live bait may help catch a few larger ones. He said the bank inside the point has some small bays and elbows, so casting artificials allows covering the area quicker while locating fish. He also said he thinks covering more area also led to getting a few more strikes.
5 Virginia Dare Bridge, Manteo End
35 52 98N/075 40 52W
This is the newest of the bridges in the Manteo area, but it was already holding fish when it was completed several years ago. Part of the attraction is bait and, this bridge holds glass minnows during the summer and menhaden during the fall. Regardless of how the current is moving, there is shelter from the current behind pilings for larger predators to hide so they can easily flash out and grab a baitfish drifting past.
"Most of the fishing pressure on this bridge is around the first four to five pilings from the grass," DeHart said. "Fishermen start working from the bank out and usually find fish in that area, so that is where they look on their next trip. That is good, but there are fish all along the bridge. This bridge is more than four miles long, and it is not possible to fish all of it in a day."
DeHart said flounder and stripers usually hold very close to the pilings, but trout can be beside the pilings or in a depression between them. The fish relocate from day to day based on where the current is pushing baitfish. Once fish are located, they will usually be in the same relationship to other pilings along the bridge. If the fish are holding on the downcurrent left of a piling or two, that's likely where they will be on all the sets of pilings, and you can concentrate that day's fishing on similar areas.
6 Croatan Sound at Bowsertown Ramp
35 53 34N/075 40 99W
This spot, DeHart said, "often gets overlooked from being too close to the ramp, but this stretch of bank is some of the best all the way around the island. The fish move up and down it and may be almost anywhere between the bridges, but there is usually some fish here. The key is finding bait and a little current and concentrating on them. This is a good spot for someone with a trolling motor to spend a couple of hours pounding the bank."
The creek from the Bowsertown ramp enters Croatan Sound about a third of the way up the sound from the Virginia Dare Bridge towards the Manns Harbor Bridge. The bank has pockets, points, several creek mouths and many different possibilities to hold fish. Bait is usually milling along the bank, and explosions and running bait will help locate the predators.
DeHart said this area holds trout, puppy drum and flounder, and a school of stripers may be on patrol. This area is protected from a northeast wind, which makes it especially popular in the fall and winter. Even in a small boat, fishermen can launch at the Bowsertown Ramp and fish in the lee created by Roanoke Island.
7 Spencers Creek Point
35 51 65N/075 44 90W
The point at the mouth of Spencers Creek has potential to produce fish on any wind, as long as it is not too strong to allow getting there. A southwest breeze will push bait across the sound and into the cove between the creek and the point, while a northeast breeze will push bait down the sound and across the point into the creek. DeHart said the keys for finding fish in this area are locating bait and current, and this place has both. Because of the usual abundance of bait, this point typically holds speckled trout and flounder, and it isn't a surprise to catch a puppy drum or two right along the bank.
"I like to see how the wind and current is pushing across the point and set up to allow presenting baits in the same way they are moving naturally," DeHart said. "Sometimes, that can be difficult, especially when the wind and current are moving in opposite directions, but it is usually well worth the effort. The point is the key structure here, but don't overlook the bank for a ways on each side to see if bait is being attacked. Sometimes, the best action is just around the point on one side or the other and that is where you need to be."
8 Old Manns Harbor Ferry Dock
35 54 38N/75 46 11W
"We don't have a place that would be specifically for flounder, but this is as close at it gets," DeHart said. "There are some holes and other structure around the pilings, and there seem to be more flounder here than any other one place. It takes working this slowly and covering all of it, but a diligent fisherman will usually catch flounder."
DeHart said the old ferry dock is one place he likes to fish with live bait: small menhaden or finger mullet fished on a Carolina rig. Current is usually not heavy, so a small egg sinker is all that is needed, and it also helps ease the bait across the structure without snagging.
While flounder might be scattered across any of the area inside the outer pilings, DeHart said a few deeper spots near the outer end sometimes hold trout. They become more aggressive as the water cools in the fall and will hit larger baits intended for flounder. More are caught using smaller live baits or soft plastics.
9 Old Manns Harbor Bridge/Pier
35 54 76N/75 46 04W
Fishermen have plied the waters under and beside the Manns Harbor Bridge as long as it has been there. The bridge's reputation has always been for stripers, but DeHart said it also holds trout and some scattered flounder. A fishing pier was added on the Manns Harbor end in the past year, and fishermen are already reaping the benefits there.
"While I concentrate on the first 25 or so rows of pilings on the Manns Harbor side of this bridge, there should be pockets of fish all the way across to Manteo," DeHart said. "There is deep water close to the Manns Harbor side under this bridge, and it is wise to fish it thoroughly before moving on. This is why they built the new fishing pier on that side. Much like the other bridge, if you find fish holding in a certain position around a row of pilings, they will probably be in a similar location on other rows of pilings."
DeHart said there are sloughs, ledges and several types of bottom under the 4-mile span of the bridge. It is impossible to fish it all in one trip, but several trips should help someone understand the changes and which species of fish prefer which areas.
10 Ballast Point Docks
35 54 07N/75 38 43W
The stretch of Roanoke Sound between the entrance to Pirate's Cove Marina and Ballast Point is the only place on Roanoke Island with an abundance of docks extending out toward deeper water. DeHart said that even though there is no real tidal influence this far from Oregon Inlet, these docks should not be overlooked. The movement of water up or down the sound pushes bait past the docks, and predators hide under them waiting for a meal to be swept by.
"The docks at Ballast Point are very close to the channel running up Roanoke Sound to Manteo and beyond, and that gives fish easy access to the shelter of deeper water," DeHart said. "However, there is a lot of boat traffic, and you have to be paying attention to it all the time.
"On the good side, with all the boat traffic and wave action, the fish around the docks are not as spooky, and you can get close and put casts just where you want. I think of these docks mainly as a place to catch flounder, but they also hold trout and stripers."
Brian DeHart can be reached 252-473-8632 or email@example.com.