Tidelines – October 25, 2018
Topsail needs some help, was the basic pitch from Capt. Mike Oppegaard of Native Son Guide Service, so he suggested we do an article to let people know that his home waters have plenty of fish to be caught. He wanted to do something to help everyone in the business, from guides to piers to tackle shops, so his hope was that a Tidelines column might encourage the fishing community to visit or return to Topsail and enjoy its pristine fishery.
The weather had just started to feel like fall, dropping into the 50s the night before, so my thoughts were on speckled trout as I pulled into his Hampstead driveway to hear about our plans for the morning. Mike’s plans were trout, too, and he had invited another local guide—Capt. Ray Brittain of Spring Tide Guide Service—to join and make our time on the water together more of a team promotional effort.
Two inshore guides fishing together on the same bayboat, in theory, means that I get to absorb double the fishing knowledge and insight, and while I did enjoy different perspectives (Ray is more of a river trout angler and Mike is more of a creek and bay trout angler), two guides also means double the bad jokes, double the funny stories, and double the friendly heckling.
We took a run north on the ICW, passing by docks falling into the water and houses with tarped roofs, but perhaps the most noticeable characteristic of post-Florence was the lack of boats on the water. We passed just one sailboat headed south before turning into a mainland creek.
As we idled in, Mike showed on his screen a deep hole in the back of the creek where he had caught trout the day before, and then Ray pointed to a grass bank that he likes but likes better on the falling tide. They both identified different pieces of productive structure, some obvious and some hidden, but today’s first target via trolling motor was a 200 yard stretch of oyster rocks with a handful of little sloughs running through the bars.
I had mentioned that I’m more comfortable throwing soft plastics for trout, mostly out of habit and an unwillingness to just commit to hard baits, so of course I was handed a MirrOlure MR17. I’m not sure it mattered today, though, because all three of us quickly started to hook trout just shy of the 14” minimum size.
That familiar trout thump is a timeless pleasure, whether you’re a novice or well-seasoned like Mike and Ray, so we kept casting, kept hooking, and kept releasing spike trout, enjoying each one just as much as the one before. The energy level on the boat was high, thanks to a seemingly unlimited number of trout, but somehow a consequence of steady action was the intellectual level of the conversations seemed to decline.
One story involved taking a minister from the mountains fishing and explaining to him what he had caught when he hooked a lizard fish. Another discussion of how to handle public relations ended up with playing YouTube videos of Dusty Rhodes giving a “Hard Times” speech. Then there was the connection made between wind knots and a scene from Pulp Fiction, as well as a middle-aged man’s perspective of Tinder v. Bumble.
And when I put my plastic too close to the oyster rocks and got hung up, they each immediately gave me the Billy-the-Ice-Cream-Man treatment, though Billy gets three strikes.
It’s hard to leave a hot trout bite, even when there are no keepers in the mix, but Mike and Ray wanted to try out some other spots they thought would be holding bigger fish. As we pulled back into the ICW and this time headed south, once again we saw maybe three boats along the way.
Mike and Ray explained that this result of the hurricane, not many boats on the water, offered both them (and their clients) an advantage. Even though the fall trout bite had started, the lack of boats on the water meant they could target areas that they hadn’t been able to fish in a long time. These were spots where boats often anchored, or areas of high traffic that kept trout in the area from actively feeding.
We stopped at a grass point that hosted some 6-9’ water depths and slacker current, and this time they specifically wanted to throw X-Raps. Mike and Ray each had the same approach when it came to X-Raps—twitch twice in a row and then give it a long pause. Don’t overwork the bait was the suggestion, and pretty quickly the twitch twice and pause technique brought Mike fast to our largest trout of the day, a 20” speck that put on a show of surface headshaking before disappearing and staying deep until boatside.
We landed a couple more keepers among the smaller trout, and then left the fish biting as we headed back to the ramp so that Mike could clean up before meeting an afternoon trip.
Of course Mike and Ray would like you to call them and book a trout trip of your own. They’re also targeting red drum, black drum, flounder, and false albacore these days, but speckled trout is their passion and the action they’d really like to put clients on this fall.
They aren’t just promoting themselves, though. They’re ambassadors for the whole Topsail region. Short term rentals are now reopened, as are all three beach strands and all three piers. Topsail Island in general, they offer, would love a chance to play host to anyone in the fishing community, as the island was perhaps the hardest hit of the coastal towns and needs help to get back to some sense of normalcy.
Capt. Mike “Hard Times” Oppegaard, of Native Son Guide Service, can be reached at (910) 233-8295 and www.nativesonguideservice.com. Capt. Ray “Honey Bunny” Brittain, of Spring Tide Guide Service, can be reached at (910) 330-7344 or on Facebook.
The way I see it, you’ve cleaned up your own yard and house, and probably have helped some of your neighbors clean up as well. So now you can continue to help others and put fish in the cooler while doing so.