In the dense air at sea level, dawn was starting to arrive. However, the fog was so thick an angler couldn’t cut through it with a filleting knife.
“It’s a perfect morning for speckled trout,” said captain Jamie Rushing, 41, who operates Seagate Charters. “I catch the biggest trout at sunrise, before the other boats get on the water. Today, because of the fog, we have a longer window to catch them without being seen.”
Rushing gets a jump on the fall speckled trout bite. While others are trying for other fish such as flounder, he is catching the speckled trout that arrive in late August and early September. Migratory runs of bait fish, which anglers call the mullet run, bring predatory fish like speckled trout with them. So Rushing casts lures that resemble mullet.
Casting a topwater lure near the bank, Rushing retrieved it while twitching his rod, imparting a flip-flop action to what anglers refer to as a topwater walk-the-dog lure. A speckled trout that weighed 4 1/2 pounds pounced on it.
“That’s a nice fish anytime of the year,” he said. “But most people don’t believe you can catch them until the water begins to chill down later on.”
Other anglers’ boats idled in place or motored slowly, waiting for the fog to dissipate so they could begin their excursions to distant hotspots when the trout were biting practically at their feet.
“Trout prefer noisy lures,” Rushing said. “The more noise a lure makes, the more aggressively they strike it. This is a Rapala Skitter Walk, which has a rattle inside of it. I also like using a suspending twitch bait called the Rapala Clackin’ Minnow. Its rattle is so loud that when I tested it in an above-ground swimming pool, I could hear it vibrate throughout the entire pool.”
The problem with topwater lures is that trout often miss the hooks. The angler rushes the hook-set and pulls the lure away from the fish.
“It takes nerves of steel to keep the lure walking all the way back to the boat when a trout is exploding water behind it,” he said. “But it is the most exciting way of catching them.”
Rushing also uses another innovative lure called a Sébile Stick Shad. It is partly filled with oil, which makes it buoyancy neutral. The sloshing of the oil also gives off a vibration that attracts strikes.
After catching several trout with the topwater lure, Rushing switched to casting the two subsurface lures. He ran his electric trolling motor, moving quietly along the bank, which is the same technique freshwater bass anglers rely on.
“I cast a topwater lure until the sun gets up,” he said. “Then I use a lure that goes just under the surface like the Clackin’ Minnow until about 8 o’clock before switching to another lure that runs 4 feet deep when the sun is high. You don’t have to fish any deeper than that because a trout bites best when it is in shallow water.”
As with freshwater bass fishing tackle, lure development is ongoing according to Tex Grissom, 55, who owns Tex’s Bait and Tackle in Wrightsville Beach.
“Everybody has an opinion on what lures work best for their fishing style,” he said. “I like the Skitter Walk and the MirrOlure Top Dog, Top Pug and She Pup, which are all topwater walk-the-dog lures. The topwater propeller lures were popular for a while but fell out of favor. They don’t seem to work as well for trout as they do for bass.”
Grissom agreed with Rushing that lures that shake, rattle and roll attract the most attention. When the water is choppy, topwater lures with rattles out-catch those that do not.
“But, when it’s really windy, it is better to go with a MirrOlure subsurface lure, such as the TT series with rattles. Another loud lure is the Rockport Rattler jig, which has a rattle inside it. You slip a soft plastic grub body in your favorite design and color and the rattle helps the fish find it.”
Another loud rig both anglers use is the popping float rig. They come in two basic designs. One has a concave float and the other has an oval float.
“I think anything that makes a lot of commotion makes the fish come to investigate,” Grissom said. “When you pop the concave faced float, it sounds just like a speckled trout busting bait on the surface and the fish is attracted to a soft plastic shrimp lure suspended beneath the float. The oval float is more subtle, but it is still a very loud sound, which some anglers say imitates the sound of a shrimp flipping.”
One thing that is too loud for a speck to stand is a boat engine. Once the fog lifted and boats started zooming past, Rushing stowed his rods and headed offshore to catch other species.
“Once the boats start moving, I move to quieter places,” he said. “Not only does it scatter the fish, I don’t want everyone else to find my secret fishing holes.”