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"Tight Lines, Bent Rods, and Screamin' Drags!"

Crystal Coast Inshore and Nearshore Fishing Charters with Captain Will Jones
 

No. 1: Red Drum

Prime time: May - December

   This is the Captain's favorite.  Red Drum, or redfish as people call them in other areas, are North Carolina's state fish and they are available here year-round.  They can be caught in a wide variety of ways in many different scenarios and settings.  You can catch them on topwaters (the absolute most exciting way to target them), gold spoons, jigs, spinner baits, hard baits, live bait, the list goes on and you can catch them on the flats, in the marsh, on the beach, in the open water busting bait schools and so many other ways! They can range in size from "rats" to "old drum" in our waters and they are all beautiful!  A wise man named Capt. Blair Wiggins once said, "No matter where you go and catch redfish, they all pull hard..."  and he was right! I love to see the look on someone's face when they catch their first Red Drum!
     The peak time to chase these fish is late spring to late fall although, they are still available in the in the winter when they school up in huge numbers on the beach and in the marsh, but when they are schooled up like this they are harder to find.  If you are lucky enough to find them, they can be in schools of hundreds of fish!
Giant red drum and redhead. Popping cork old drum fishing

No. 2: Speckled Trout

Prime time: October-January

     Ahhh... the speckled seatrout... Everyone's favorite fish!  We target these beauties heavily in the fall, but also on occasion in late spring/early summer when the big girls come inside to spawn (we advocate catch and release, as they are our spawning stock) and occupy the grass flats, oyster rocks and sloughs behind Shackleford and Core Banks.  This is a great time to catch big Trout on topwaters! 
     They are a blast to catch when they school up in the fall and winter in big numbers in the marshes and creeks.  Another great thing about our speckled trout fishery here at the Crystal Coast is that on tough days, there are a number of jetties that offer fairly consistent trout fishing if you can stand the crowds! These jetties include the infamous Cape Lookout Rock Jetty, Shackleford Rock Jetty and Radio Island Rock Jetty.
     The reason these fish are number two on my list is because they are just so dang beautiful and there's nothing like that strike you get when working a jig or a suspending hard bait in a likely trout hole... It will get you addicted to trout fishing and the only cure is to GET THUMPED!
    

No. 3: False Albacore

Prime time: September-November

     OH YEA!  Fishing for these guys is a pure adrenaline rush.  Albies or "Fat Alberts," as the locals down here call them, have become one of the most popular sport fish in the area and my home, Harkers Island, is a big time destination.  People come from all over the country to chase these bad boys in the fall with Fly Rods.  Once you experience the Cape Lookout fall blitz, you will know why some people go plumb crazy for these fish.  There is actually a hard core group of fisherman and guides down here that do nothing but chase these green streaks with buggy whips from September through November.  Make no mistake though, these fish are also a blast to catch on light spin tackle for those not into the fly rodding.  I often have a couple spin rods rigged with topwater plugs or casting metal to back up the man/woman on the bow! 
     What many don't know, is there is a good spring run of fish in April and May that mix in and often overrun the Atlantic Bonito on the nearshore wrecks and reefs.  They are there to take advantage of the plentiful bait and the fishing can actually be very good.  The big boys show up later in the year and we will mainly target these fish from September when they often mix in with spanish mackerel and bluefish (we call this the early season), into October and November, although this year they were available as early as August and into December.  A day of False Albacore fishing consists of a lot of running and gunning looking for birds diving on bait and when you see that, you will often see these miniature tunas busting or jumping on the surface.  You can't miss it! Then you cast your fly or lure into the carnage, strip or reel as fast as you can and HOLD ON! They will have you into your backing faster than you can say, "Oh s***!" 
Cape Lookout Albacore Fly fishing "albies"
Girl and an albie
Double albacore action

No. 4: Amberjacks

Prime Time: June-August

     Commonly known as "wreck donkeys," you will know why they have that nickname when you hook one! Better hold on!  Many fisherman think of AJ's as a trash fish because they are so easy to catch when targeting other species and they pull so dang hard... Sounds like the perfect fish to me!!! 
     In the late Spring and all through the summer, when the conditions are right to push a little farther off the beach, we can go find packs of these awesome fish on the wrecks and artificial reefs within 10-15 miles of the inlet.  They are so curious, many times you pull up to the wreck and they come to you!  Sometimes we will chum them up with live bait, but that isn't always necessary.  Often you can just start throwing topwater plugs and they will come up in groups and chase the lure in packs, competing with each other to smash the lure.  It is at this time we are able to even catch them on fly rods and popper flies!  12 weight gear is needed to keep large amberjacks out of the wreck, as they can be over 50 pounds and pull harder than any other fish out there! 
     When these fish are fired up, we will catcht them on just about anything we throw out... live bait, diving plugs, bucktails, topwater plugs, flies... whatever you want.  On occassions like these, the crew is worn out after a few fish each and we will start trying NOT to catch them!  It's even fun to take the hooks off the plugs and see how long they will hold the bait in their mouth before letting go!  I have bet people a dollar that they can't retrieve a bucktail from the bottom without it getting hammered... I usually win...  :)
Amberjack topwater fishing

No. 5: Cobia

    

Prime time: May/June

Cobia fishing Girl
     I would put the elusive cobia at the top of my list, if it weren't for the relatively short amount of time they are available in targetable numbers.  They arrive within range of small vessel light tackle fisherman usually in early to mid May and will stick around almost all summer, but peak fishing is around May and early June. 
     Cobia are a fast growing pelagic fish that move inshore to the beaches, inlets, wrecks and reefs in the spring to make their annual migration north to the Chesapeake bay, where they spawn.  They are awesome fish and one of the best eating that swims.  We mainly target them within a mile or two of the beach where we sight fish for them and cast lures and live offerings to them and we also run into them while mixed bag fishing or amberjacking at the wrecks and reefs. 
     Targeting cobia by sight casting in the ocean is a challenge but when everything comes together, it is very exciting!  The way we hunt for them is very similar to the way we hunt for the giant adult drum in the Neuse River, by running and gunning in search of large congregations of baitfish, usually menhaden.  We then fish around and under the "bait balls".  The more nervous the baitball looks, the more likely some fish are on or under it.  We will also always keep our eyes peeled for fish cruising on the surface that we can sight cast to.  Seeing a large "brown bomber"  chase your bucktail down is a rush!   Cobia can range from 15 to well over 90 pounds.  The size of these fish,their elusive nature and the challenge they present, is what often keeps me laying awake at night during the spring!
 
Cobia bucktail sightcasting Cape Lookout Harkers Island, NC