CAROLINA BEACH — Several boats were anchored along a sandy bank near Carolina Beach, rolling waves rocking them from side to side while the anglers standing inside fought to maintain their balance.
The fishermen were casting and retrieving their lures over and over again. Most of the casts were futile. Then suddenly, one raised a rod tip to set the hook. After a short struggle, he dipped a net into the water and landed a silvery fish.
The fish was a speckled trout, also known as a spotted sea trout. Steve McWilliams, a 58-year-old grid technician for Progress Energy, had caught the third of his four-fish limit.
“It’s the first time I’ve been fishing for specks this year,” he said recently. “Last year, they were always too short, around 13 ½ inches long. Today, I’ve caught three keepers, a 14½-, a 16- and a 17 ½-incher.”
McWilliams said he was fishing with a Berkley Gulp! Smelt on a jig head. He said it was a shad-tail type of scented soft lure. He used a medium-action spinning rod and reel spooled with 12-pound test monofilament line to cast the lightweight lure in the strong wind.
“Their tails are thicker so they hold up better than twisty-tailed grubs,” he said. “That helps when there are lots of pinfish and bluefish around to bite off the tails.”
McWilliams said achieving a solid anchor was difficult. A southeasterly wind and strong current kept the anchor from getting a grip on the sandy bottom. His boat was an 18-foot center console style, but lots of other watercraft, from johnboats to ocean-going cabin boats, were anchored in the waterways for miles around the town.
The speckled trout limit is four fish per day having a minimum length of 14 inches. McWilliams said a closed season a couple of years ago combined with increasing the size limit and decreasing the creel limit has helped the fishing improve.
“For someone like me to be able to catch keeper specks so quickly, it’s obvious that the restrictions of the past few years have paid off,” he said.
Fred Davis and his friend, Ricky Kelly, were fishing nearby in Davis’ 19 1/2-foot Triton center console boat. Davis said he also had trouble getting his anchor to hold.
“We caught a limit of speckled trout,” said Davis, 59, who works for Coca-Cola and lives in Wilmington. “But we don’t keep them. I fish for flounder, mostly, because I like eating them. I usually don’t eat speckled trout.”
Just then, Kelly set the hook in a speckled trout more than 16 inches long. He played the fish to the boat, then unhooked it and released it.
“I was using a green MirrOlure,” said Kelly, a shooting preserve manager from Atkinson, about 30 miles north of Wilmington. “The specks like different colors and I catch them with lures that are silver, gold and green. I also apply coloring to my lures that you can get in a tackle shop. You don’t know what color they might hit on a certain day.”
“They bite some days and on other days, they don’t,” Davis said. “I’ve caught them when it’s raining or sleeting and on sunny days. They might bite an hour and then they just quit. You just never know.”