Gary Hurley

Tidelines – November 15, 2012

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Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and with it comes that great fall tradition—speckled trout.

I’m not talking about holiday table fare (sign me up for the traditional oyster roast and a fried turkey) but rather the head-shaking, fast action of speckled trout fishing that arrives once the waters begin to cool down. And it was the thrill of the strike that led Fisherman’s Post to team up once again with Capt. Rob Koraly of Sandbar Safari Charters, this time for the Friendly City Speckled Trout Tournament.

The youngest in the Hurley house is only just over six months old, so a full day of trout fishing out of Swansboro took some negotiations with my wife. Her price was a Friday night girls’ night out (which was really another win for me as I could go to bed as early as I pleased—and without any guilt—the night before fishing). The alarm went off at 3:30 am, and I was on the road by 3:45, bought Dunkin Donuts breakfast croissants and biscuits a little after 5:00, and pulled into Rob’s driveway on time at 5:15.

While most boats in the tournament elected to stay fairly local and fish the waters of Queens Creek, White Oak River, and New River, our team decided that the rewards of Cape Lookout were easily worth the trek. The fall bite at the jetty is historical and a strong part of the local fishing culture, and we wanted to see what the rocks could produce in a season that was already boasting “epic” bites from Nags Head all the way down the North Carolina coast.

The Cape Lookout jetty, living up to its reputation as a famous speckled trout fishing locale, rewarded us approximately 250 times over for committing to the one hour-ish run by ocean from Bogue Inlet.

We took our spot midway down the rocks among the 20 or so boats that were already working the water, and our team quickly began to try and pattern the fish within our casting range. Our initial casts went to the rocks, parallel to the rocks, and away from the rocks. We also made sure to throw a variety of offerings, from live shrimp on corks, pinfish on Carolina rigs, and soft plastics on jigheads. For soft plastics we tried different colors and sizes, as well as different retrieve speeds, and quickly discovered that as many spikes as we wanted could be found directly under the boat.

Spikes (dinks, small specks, etc.) are fun, but not as much when you’re in a tournament. I think it was a dark-colored Gulp shrimp on the bottom just off the rocks that brought the first quality speck to the boat, and from that point on the trout literally continued to bite voraciously for the rest of the day.

A hot speckled trout bite, action where one cast after another gets slammed, is one of the great joys of saltwater fishing. I believe most speckled trout anglers have found themselves in one of those bites at some point in their lives. I’ve had days like it before with smaller trout, but on this day (and a tournament day, no less) we quickly lost count of how many 2+ lb. quality fish that were brought to the boat.

And if speckled trout fishing doesn’t really do it for you, then maybe I can sell you on our fishing day by mentioning the dozen or so red drum, the limit of gray trout, or the black drum and sheepshead that we also put in the cooler. Also ready for the fillet table were some of the near 3 lb. trout we had culled out to leave three big specks in the livewell, one weighing 4 lbs. and the other two a little over 3 lbs.

As Rob, Max, and I started the boat ride back to Casper’s for weigh-in, feeling fairly confident that we would place in the top five of the tournament, we took a moment to appreciate the day of fishing we had just enjoyed. No matter our finish in the tournament, we recognized, the three of us had created a strong fishing memory that we could enjoy long after the prize money was spent.

And it’s good that we put the day in perspective at the start of the run because those fish never made it to weigh-in. In the ICW just east of Broad Creek, Rob’s 150 four-stroke Yamaha decided rather abruptly that it wasn’t going to work a second longer. A terrible clanging noise was followed by strong amounts of smoke and oil everywhere, and suddenly we were dead in the water.

For Max and I, this was a fairly easy test. We were being asked to separate the day of fishing from the loss of the potential prize money check and still be thankful. For Rob, though, the test was more complicated. In addition to prize money, he also had to include the loss of an engine (and the loss of income from no longer having a working boat) in the equation.

Rob is genuinely smiling in the photo below, holding up the livewell specks at Osprey Oaks Marina after traveling via trolling motor power, and I think that genuine smile speaks volumes to his perspective.

And in the spirit of perspective, I’ll post another photo of Rob—one right after he opens up the mechanic’s repair bill.