Play a trick on a Pamlico Sound trout this fall (2022)

Hard baits or soft-plastics, work them correctly, and lures can be the equal of live bait when it comes to speckled trout.

Jeff Burleson

November 01, 2014 at 7:00 am | Mobile Reader | Print

Play a trick on a Pamlico Sound trout this fall (2)
Jeff Burleson

Play a trick on a Pamlico Sound trout this fall.

The fall fishing season across North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound offers ideal water conditions for speckled trout, which respond to falling water temperatures by becoming aggressive and feeding heavily. It’s the time of year that anglers often trade in live bait for artificials.

Fishermen have been using lures since the ancient Romans made tied together the first prototypes out of feathers, bronze and lead more than 2,000 years ago. But it wasn’t until the early 20th century when the Heddon and Pflueger debuted their first commercial production lineup. Today, there are endless sizes, shapes, materials and colors of available to target every finned foe on the planet.

Speckled trout are about the perfect gamefish to test with artificials, and fall offers just about the best conditions imaginable. Mitchell Blake of Fish IBX Charters is one of an number of guides and fishermen who turn to artificials for trout in the fall.

“Fishing can be as good as it gets this time of year,” said Blake (252-495-1803). “Every fall, fish will go on a feeding frenzy as bait patterns begin to change and the days become shorter; that prepares fish to feed, with cooler conditions arriving any day.

“Fish are feeding in the late fall to put on body mass and to sustain the winter season so they don’t become concrete in the bottom of the fishing holes.”

According to Blake, trout will migrate to deeper places in the rivers and creek channels looking for refuge and a concentrated source of food. Typically, November weather is erratic, with 70-degree days followed by sub-freezing temperatures. Trout will routinely shift to different places in the water column, following concentrations of baitfish. Blake relies heavily on his electronics to identify baitfish schools and to establish a productive pattern at a certain depth and/or habitat type.

“When I lock in the zone that produces fish, I will fish it thoroughly and duplicate (the) technique in surrounding creeks,” said Blake, who starts figuring out which lures will work that particular day. Since the primary diet of Pamlico Sound specks trout is menhaden and mullet, baitfish imitations rank high on his list.

“If you see baitfish, match it and fish it,” said Blake, who prefers soft-plastic baits in various sizes and shapes, his favorites being swimbaits and jerk shad-type baits from Yee Ha, Z-Man and Lunker City.

“A Yee Ha Mr. Waggs pulled on a straight retrieve will produce the largest trout in the area. And the Lunker City jerk shad catches trout in every body of water I have ever fished in eastern North Carolina,” Blake said.

Dave Stewart of Knee Deep Custom Charters out of Minnesott Beach carries a tackle box full of hard and soft baits when he leaves the boat ramp in the fall, choosing certain baits according to water depth.

“I tend to use the hard plastics like MirrOlures and Rapalas in shallower water up to 6 or 8 feet,” said Stewart (252-249-1786), “and I use soft-plastic D.O.A. Cal jigs in deeper water.”

When the water cools in the fall, he fishes mostly in the backs of inland creeks and up the rivers due to the warmer, more-stable water temperatures.

“I fish D.O.A. Cal Tail and Jerk Shad rigged on a 1/8- or ¼-ounce in the deep channels with a shallow, dark bottom close by,” Stewart said.

On warm days, Stewart targets trout in shallow water with a Rapala X-Rap in sizes 7 and 9 or one of the many staple MirrOlures, such as the popular 17 MR or the old style 38 MR.

“The MirrOlure 38 MR is an old-style lure a lot of guys probably don’t know about, but is still a great lure. I let it sink and pop it high and let fall working back to boat,” he said.

The X-Rap series suspends and still carries the patented wounded baitfish wobble first developed by Lauri Rapala in the 1930s on the shores of Finland’s Lake Paijanne. Stewart is definitely a fan of these types of suspending lures, and he works the X-Raps with a walk-the-dog action, but under the surface of the water.

Even though the trout bite is often hot in November and fish are known for being aggressive, baitfish aren’t exactly speed racers, what with the water cooling. Most everything is moving more slowly, and the baitfish are not any different. If anglers intend on catching plenty of fish, the lure’s speed should be adjusted to accommodate the trout’s expectations.

“What you think is slow, slow down some more,” says Stewart said.

Speckled trout are inherently lazy and will not travel too far to eat. They like their food to be slow swimmers and close by. On the other hand, they are looking to fill up as fast as possible as winter approaches. Specks are also noted as reaction feeders, so a slow presentation with a few erratic movements is a natural one.

Also, unique colors, sounds and shapes will grab a fish’s attention. Lures come in a wide range of color combinations, and most of them look very unnatural. In fact, most of the best trout colors are bright and gaudy. For Stewart, it is the color and sounds that gets the fish’s attention, and the profile of the lure that confirms it is something worth eating.

“Bright colors and rattles inside the lure draw attention to the bait, and the profile seals the deal,” he said.


HOW TO GET THERE/WHEN TO GO — Boat ramps that offer access the Neuse and Pamlico rivers and the Pamlico Sound are scattered throughout the region. The best resource is: The mouth of the Neuse is most-easily accessed from Oriental’s Green Creek Landing; the Pamlico River from public ramps at South Creek and Smith Creek in Aurora, and Blounts Creek on the south side of the river and Bath Creek in Bath. The best speckled trout fishing will begin when the water temperature falls into the low 60s — usually from mid-October through December, with November the peak. Look for creeks that have 6 to 15 feet of water in their channels.

BEST LURES/TECHNIQUES — Both hard- and soft-plastic lures are effective in the fall, with artificial shrimp a good option any time of year. During warmer periods of the fall, trout will sometimes move out of the deep channels and feed on shallower shoals. In shallow water, everything from shallow-running crankbaits to jerk shad, swimbaits, and artificial shrimp will trigger a bite. When the water is cold, fish will hold in deeper water, and deeper-running lures are preferred such as grubs, swimbaits and free-lined artificial shrimp. Fish all baits slowly. Lures should be slowly near the bottom. Soft-plastic baits should be fished on 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jigheads. A variety of color schemes can be used. A twitch-and-pause retrieve is recommended.

TACKLE/GEAR — Medium- to medium-light spinning outfits are recommended for casting making long casts with light lures. Spinning outfits spooled with 8- to 10-pound braid is the choice, with 2 to 3 feet of 10- to 12-pound fluorocarbon leader. long distances. Eight to 10 pound braided line is still preferred as the parent line choice with two to three foot of 10 to 12 pound fluorocarbon leader attached to the terminal end to the lures or baits. Rods in 6 1/2- to 7-foot lengths are needed for long casts.

FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Capt. Dave Stewart, Knee Deep Custom Charters, 252-249-1786,; Capt. Mitchell Blake, Fish IBX Charters, 252-495-1803,; Minnesott Beach Bait and Tackle, 252-249-1786. See also Guides and Charters in Classifeds.

ACCOMMODATIONS — Oriental Tourism Website,; Inner Banks of NC,; Terri McManus Vacation Rentals, and; North Carolina Travel and Tourism,

MAPS — Capt. Segull’s Nautical Charts, 888-473-4855,; N.C.’s Coastal Boating Guide,; GMCO’s Chartbook of North Carolina, 888-420-6277,

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