Fish Post

Tidelines – July 19, 2018

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I brought Nate Rice, Fisherman’s Post’s new Managing Editor, on a trip to the Neuse to catch topwater stripers thinking he would be that guy, the guy on the boat that makes everyone else look like a better angler. Nate had never caught a fish on topwater before, so I thought this would be a no-brainer, but somehow I ended up being that guy.

When we pulled into New Bern a little before 7:00 am to grab a breakfast biscuit before heading to Lawson’s Creek boat ramp to meet up with Capt. James Holloway of Neuse River Adventures, Nate realized that he had forgot his wallet and his sunglasses. I took this as a strong indicator that I had invited the right guy to join me.

Then my confidence was further stapled when we pulled up on some bridge structure in the New Bern area mere minutes after pulling away from the ramp—on my second cast I had a striper blow up and come tight on my topwater, meanwhile Nate wasn’t able to get off the first cast as he struggled to get a treble hook out of his shorts, an accident that happened pulling the rod out of the rod holder.

James’ plan for the day, other than the treble in the shorts, had been to play the northeast wind conditions by starting on the south side of the river. His thought was that the wind would pick up over the course of the morning, so we had better start on the south side in case it became un-fishable later.

Gary Hurley (right) with a 26″ striper caught on a topwater near some bridge structure in the Neuse River. He was fishing with Capt. James Holloway (left) of Neuse River Adventures out of New Bern.

For topwater, he likes the Heddon One Knocker Spook. It’s just a little bit bigger than the Super Spook Jr. and has one heavy rattle in it. You can cast it a really long ways, it makes a lot of noise, and fish key in on it.

“In addition, the Heddon is more uniform in shape, more torpedo-shaped,” James explained. “They cast well even in windy conditions, very little tumbling, and it’s an easier lure to teach someone to walk the dog as it cuts through the water easier.”

I was already a believer, as I guided my 26” striper into James’ waiting landing net.

James’ style is definitely run-and-gun, as he doesn’t see the point in spending too much time at a place where there isn’t any action, so after a few more casts without any blowups, we headed down the river to some submerged pilings. Our first set of submerged pilings didn’t produce, so we quickly moved to a second set, but they didn’t seem to hold any fish either.

Our third set of pilings, a dock that still exists but used to be much longer before storms took their toll, had fish ready to cooperate. This was the spot where Nate brought in his first topwater fish and I started to take over any “that guy” limelight.

James had been coaching Nate that morning, like he does with many of his clients that don’t have a lot of experience with “walking the dog,” and the initial instruction has to do with the arm and popping the tip of the rod. Most people, James tells me, want to use their whole arm instead of using a slight wrist action. Then he gets them to work on less reeling and more wrist, using any reeling action to just gather the slack from wrist movements.

Another piece of advice that James gave both of us, advice that came in handy when Nate’s first striper boiled on the bait a couple of times without really committing, was to always keep working the topwater. If you get a blow up, don’t stop. Always keep the bait moving because, in James’ experience, where a red drum may hit a topwater on the pause, stripers don’t want it to stop. If you pause the lure in the middle of the attack, the striper will go away.

Nate got his fish, and while I was enjoying steady topwater action, putting several fish in the boat before a quick release, I was also starting my run at infamy.

Anyone can make a cast and have the bail not be open, but not everyone can do it five times (most people have a better learning curve than that), and not everyone can manage to break their lure off all five times. I tried to control the narrative by reminding everyone that I was putting the most fish in the boat, but it was clear that my arguments made me more pathetic.

Nate Rice (right) with his first topwater fish, a striper caught on a Heddon One Knocker Spook over some submerged pilings in the New Bern area. He was fishing with Gary Hurley (left) and Capt. James Holloway (not pictured) of Neuse River Adventures.

Our morning continued like it had started, with James taking us to a spot, Nate and I making several casts, and if we caught some fish we stayed a little longer, but if we didn’t catch fish then we moved on. Our half day generated at least a dozen stripers on topwater, as well as a number of small flounder and one red drum when we decided to throw soft plastics off a grass and shell bank a little further down the river.

Capt. James Holloway, of Neuse River Adventures, will be catching stripers (and red drum) on topwaters through the summer. A popular option he offers is an evening trip. You meet at Lawsons Creek in New Bern around 3:00 pm and fish until dark. The run is very short, so you’re fishing in no time. He targets the afternoon’s shady side of the river as it lends itself to a better topwater bite and the shade also provides a cooler air temperature for his anglers’ comfort.

Then like all guides in the area, August and September are all about citation red drum trips.

If you’ve never caught fish on topwaters, then James is your guy. He’s a great coach (Nate) and very patient (me). You can find out more information by visiting or give him a call at (252) 259-7616.

And if you’re thinking you need a guy on the boat to make everyone else look better, then give me a call once you book your date with James. I’ll check my calendar.