Most North Carolina residents know that in 1996, divers discovered Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, in Beaufort Inlet, where it had run aground in 1718.
But only saltwater fishermen anglers — and the local tourist board — probably recognize another relic that’s nearby semi-buried in sand relic that’s more valuable to the region than a dozen sunken pirate ships.
The Cape Lookout rock jetty, built a few hundred yards from the Cape Lookout lighthouse in 1914, features a wall of jumbled rocks visible during mid- to low tide that extend 2,500 feet from shore to the northwest — sometimes above the waves, sometimes submerged. Like dragon’s teeth, the rocks can be deadly and have dashed lower units and hulls of uncounted boats guided by foolish or unwary captains.
But in late October and November, the jetty supplies its own treasure — a trove of gator speckled trout and other species that lures anglers from the Blue Ridge and beyond to the Crystal Coast. Capt. Bryan Goodwin of Harkers Island’s Native Guide Service usually have a staked out a claim to mine their share of these fish.
But know this: fishing the rock jetty isn’t for the faint-hearted, nor those with a proclivity toward motion sickness. It’s also a good idea to check weather forecasts to make sure the wind direction will be north or northeast.
During late October, temperatures usually are mild, but a southwest wind above eight mph will test sea legs at the jetty. November can be much tougher, adding cold temperatures to waves and sea spray. Fishing the jetty on such days is for those who love catching big specks more than physical comfort.
“To understand why the jetty is so good during October and November, you have to understand trout migrations,” said Goodwin, an eighth-generation Down Easter who worked his way to a college degree by shrimping, clamming, oystering and flounder-gigging. “Trout move south out of Albemarle and Pamlico Sound and out of Chesapeake Bay. There are three migration routes they take: an inside route from the northern sounds that follows the inner banks; a middle route through Pamlico, Core and Bogue (sounds); and an outside route down the beaches.
“(The jetty) is a stop they make for protection and food. There’s not much (structure) on the beaches for protection, so they hold for a period of time, rest and feed at the jetty before starting south again.”
Goodwin said the migration actually begins in September with the first northeast winds: the famed “mullet blow.” It peaks in October and November as every fish species headed toward warmer climes uses the jetty as a rest area, including baitfish.
“All kinds of baitfish,” Goodwin said, “from finger mullet to pinfish to small croakers.”
A key reason specks are catchable is they’re aggressive feeders, so there’s not much need to “match the hatch,” Goodwin said.
“I use an assortment of lures and mix them up to see what fish are feeding on that day,” Goodwin said. “In November, specks feed aggressively, expending a lot of energy, so they have to replenish that energy.”
He chooses light- to medium-action 6 ½- or 7-foot Star rods mated to Shimano or Penn spinning reels spooled with 8- to 10-pound braided line. For lures, Goodwin has a collection of jigs, primarily D.O.A. shrimp, curlytail or paddletail grubs, along with Sea Striker Gotcha curlytails and jerkbaits. Topwater lures rarely leave his tackle box because of wave action.
Although the jetty has a reputation of giving up large trout each fall, Goodwin said the ratio isn’t different than in the marshes, creeks and sheltered bays behind Atlantic Beach, Beaufort and Morehead City.
“I don’t know that the size and mix is any bigger than on the inside,” said Goodwin, whose personal best is a 6-pounder. “You’ve always got a mixture because of different year-classes. You just have greater odds of catching big ones (at the jetty) because 10 percent, no matter where you fish, are probably big ones, 5- to 6-pounders and larger. If you’re fishing where there are 1,000 specks versus 100 specks, you’ve got 100 big ones (at the jetty) and only 10 big ones inside. It’s just a matter of numbers.”
Goodwin also advised anglers to bring plenty of lures because “you will get hung up” on the rocks.
“If you’re not getting hung up and losing lures, you’re not fishing in the right spots,” he said.
HOW TO GET THERE/WHEN TO GO — From points west, follow US 70 east to the Atlantic Beach/Morehead City/Beaufort area. US 17 will get you to New Bern from points north and south; it meets US 70 there. Best fishing for speckled trout begins in September and cast last through November.
TACKLE/LURES — Medium-action spinning tackle, with 7-foot rods preferred and reels spooled with 15-pound braided line. Tie on a leadhead jig with a soft-plastic trailer: shrimp, curlytails or paddletails will all work. Some fishermen use Carolina rigs with live bait around the jetties. Whatever you use, bring plenty of terminal tackle and rigs because of hang-ups.
GUIDES/FISHING INFO — Bryan Goodwin, Native Guide Service, Harkers Island, 252-725-3961, www.nativeguide.net. Capt. Joe’s Bait & Tackle, Atlantic Beach, 252-222-0670, www.captainjoes.com. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Crystal Coast-Southern Outer Banks, North Carolina Tourist, Visitor and Convention Center, Morehead City, 800-786-6962 or www.sunnync.com.
MAPS — Capt. Segull’s Nautical Charts, 888-473-4855, www.captainsegullcharts.com; Sealake Fishing Guides, 800-411-0185, www.thegoodspots.com; Grease Chart, 800-326-3567, www.greasechart.com; DeLorme North Carolina Atlas & Gazetteer or DeLorme Topo USA, 800-561-5105 www.delorme.com.