A few months ago, if you told me that I would give up the last weekend in October to drive eight hours and go flycasting for false albacore, I would’ve said you’re crazy.  This is traditionally one of the best times of the year to catch big striped bass in the Upper Chesapeake Bay.  Unfortunately, the stripers aren’t where they usually are, and fishing close to Kent Island has been tough lately. Since a man’s gotta fish, I hit the road.

I got to know Gary Reich last winter at the Fisherman’s Night Out events at Dick Franyo’s Boatyard Bar & Grill in Annapolis. Gary is the editor for PropTalk magazine, one of the co-sponsors of those outings. One snowy evening Gary told me about an annual trip he takes down to Harkers Island, North Carolina.  It sounded like fun, and I asked if I could tag along with him next time.  I’d forgotten about it until I got a message from him a few weeks ago asking if I was still interested.  I only had one day available, a Sunday, but I jumped at the chance.

Fall fishing around Cape Lookout, North Carolina has become legendary.  The albie bite is  especially appreciated by fly fishermen.  There’s a big contingent of long-rodders who make an annual pilgrimage to the area.  From what I’ve read and heard, the fish are frequently schooled up chasing glass minnows and anchovies.  They say you can sometimes catch them right under your boat. I’m relaying this information second-hand because fishing was somewhat challenging the day I was there. The fish were scattered.  No strikeouts though, we caught some very nice albies and had a fun day on the water.  Here’s how it went down:

Saturday, I got lost. I made the mistake of trusting the directions provided by the VZ Navigator service on my cell phone.  I hoped to arrive in time to see the rural east Carolina island before dark, but that didn’t happen.  I eventually called Gary and he was nice enough to direct me to Harker’s Island Fishing Center where he had spent a couple of days in a rented a room above the bait store.  After we unpacked my gear, we walked up the gravel street to the Fishhook Grill where we found some surprisingly good soft crabs on the menu.  After a filling dinner, Gary and I sat down with paper cups and a bottle of locally made apple jack  to talk fishing.  He told me that, despite strong Saturday morning winds, he managed to get out for a few hours and caught a very nice false albacore on the fly.

The next morning we awoke at 6:00 AM to see that the north/northwest wind had fallen to about 20 knots – not great, but fishable.  Our guide was Brian Horsley of Outer Banks Fly Fishing.  Brian, along with his wife Sarah Gardner are expert anglers who are well known throughout the mid-Atlantic region. I was excited to fish with them. We met Sarah and Brian at the dock and headed out of Back Sound in Brian’s 23-foot Jones Brothers center console toward Cape Lookout Light.  Sarah took another route around the island in her boat. Despite the strong winds, I thought the water looked relatively calm.  Brian told me not to get too excited because we were still in the lee of the island.  He was right.  Once we rounded Shackleford Point into the open waters of the ocean, things got a little dicey.

Brian got a call from Sarah.  She was on some fish near the beach at Fort Macon.  We arrived quickly to see a few albies crashing here and there.  Gary moved to the bow and started striping line as Brian positioned us to drift over the breaking fish.  I saw a couple of fish get close to his fly, but they just weren’t concentrated so his chances weren’t all that good.  After watching Gary cast for a while, I decided there wasn’t much hope of me getting a fly in the water.  I’ve done some fly fishing  in small freshwater streams, but shooting heavy line with a big rod in strong winds is out of the question at my skill level.  Let me see if I can say that more clearly:  When it comes to saltwater long-rodding – I suck.

This might be a good time to backtrack to last Friday afternoon. When he heard about my plans to visit Harkers, my friend Joe Evans graciously offered the use of his Orvis 10-wt fly rod and a couple of reels.  He was even kind enough to take me out in his boat in the marina near his house to give me a few pointers.  Joe is no slouch with a fly rod.  In fact, he guided professionally with an Orvis endorsement on the Chesapeake Bay for a good long time before he moved on to less noble but more lucrative pursuits.  Joe told me right up front that he was gonna laugh at me, and he did.  Thanks to his expert advice, I eventually started feeling like I might get the hang of this unwieldy devil stick, but that was in calm water on the open bow of his Cape Fisherman.  In real life, things were a little more trying.

I caved.  Even though I said I wouldn’t, I snuck the 6’6″ medium-light spinning outfit I keep behind the back seat of my truck into Brian’s boat.  It was still rigged with 15-pound-test Power Pro braid and tied up with one of George Lenard’s blue-green  Li’l Bunker spoons – the rig I use to cast for Spanish mackerel in the Chesapeake.  My first shot missed the feeding fish, but I landed my second cast squarely in the center of the breaking school and hooked up right away.

Mark Twain once observed, “If you hold a cat by the tail, you learn things you cannot learn any other way.”  Boy, do I know how that feels.  That albie took off like a bat out of an Ozzy Osborne concert and all I could do was hold on to my too-skinny rod and watch the line peel off my reel.  I got lucky when the dumb fish turned and ran back toward the boat.  I somehow managed to reel fast enough to keep up with him and eventually landed my first albie.  He wasn’t very big, maybe six pounds or so, but I was happy with my catch.

I waited while Brian repositioned the boat.  As Gary worked the bow, I stood in the back and waited for my next opportunity to cast.  I saw a single fish break about 70 yards off the stern  and pulled the trigger.  With the 1-ounce lure and a full spool of light line I can get a lot of distance out of a cast, even in strong winds.  Reeling as fast as I could, I skipped the lure across the top of the water and watched as a hefty albie fell in line and started gaining ground.

