Gary Hurley

Tidelines – November 17, 2016

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There are a lot of signals that the holiday season is approaching, and one of the more fun indicators is the advent of a fast and furious speckled trout bite up and down our coast.

This year seems to be a little different than the last few years, though, because instead of telling ourselves that it’s fun to catch 100 spikes in a day (which it is), this year the trout seem to be a larger class of fish.

Starting about two days after Hurricane Matthew, the trout bite was on, so when Capt. Mike Oppegaard, of Native Son Guide Service out of Topsail, called to tell me that he had been on quality fish for well over a week, I was quick to book with him.

“I don’t know where they (the trout) came from,” Mike told me as we slowly moved south down the ICW a little before sunrise, headed to a creek behind Rich’s Inlet. “Maybe the fish were pushed in here from somewhere else. Maybe it was the hurricane. Or maybe it’s some of the management working.”

The sun still had yet to show when we power-poled down near the bank of a small creek that fed into a larger marsh area. We were facing a part of the creek Mike knew had a deep hole, and that deep hole had been holding plenty of trout stacked up on the incoming tide waiting for bait fish to be pushed through.

Predictability in fishing is a wonderful thing when it happens, and it happened for Mike and me. The trout were there waiting for our soft plastics, and they were the typical size fish that Mike had been catching—most in the 18-22” range.

Capt. Mike Oppegaard (right), of Native Son Guide Service out of Topsail, and Gary Hurley with some of the speckled trout they caught on artificials in a creek near New Topsail Inlet.

Capt. Mike Oppegaard (right), of Native Son Guide Service out of Topsail, and Gary Hurley with some of the speckled trout they caught on artificials in a creek near New Topsail Inlet.

As it goes with a good trout bite, color didn’t seem to matter much. Mike was liking the Z-Man MinnowZ, and I think I started with one in the Space Guppy color, then after a few fish tried Opening Night with the same success, while Mike pulled fish in on chartreuse and silver.

More importantly than the color, he told me, was the action of the bait in the water column. He likes to use the 1/8 oz. jighead because it falls slow and keeps the bait suspended off the bottom (as opposed to quicker fall of the 1/4 oz. jighead). The way he explains it is that while a red drum is hanging out on the bottom and feeding on the bottom, speckled trout are sitting on the bottom but looking up for something to swim by.

So whether it’s a soft plastic on a 1/8 oz. jighead or a suspending hard bait, he finds the most success by keeping the bait midway in the water column.

We caught plenty of fish, watched the sun come up, welcomed a kayak to pull in near us (albeit a little more near than we expected), and finally thought it time to try a few more locations.

After working some shelly banks just off the ICW and a little to the north where we poked at both trout and red drum, Mike put the boat on plane and took us to a more populated creek close to New Topsail Inlet.

This creek was bigger (wider with more water moving through and at a faster pace), and Mike liked this creek better on the outgoing tide. We idled past a number of boats near the mouth and then used the trolling motor to move past a few more boats further in before deciding on a vacant creek bend.

Mike used the power-pole again, this time holding the boat on the slower current side of the creek but positioning the bow so we could easily cast out to the deeper holes on the swifter current side of the creek.

This time, however, the fish weren’t predictable. We put cast after cast on both sides and up and down a little rip coming off of a feeder creek, but no trout were home. Mike raised the power-pole, let the tide take us about 15 feet further up the bank, and then anchored again.

What a difference 15 feet can make. Mike and I each brought back two trout on our first two casts, and all four trout were among our biggest of the day.

This is Mike’s fifth year as a full-time guide, but he grew up in Topsail Beach (his family used to own Topsail Sound Pier) so he considers his backyard to be everything from New River down to Rich’s Inlet.

I suggest you, too, welcome in the holidays with Capt. Mike Oppegaard of Native Son Guide Service by casting artificials for trout in the south Topsail area. Or if Thanksgiving and Christmas get too busy for you, Mike will also be trouting and sight casting for red drum in the clearer waters of January, February, and March.

So you could even extend the holiday season by using Mike to welcome in Martin Luther King Day, Valentine’s Day, or St. Patrick’s Day?