Gary Hurley

Tidelines – May 25, 2017

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You may have a plan in your mind about how you want an upcoming fishing trip to play out, but when that day comes around you need to be able to modify or even replace those plans to better take advantage of the conditions that are present. And that’s exactly what Capt. Mitchell Blake, of FishIBX Charters, did when we arranged a fishing trip over a month in advance to celebrate the upcoming end of my teaching semester.

Mitchell’s original plan was for us to head to Weldon on the Roanoke River to cash in on the annual high-volume striper fishery, but recent rains combined with dam-released water had the area a little too flushed for throwing artificials, so he opened up the FishIBX “bag-of-tricks” to see what our best option would be.

We could have headed to the Neuse River to target red drum, stripers, and trout, or we could have headed to the coast to look for cobia cruising the nearshore waters. However, it’s still a little early to get on big schools of puppy drum in the Neuse, and our Monday to fish was a little too windy to sight fish off the coast.

Capt. Mitchell Blake, of FishIBX, with a striper caught on the fly using a streamer pattern. The post-spawn striper was in 2′ of water along a shoreline in the Pamlico.

So Mitchell determined our best option for that day would be to target stripers in the Pamlico River, another high-volume fishery this time of year as these post-spawn fish are headed back down the river and feeding voraciously, perhaps trying to gain back the body mass and energy they expended during the spawning process.

Once decided on Pamlico stripers, the strategy was straight forward—find the bait and we will find the fish.

We headed out of Blounts Creek boating access area and wound our way down the Pamlico a little before settling on a piece of shoreline that typically holds bait this time of year, and the showering pods of bait—to the port, to the starboard, in front, and behind—as we trolling motored across a stretch of 1-3’ water, quickly confirmed that Mitchell’s instincts about bait being present were correct.

The bait was a mix of baby menhaden and gizzard shad fry, and all of the commotion signaled that aggressive stripers were in the area, too. Mitchell handed me a medium-light rod with a Yee Ha swim bait tied on, and I managed about three cranks on the steady retrieve before my line went tight and I was fast to my first striper of the day.

I brought my 18” striper into the boat, got the hook out and released the fish, checked my soft plastic to make sure it still sat straight on the hook, and then sent my blue and white Yee Ha back to the same area, just a few feet off the bank and near some reed grass.

There was a bump, a second bump, and then a third bump, this one with commitment. On my second cast of the day, I was tight to my second striper of the day.

Mitchell, who had been politely waiting to make sure I was set up for success, saw what he needed to see in that second fish on the second cast, and he brought out the fly rod and made his way to the front of the boat.

Though the fly couldn’t keep pace with the numbers I was tallying on the spinning outfit, Mitchell steadily landed striper after striper throwing a new streamer pattern he’d been experimenting with.

Capt. Mitchell Blake, of FishIBX, with a striper caught on a Yee Ha swim bait. He was fishing a shoreline along the Pamlico River.

As the morning wore on and the fish tally grew, we started playing with different colors to see if color mattered. It did, but only a little.

“Over the years blue/white and chartreuse/white have been good everywhere on stripers,” Mitchell told me as he handed me a rod with a new color of soft plastic attached. “From lakes to the Roanoke River to the Pamlico to the Pungo to the Neuse, those colors have always been kind of a go to.”

And while the orange/black I tried did hook a few fish, as did the pink, it was clear that the blue/white and chartreuse/white were better producers.

We both lost count of the number of fish we released and decided to make a few exploratory stops on the way back to the boat ramp. A couple of docks, a stump field, and another stretch of shoreline or two produced modest results, but after the blistering action of our morning it wasn’t enough to keep us on the water.

In June, Mitchell will shift off of stripers and start chasing flounder and red drum. He has two other guides working with FishIBX now, so he can cover many different river systems at the same time, always focusing on whatever is the upcoming, happening fishery.

Around Father’s Day the tarpon start showing up, and, unlike other guides in the area, Mitchell loves to try and put clients on a tarpon bite. The tarpon will move out in August about the same time that the citation red drum move in.

Any one of these trips with FishIBX could be a summer highlight, so I encourage you to reach out to Mitchell and see what type of trip he can put together for you. He may suggest meeting in New Bern or Washington, or maybe even Atlantic Beach. Be sure, though, to ask about the FishIBX fish camp in Oriental, and find comfort in knowing that you’re working with a guide whose “bag-of-tricks” covers numerous river systems and coastal areas, each one increasing your chances of a successful, good time on the water.