Kellum, the "Speckled Specialist," catches trout in the New River and its tributaries year-round, but the fishing is usually best in the fall and early winter when the water begins to cool. He said the cooling water triggers trout to feed and makes them easier to catch, and they're usually larger in the fall.
One particular morning, he launched from a private ramp in Jacksonville and was working downriver. His first stop was a spot he had to check, even if he didn't think it would be productive.
"I have caught trout even above (the US 17 Business bridge), and in some water that looked way too fresh, so unless I am headed for a specific school of fish or am working in a limited time, I stop and make a few casts at several key areas that produce with some regularity," said Kellum (910-330-2745). "Trout will follow food right on up the river or a creek into brackish water, so I try to go where they will. It has made for a few interesting days where we caught bass and trout at the same spot."
The first spot produced a small speck that Kellum inspected, admired and released.
"Man, I love to see them race off like that," he said.
Easing up to a point covered with reeds, Kellum instructed his fishermen to cast to the edge of the reeds and slowly twitch their baits - soft plastics on 1/8-ounce jigheads - back to the boat. A very slow current allowed Kellum to fish the lightest jighead possible so his bait, a white Storm shrimp dyed chartreuse, would look natural as it worked through the water column. It was a good combination too, as in only a few minutes he set the hook on the first trout.
"I really like this color," Kellum said. "It, white or pink will usually catch trout in this river. However, I really believe this dyed chartreuse color is better than buying the shrimp in its chartreuse color. The colors are very close, but my experience has been the dyed one will catch more trout when fished side by side. I don't know why, but this is one of those things I have learned over the years not to question. It just works."
Kellum prefers shrimp imitations for specks and uses a Billy Bay Halo Shrimp and D.O.A. shrimp as well as a Storm bait. He uses all three styles in the same colors.
Kellum moved to a wide creek mouth farther down the river, cut his outboard and dropped the trolling motor before his boat had stopped gliding.
"In this creek, the trout could be anywhere," Kellum said. "The water is a little deeper over by the bank to our left, but there is some structure out near the middle that holds them, too. Make a few casts in any direction and move your casts around. I'll keep us moving along with the trolling motor, and if we find a school, we'll stop and fish them."
About a hundred yards into the creek, Kellum leaned back into a bent rod. This time it was a small flounder that was quickly released. The splash ring from Kellum's flounder going back was still spreading when Tim Ellis' rod bent over and began throbbing from a speck weighing a pound or so that wound up being released.
A ways farther back in the creek, Kellum hooked into something that pulled drag from his spinning outfit, a fish he figured was a trout nicer than the ones that had already come aboard. Ellis agreed and got the net, and when Kellum finally got the fish to the boat, it was just that - a quality speck.
The bite didn't last much longer before the trout were replaced by puppy drum, but Kellum was interested more in trout, so he moved again.
"Let's head downriver a little and see what is happening there," Kellum said. "There isn't much tide today, but it will still be moving there, and maybe the trout will be feeding stronger. It will only take a few minutes, and we'll know."
Kellum said there are plenty of calm days in late fall and during the winter on the river, but that not many people get out to enjoy them. The trout, he said, often begin biting the second or third day after a cold front has passed - a calm, early December day that warms into the 60s, a day that would have been a nice one in October.
Kellum ran a half-mile or so to the next creek, French's Creek, and pointed out that there was some tide flowing in the creek, and caught a trout on the back side of the point. His next cast produced another trout, and the action was steady as he maneuvered his skiff into coves and around points, eventually catching the day's nicest speck.
"I felt certain that once we found a little current, the trout would be feeding," Kellum said. "Many times, that's the difference in a good day and a great day."
HOW TO GET THERE - I 40 crosses North Carolina from west to east, ending at Wilmington. Take NC 24 east near Kenansville to US 17 and Jacksonville. A N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission public boat ramp in downtown Jacksonville is visible from the US 17 Business bridge across the New River, and a municipal ramp is at Northeast Creek Park off NC 24 just east of town. Sneads Ferry is home to several public ramps, the most popular being at Fulcher's Landing off NC 172.
WHEN TO GO - In years with mild winters, excellent trout fishing can continue from October through January. Spring and warming waters will bring on a surge in trout activity before the lethargic summer season.
TACKLE/TECHNIQUES - Light to medium-light spinning or baitcasting outfits are perfect for speckled trout. Ricky Kellum spools his reels with 10- to 15-pound braided line with a fluorocarbon leader around 18 inches long. He prefers soft-plastic imitation shrimp baits, but said trout will hit paddletails, shad bodies and Fluke shapes. Because the upper reaches of the New River rarely feature a lot of current, he can fish a jighead as light as 1/8-ounce. Topwater baits can also be excellent on trout, including Spook Juniors, Skitterwalks and smaller MirrOlures, especially the suspending MirrOdine Series in 17 MR and 27 MR.
ACCOMMODATIONS - Onslow County Tourism Office, Jacksonville, 800-932-2144 or www.onslowcountytourism.com.
GUIDES/FISHING INFO - Capt. Ricky Kellum, 910-330-2745 or www.speckledspecialist.com, Eastern Outfitters, 910-347-4868 or www.easternoutfitter.com; New River Marina, 910-327-2106. See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.
MAPS/CHARTS - 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.