Wham – the fish came tight!  There was no need to set the hook. Once those blue-blazers grab the lure, they’re on.  Since the water was only a few feet deep, there was no place for the fish to go but out, out, out.  I held up my rod with one hand and tapped Brian on the shoulder with the other, motioning toward the line rapidly peeling off my undersized reel.  He quickly started the boat and gave chase.  We eventually caught up with the fish.  The fight beside the boat was exhausting but somehow my rod held up and  I managed to land another fat albert. This one was much bigger, at least 15-pounds.

Since I now had a couple of fish under my belt, I decided to get brave and try out the fly rod.  To make a long story short, it didn’t work out so well. I ham-handedly managed to get the fly close enough to get a few looks and smells, but I never hooked up.  I had a very hard time with my back cast into the now 25-knot wind.  On several tries I ended up wrapping my line around the console of the boat.  Each time, Brian would say, “No casting through the boat, sorry.”  I started to correct him and explain that I wasn’t really trying to cast through the boat, that’s just where my line wound up. After thinking about it, I decided it was better to be thought of as a bad decision maker than an inept fly-caster.  The best way I knew to correct either perception was to put down the fly rod.

The tide slacked and the fish moved away, so Brian spent the next couple of hours looking tight in along Atlantic Beach while keeping close contact with “Flygirl” as she searched farther off-shore.  We eventually made our way back off the Shackleford Banks toward Cape Point.

I caught one more fish and hooked up three or four others.  Even though we fished alongside a couple-dozen other boats, I only saw one other fish caught.  It was a tough day.  We were back to the the dock by 4:30 PM.  Despite my humbling scuffle with the fly rod, I enjoyed the fishing very much and would like to catch more false albacore, with either spinning gear or a fly rod.

I bought a good old-fashioned paper map for my trip home and took a more direct route back through Kinston, North Carolina.  While I was flailing around with Joe Evans last Friday evening, he strongly suggested a stop at Kings BBQ while I was Down East.  I already know Joe has great taste in music and beer, so I figured he knew his southern BBQ as well.  Kings was fantastic.  My appetizer was pulled pork soaked in East Carolina vinegar sauce in a bun made of a giant sliced hushpuppy.  My main course was the Sunday dinner buffet, and desert was banana pudding.  I thought it couldn’t get any better until I noticed a couple of display cases in the lobby filled with military relics.  It turns out the restaurant was built on the site of  Civil War battle and the owners are collectors.  Since I also collect relics, I was happier than a pig in mud.

It was a great day and well worth the sixteen hours of driving I did for nine hours of fishing.  Thanks very much to Gary for letting me tag along and being such a fun fishing companion, and to Brian for putting us on the fish.  I can’t say I’ll go back to Harker’s Island anytime soon, but it was definitely an item to cross off my bucket list.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s been a tough week in the Upper Bay. My fishing buddies are reporting mostly dinks in Eastern Bay, although I did see a photo of one nice fish last week.  Most of the action is well south of Poplar Island.  If I fish this weekend I think I’ll head south although I’ve heard several reports of successful piling picking at the Bay Bridge.  Mike down at Buzz’s Marina in St. Jerome’s Creek is reporting nice fish with sea lice, and my buddy Jamie is nailing overs every time he goes out now.  The weather looks good this weekend so I think we’ll hear of some nice fish in the mid and lower sections of the Bay.  Good luck!




Posted Friday, November 4th, 2011 at 2:17 pm
Filed Under Category: Fishing Reports
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Responses to “Down East”

  1. jumbo1 says:

    “When it comes to saltwater long-rodding, I suck.”
    A Man has got to know his limitations.. I’m with you there son..cool report…boy that sandwich sounds good!…the fly line does match your coat..(Grin)

  2. Shawn says:

    Jamie, I knew that was gonna be a good BBQ joint when I noticed that truck that looks just like yours parked out front!

  3. Levon Goodman says:

    Cools Kimbro – now get your hillbilly rear in back out there on the Bay and tell us where the fish are!

  4. Levon Goodman says:

    Cools Kimbro – now get your hillbilly rear end back out there on the Bay and tell us where the fish are!

  5. uncle phill says:

    Sounds like a neat trip!
    I like Levon’s comment, lol.

  6. Mike Burrows says:

    Great report. Shame you didn’t find them schooled up tigher. They are a blast to catch one after another. Fast strong fish.

    It’s not nice to insult that man’s truck…you don’t even know him. 🙂

  7. Gitzit 2 says:

    Great read, Shawn.
    It has been a bit tough lately but looking forward to Jamie sending some of those “overs” north!
    i think i can smell that sandwich!

  8. Hillbilly Boater says:

    Shawn, Nice report. We missed this year, but hopefully next. Now you’ve gottem on spinning you need to gettem on the long rod. After your first one you’ll be hooked. I’m not a great heavy wt caster either, but I can pull it of enough to catch a few. Mean while Phil is catching 5 to my one on spinning and always wonders why I put up with the trouble. Of course he always grabs my hooked up flyrod out of my hands and plays a fish and admits the fight on the long rod is a blast. So you still have the long rod albie for your bucket list.

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