A heavy rain had fallen the evening before, wetting the docks and parking area of the N.C. Wildlife Commission’s Sneads Ferry Boating Access Area. Dawn revealed a still-overcast sky with clouds surfing overhead on a fresh wind.
An angler backed his boat trailer down the ramp and began loading his boat with gear for the coming day’s fishing trip. Pulling the plug that drained the inner hull released a torrent of water that lasted for several minutes.
“I don’t know how much water got in there,” said Allen Jernigan, a 36-year-old fishing guide from Holly Ridge who operates Breadman Ventures. “But, it rained 5 inches last night. The fishing will either be very good or it will shut down completely.”
Jernigan’s niche in the fishing world is helping his clients catch some of the biggest speckled trout to be hooked anywhere in the state. Red drum and flounder also round out the mixed bag on his fishing trips. He is especially adept at catching speckled trout and red drum on top-water lures, which endears him to freshwater bass fishermen making their first trips to the coast.
“I fish MirrOlure Top Dogs, Top Dog Jrs., Top Pups and She Dogs,” he said. “The She Dog usually works the best when it’s windy because it is the noisiest. The biggest difference in this line of lures is the different noises their rattles make. I never use one that doesn’t have a rattle.”
The lures mimic a wounded mullet. The angler imparts the flip-flopping action by alternately turning the reel handle and twitching the rod tip in a retrieve most popularly called “walking the dog.”
Jernigan’s 12-year-old son, Garritt, slipped on his floatation vest and held the boat at the dock while his father parked the pickup. While many anglers envy the life of a professional guide’s child, Garritt said it had been two months since he had been fishing with his father.
“I would love to go more often,” he said. “But during the summer, my dad is really busy.”
Garritt had passed the summer playing video games at night and sleeping during the day. He was soon to begin playing football and has always enjoyed playing basketball. In those respects, he was no different than any other 12-year-old boy. However, when it came to fishing accomplishments, he has some nice catches.
“I caught a flounder that was 31 inches long,” he said. “But it was thin, so it only weighed about 9 pounds. I have caught lots of trout. But what I really like catching are red drum because they pull the hardest.”
Jernigan fired up the 90 hp outboard engine and took off in his 18-foot Mako boat, which is not much different than the typical freshwater striper angler fishes from, and headed up New River. Stopping near a bank that cut the wind, he saw three boats already there.
“That’s a crowd,” he said. “They are all trying to get out of the wind. We will go somewhere else.”
Jernigan fished several different places. He sneaked into position by using an electric trolling motor then switched down a Power Pole anchoring system to keep the boat in place. He cast a topwater lure while Garritt tossed a jig with a soft plastic trailer. The first fish Garritt hooked and landed was a flounder.
“It is too small to keep,” he said. “But I know some big ones are around.”
Hop-scotching around the river, fishing points and flats all day long netted only a couple of red drum too small to keep along with the undersized flounder. Finally, Jernigan saw some baitfish streaking away from a predator.
“There is a fish over there,” he said. “It could be a trout, but it is probably a red drum.”
A few cast later, a big splash announced that a big red drum had pounced on a top-water lure. The battle lasted a few minutes until Garritt corralled it inside a cavernous landing net.
“The fish are just beginning to recover from that bad storm last night,” Jernigan said. “Storms can turn the fish on or shut it down, which was the cast today. Now it’s picking up and it will be probably back up to speed again by tomorrow.”
Garritt, exhausted from fishing 12 hours in rough water, was lying down across the transom. He took a nap while his father made a few final casts before they headed home.