June 5, 2008

Wading on the soundside is a different fishing choice for anglers


For more than three decades I have sampled almost every type of fishing opportunity that is offered along Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. One of my favorites is wading along the soundside shorelines of these barrier islands.

Wading anglers don’t need an extensive amount of tackle and equipment, and the variety and the size of fish will offer some pleasant surprises. Bluefish, puppy drum, gray and speckled trout, flounder, spot, croaker, and sea mullet are common catches.  The availability of each species will vary by season, and the summer months are a good time for wading the soundside.   

Light tackle is the best approach, and I like a 7-foot spinning rod, mated to a reel filled with 8-pound test monofilament or 10-pound test braided line. Fresh natural baits and artificial lures will both produce, but many of the wading anglers (myself included) prefer to fish with artificials.

Lead head jigs, rigged with soft plastic tails are popular and effective. The beauty of the lead heads is their versatility.   To accommodate the often fickle feeding habits of the fish, anglers can change the size and color of the lure in a matter of seconds without having to cut their line and re-tie knots.  Jig heads in the 1/4- to 3/8-ounce weight range will cover most of the bases, and I most often opt for the lighter of the two choices when I’m fishing in fairly shallow water of two to four feet deep.  Productive tail colors may vary, but green, red and white, white, root beer, or smoke gray account for a lot of fish. Hatteras and Ocracoke tackle shops are the best source for up-to-date “hot” colors.

If fishing with bait is your preference, a good choice is fresh shrimp combined with a standard two hook bottom rig and rounder bass or bank type sinker.  Small hooks, such as light wire #4 or #2 with a long shank, work best. 

Another top bait, especially for flounder, trout, blues, or puppy drum is a live finger mullet, or similar small baitfish.  Live baits can be used on the two-hook bottom rig, but I like to rig a single #2 hook on a two-foot, 20-pound test monofilament leader.  A small #12 swivel connects the leader and line, and a 1/4-ounce egg sinker on the rod side of the swivel completes the rig.  Hook the mullet through the bottom lip or through the eyes, and work the bait with a slow, steady retrieve.  This type of retrieve will allow you to cover more territory, and it can be deadly for bigger flounder that might show no interest in an artificial lure or small piece of shrimp.

Fly rodders will find plenty of opportunities, but the persistent summertime southwest winds may prove to be frustrating. Most of the time, the wind increases as daytime temperatures rise.  The early part of the day has the least amount of wind, and often that’s when the fish will be most cooperative. So it pays to be on the water early.

An 8-weight fly rod-and-reel combo with an intermediate line is perfect.  Any small baitfish imitation fly will produce, but the tried-and-true Clouser minnow has a strong track record of success.    

I never wade barefoot, because of the sharp oyster shells, barnacles, and who knows what else there might be on the bottom, and I prefer to wear waders, even when the water is warm.

Always wear a belt cinched tightly around the top of your waders.  If you do take a fall, a belt will prevent your waders from filling up with water. Avoid walking into holes or drop offs by shuffling your feet along the bottom.

A landing net will make it easy to land a big fish. A fish stringer can secure your catch, and a few small zipper lock plastic bags, stuffed into the pocket of your waders, will hold bait, extra rigs and lures. Don’t forget a pair of fishing pliers, bug spray, and sunscreen. If fishing with live baits is your choice, a minnow bucket can be tied off on your wader belt and trail behind you as you walk along the shoreline.

The Outer Banks sounds are large bodies of relatively shallow water, but randomly occurring holes, channels, depressions, cuts and other irregularities will hold fish.  When the water is clear, these deep places are easy to spot. Occasionally, a hole or channel might be found next to the shoreline, but most often you will need to walk a little bit to find deep water.

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore offers an outstanding variety of places for the wading angler to fish. At the northern end of Hatteras Island, the south side of Oregon Inlet is often productive.  The water is very deep and fast running near the bridge.  I don't advise wading here, but I recommend taking a walk down the shoreline toward the southwest.  From Salvo down to Avon, there are several turnouts on the soundside of the narrow spit of sand, and it's worth the effort to explore any one of these sand trails.  Some are four wheel drive access only, and it may be necessary to wade for a hundred yards or so to reach deep water, but a variety of fish are available anywhere you can cast to deep water.

The shoreline around the Haulover, known locally as Canadian Hole, located just north of Buxton can be very productive. For the latest information about wade fishing locations stop by any one of the tackle shops on Hatteras or Ocracoke Islands.  The tackle shops will also have the latest information on what’s biting, and where.

(Joe Malat lives in Nags Head and is a professional outdoor writer, book author, and director of the Outer Banks Surf Fishing Schools. He writes about saltwater fishing along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and is published regularly in national and regional magazines.  To order his books, or request information about the Outer Banks Surf Fishing Schools, visit Joe’s Web site at: www.joemalat.com.)


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