With a coworker and a new fishing bud, I headed down to New Bern, NC with visions of speckled seatrout, striped bass, red drum, chain pickerel, and largemouth in my head. All things considered, we did alright.
We left DC at 7PM on a Friday, and arrived at our AirBNB by 2AM. Along the way, I learned that North Carolina has more deer than people, and Carolina black bear are fans of late-night jogging down country roads.
The next morning we woke to beautiful weather: Sun, temperatures rapidly climbing into the 50’s, and low winds. We made a manly meal, scarfed it down, and hit the road to meet with Randy the kayak man.
Randy was a transplant from Pittsburgh, obvious at the first “yinz”, but was quick to get us set up with a few kayaks. After giving us water, maps, and suggestions on where to fish, we slid into a non-descript creek off the Neuse River.
With the wind picking up, we headed towards the mouth of the creek, and saw a few fish swirling on top. Casting along the shoreline, in the channel, and around fallen timber, we were blanked. We headed into a sandbar at the mouth of the creek to eat and strategize.
While eating, we saw fish mulling in the shallows, followed by a school of hickory shad and small striped bass that started blitzing bait around us. Short casts and tiny Clouser minnows in size 8 caught fish, including a couple hook ups to very large shad that threw the hook.
The action eventually slowed, and with a few more hours of daylight, we headed up the creek to try new water.
With the warmth of the day (now in the 60’s), the dark, tannin-stained water looked dead, but underneath juvenile fish from all different species were feeding. Using a floating line, I personally caught a dozen striped bass to 18″ and a sea trout, while my fishing buds took red drum and flounder.
As the sun dropped lower on the horizon, the action stopped (outside a couple micro-sized striped bass that were snack-size to the earlier fish), and the air grew cold. We paddled back to Randy, packed up, and headed back to the cottage for a dinner of steaks, potatoes, and whisky.
The next day, with a couple of hours before we had to get on the road, we borrowed kayaks at our cottage to hunt largemouth and pickerel. The tiny creek across from our cottage was full of them (something I experienced a couple years earlier), but with the colder weather, they weren’t active. Blanked, we headed back in, and drove the 5.5 hours back to DC.
The Neuse River winter fishery is special. The fish come into shallow creeks to warm up with the heat of the day, and without tidal fluctuations (there are no tide changes here) the action is entirely dependent on wind and weather. Catch a day with light winds and bright sun, you can have a blast in the middle of winter. And when you get tired of drum, trout, and stripers, you can fish micro-creeks for bass and pickerel. Not too shabby.