Just a few yards into a small creek off Rose Bay, near Swan Quarter in Hyde County, the mud trails of several puppy drum that spooked from Capt. Richard Andrews’ boat passing nearly silently overhead gave away their presence. Andrews immediately stopped the trolling motor and deployed his Power-Pole to stop the boat.
“I didn’t expect those fish to be this far out in this creek,” Andrews said. “This time of year, they usually hold in a little pocket around the next bend. The water temperatures may have warmed a little more than I thought for them to have moved this far. The good news is if they are active enough to be out here, they are probably looking for food and should be ready to eat. Let’s get ready and see.”
Andrews, who runs Tar-Pam Guide Service out of his home in Washington, lifted several medium-light spinning outfits from the rod holders, all rigged with Z-Man soft plastic baits. Moving slowly and carefully up the creek, he said to be prepared to cast just out from a small pocket around the bend as soon as possible — in front and not into it to keep from spooking any drum that might be in there.
Joey VanDyke, a charter captain from Frisco who was tagging along as a friend of Andrews, cast first and landed his MinnowZ just beyond the pocket and twitched it to start his retrieve. A fish hammered it hard as it settled after the first twitch, and suddenly Van Dyke’s rod bowed almost double and the small reel squealed in agony as the fish headed up the creek.
“Wow, you were right on that one,” VanDyke said. “I’m not sure I got it back to the edge before this guy grabbed it. He’s feeling pretty solid, too.”
The drum made several runs before VanDyke was able to lead it to Andrews’ landing net.
“This one’s pretty nice and definitely in the middle of the slot,” Andrews said. “Does anyone want fresh red drum for supper?”
When the response was affirmative, Andrews slid it into the livewell to join a couple of trout that were already there from earlier in the morning.
“Y’all cast right on up there, and let’s catch some more,” Andrews said. “I didn’t see fish scattering across the creek, so this fish didn’t spook them.”
The next cast landed a little farther out in the creek, but it didn’t matter. Once again, after a single twitch, another fish struck, another rod bent and another reel screamed as it gave up line. This fish ran back towards the pocket and suddenly, muddy streaks headed in every direction.
Another drum and one speckled trout from the same shallow creek wound up in the livewell before the action slowed. After 10 minutes without a strike, Andrews made a move.
“If they were that far out in that creek, I’m going to check a few other places closer to open water,” Andrews said. “Something has them moving and feeding pretty well, so we’ll just play along.”
At the next stop, Andrews passed out a rod rigged with a MinnowZ, another with a ShrimpZ under a Cajun Thunder float and kept a MR 17 MirrOdine for himself. He said the bay was a little deeper, and although the water would be a degree or two warmer, the lures should still be fished slowly.
VanDyke struck pay dirt again on his first cast. This time the second strike came before the first one was netted; Andrews had put his rod in a rod holder to get the net, and it suddenly bent over, the reel screaming in protest.
“It doesn’t get much better than this unless there are three on a once,” Andrews said. “Cast up there off the bow and see if we can score a triple.”
The fish gods were obviously smiling, as the third fish hit before the first was netted. Unfortunately, with this run there was just too much excitement in the small bay, and it exploded with muddy trails of spooked red drum as dozens raced away in every direction, some so close to the boat they could be seen clearly. After netting the three reds, Andrews exhaled loudly and smiled broadly, then eased the boat out into a larger bay.
“They way those fish were smoking out of there, they probably aren’t along this first bank, but let’s start here to be sure and we’ll fish all the way around it,” Andrews said. “Concentrate on getting your lures right up next to the grass, especially around any grass that sticks out from the bank or any pockets up into the grass. Don’t move the baits back out quickly, but try to twitch them vertically a few inches and let them fall. The strikes should come on the fall or right after those plastics hit bottom.”
About a hundred yards around the bay, a point stuck out a few yards, and a red on one side of it wanted the ShrimpZ under the popping cork, while a red on the other side nailed the MirrOdine.
Not every grass point around the bay held fish, but more than half did, and the reds hit every lure offered.
HOW TO GET THERE — Hyde County is mostly rural, with only a few towns on the northwest side of Pamlico Sound: Belhaven, Swan Quarter and Englehard. The main highway that accesses the area is US 264. It peels off US 64 a few miles east of Raleigh and runs through Wilson, Greenville and Washington on its way along the western side of Pamlico Sound all the way to Manteo. Five public boat ramps are between Belhaven and Englehard, all on or close to US 264: the Rose Bay ramp beside US 264/NC 45 a few miles west of NC 94, the Swan Quarter Ramp next to NC 45 near the Swan Quarter-Ocracoke ferry terminal, the Hydeland Canal Ramp off US 264 just west of its intersection with NC 94, and the Englehard ramp next to US 264 in Englehard. Smaller ramps are in Germantown, Mackleys, Sladesville, Rose Bay, Oyster Bay, Swan Quarter, Gull Rock and Nebraska. Many of these ramps are unimproved, and some require a launch fee.
WHEN TO GO — Good fishing for red drum, black drum and speckled trout can be found along the western side of Pamlico Sound most of the year. During the winter, if you can locate a school of red drum, they are usually hungry and ready to bite when located. The fishing picks up as March progresses and sunny weather becomes more consistent.
TACKLE/LURES— Most fishermen will have the best success with 6 1/2- to 7 1/2-foot, medium-light to medium action spinning outfits. of medium light to medium action. Similar baitcasting will work fine for fishermen who are proficient casting them. Spool reels with 10- to 20-pound braided line, which is incredibly sensitive and doesn’t stretch for a good hookset. A short piece of monofilament leader should be attached, with the lure attached to the leader with a loop knot to allow it to move more naturally. A combination of Z-Man soft-plastic baits and MirrOlure hard-plastic baits will usually produce plenty of reds or trout. Pinfish and Houdini are productive spring colors. A scent additive like Pro-Cure can help fish locate lures being retrieved slowly.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Capt. Richard Andrews, 252-945-9715, www.tarpamguideservice.com; Capt. Joey Van Dyke, Fingeance Sportfishing Charters, 252-475-0402, www.outerbanksfishing.org; Radcliffe Marine, 252-943-3923, www.radcliffemarine.com. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Lodging options are limited, but several motels operate around Lake Mattamuskeet: Carawan’s Motel and Cabins, 252-926-5861, www.carawans.com; Hyde-Away Hotel, Englehard, 252-926-8101; The Hotel Engelhard, Englehard, 252-925-2001, www.hotelengelhard.com; Jeannette’s Lodge, Englehard, 252-925-1461; Hyde County Chamber of Commerce, 888-493-3826, www.hydecountychamber.org.
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.