The best time to catch speckled trout in the Outer Banks surf is the fall. They are good sized fish, averaging around two pounds, with many topping the four pound mark. Typically, the best action north of Oregon Inlet is between the first week of October and the middle of November, and on Hatteras Island November and December are the two prime months.
Speckled trout will eat about any natural bait, but most anglers who target the specks prefer to use artificial lures to fool them. Trout are opportunistic feeders, and will eat whatever comes their way. I think most of the trout we catch on the beach feed primarily on small fish such as silversides and mullet. With that in mind, it only makes sense to fish with artificial lures that closely resemble these baitfish. Two top artificials are lead head jigs with soft plastic tails, and hard plastics such as MirrOlures.
The lead head-soft plastic tail combination is versatile, because the size, length, action and color of the presentation can be changed instantly. The brand names for both heads and tails are many, such as Mr. Twister, Fin-S, Gotcha, and Mr. Wiffle. Jig head weights may vary from 1/8 ounce up to 1 ounce, but the 3/8 ounce head is popular, and they can be rigged singly or in tandem. Red is the most often seen head color, but white, bright orange, and non-painted lead heads also catch fish.
I don’t know of a single tail color that will produce fish all of the time. If anything is close, it’s green, ranging from translucent green to deep, almost black, emerald green. Other popular choices are a green body with red “firetail”, solid white or a red/white combination. The other lure every serious trout angler has in his box is a hard plastic plug. MirrOlures are most frequently seen, but Bagley’s Finger Mullet and small Rat’l Traps are also popular. Several colors and sizes will catch trout, and to find out what is hot, check in with one of the Outer Banks tackle shops.
Effective presentation of the lure is critical for consistent success. Fast taper spinning rods in the six to seven foot range are perfect for casting the light weight lures, and should be mated to reels that will hold about 200 yards of 8 to 10 pound test monofilament line are perfect.
Some anglers tie their lures directly to the line, others opt for 18 inches, of 15 to 20 pound monofilament leader tied to the running line with a blood knot or Uni-knot. Some will use a very tiny size 12, black finish barrel swivel to connect the leader and line to eliminate the inevitable line twist that results from constantly casting and retrieving lures.
When working a lure, a slow retrieve is the key, for both lead heads and MirrOlures, and jigs will have their best action when the rod tip is twitched, then followed by a few turns of the reel handle. This allows the lure to move back to the beach in an erratic up and down movement. Pay attention and tune in to what your lure is doing. A lot of folks miss trout bites when the fish hits the lure as it is falling back down to the bottom, while the line is slack. When your line comes tight, you might feel the weight of the fish. Set the hook before the fish has a chance to spit out the tail!
Trout are frequently found in very close to the beach. The key is finding a fairly narrow, deep slough and bar formation that will hold trout. Learn how to “read the beach”. Trout holes may appear anywhere, but veteran speckled trout anglers know these holes are frequently found on the north sides of most of the fishing piers along the Outer Banks in the fall. The beach is constantly changing and the holes may migrate several hundred yards up or down the beach as the wind and tide moves the sand. Sometimes the holes are as close as 100 yards from the piers, other times they might be a half mile or more away.
Tide and time of day are also factors that come into play. The way both mesh is extremely important, but I like to be on the beach before the suns breaks the horizon. More than once my first cast into an inky combination of sky and ocean has resulted in a hookup, and the trout staged a frantic bite until the sun was full in the sky, then turned off as though a switch was thrown.
My absolute favorite combination is a falling tide in the morning. I think the dropping water level moves the fish from atop the shoals and sandbars when the water gets too shallow for them to feel comfortable, and concentrates them in the deep holes or pockets. Evening can also be a magic time. Along the Outer Banks, when there is a low tide early, there’s another low tide approximately 12 hours later, and the fish might stage another feeding flurry just before the sun goes down.