Tidelines – Winter 2019-2020
Even though Capt. Ray Brittain, of Spring Tide Guide Service out of the Topsail/Sneads Ferry area, had been posting 100-fish, half day trip photos of 17-20+” trout on Facebook for over a week prior to our morning together, I didn’t blink when he called the night before to let me know we would be going to a creek he hadn’t fished yet this year. Well, maybe I blinked a little, as I was aware of those posts and had the mindset that I would be Ray’s next social media model, but Ray had a plan.
“We’ve been getting a lot of numbers in a lot of creeks,” he explained, “so I feel like there has to be numbers in other creeks. I went to my log to look for other places we could fish that weren’t as popular as some of the areas getting pounded now, and this creek is a spot I come to every Thanksgiving. I feel like the trout have to be there based on 20 years of looking at my log.”
I’ll remove any dramatic tension and let you know up front that while we didn’t end up catching 100 fish on our half day, we did catch a good 50 and left them biting. However, what I found the most impressive was how Ray found an answer for how to catch 50 trout in a creek he was fishing for the first time this season.
This was a small creek off the New River, and as we idled into a narrower part of the creek, Ray commentated his thought process to me, “I look for bait first, and I also look for fish on the side scan to see if there’s any numbers. I’ve been using the side scan a lot to find fish.”
Ray pointed to several white dots on both sides of the screen and told me they could be drum and they could be mullet, but this time of year the chances are it’s trout.
We started in an area of the creek where he has caught fish in previous years. Ray had six rigged rods on the boat. Two had Storm shrimp, two had MR17s, and two had X-Raps.
“As it’s cooled off, the shrimp are disappearing and more peanut pogies are pushing back in the creeks,” he explained. “As the peanut pogies move in, the trout will turn away from shrimp imitations and turn on to hard baits more, and those MR17s imitate a peanut pogie.”
So I grabbed a rod with an electric chicken MR17.
Both of us were only getting a few hits, and those hits were really just bumps and not strikes. The bite was off. We knew the fish were in the area because there were numbers of fish still showing on the screen, but the bite just wasn’t happening.
He continued to commentate out loud, “If you’re getting bumps, then that’s an indicator that there’s more than likely more fish there. The question becomes: are you just getting into a wad of fish and you’re on the edge of them, or are you in them and they’re just not feeding?”
“You have to work that area before you push through it,” he continued, “to see if they’ll turn on so you don’t just run through them and blow those fish out. You hold there for some time to see if the sun needs to come up, does the tide need to move a little more, etc. And you want to stop and work it with a few different lures. Usually I’ll work an area with a bunch of different lures from a few different angles and give it time to see.”
Still no dramatic tension needed—for us, we were on the edge of the school of fish. We just weren’t to them yet.
We came around a hard bend and started searching again in about 6-7’ of water. Ray still had more confidence in the MRs and the X-Raps, and he went into even more detail about why, “There’s a thermocline where the water underneath is warmer than the water on top. The thermocline is about 3-feet down, so it’s still a few degrees warmer than the top. The surface temp is 49 degrees, and it’s probably 53-54 underneath. We’re running that MR about 1-2 feet under the water. The trout are still active enough, because it’s still early in the season, that they’ll come up from that depth and nail it.”
At this new stop further back in the creek, we started hooking trout regularly. They were no longer bumping our baits. Now they were striking with intent, and striking with intent on just about every cast. After a while, though, the bite cooled.
Ray, once again, had an answer, “When you’re in a bite and the bite’s on, then all of a sudden the bite isn’t on, that’s an opportunity to slow down the casting. Don’t be in a rush to get the lure back out there. Give the fish a little bit of a break. Or, try throwing something different. When they stop biting, change your lure up. Keep rotating, and often they’ll keep feeding.”
I put down my MR, took a moment to hydrate, and then started throwing a blue X-Rap. The trout responded, and we continued to pull in trout on more casts than we didn’t.
Ray had an afternoon charter, so even though the rotation and pause technique kept us in the bite, we took photos and made our way out of the creek and back into the New River. Along the way Ray had yet another answer for me. He’s been putting short videos on Instagram of him cooking, so I hit him up for a trout recipe, something different that I could use to impress the family.
His first suggestion was a John Besh trout almandine recipe I could find online, and his second recipe (not online) was a whole fish recipe that included tarragon, marjoram, and thyme (stuffed in the cavity) and olive oil, salt and pepper, and a half pound of pancetta (wrapped around the outside of the scaled, whole trout).
Capt. Ray Brittain, of Spring Tide Guide Service out of Topsail/Sneads Ferry, will be fishing (and cooking) trout all winter long, and really all year long, as trout fishing has always been one of his true passions.
You can find out more information on Ray (and check out his latest trout photos) by looking him up on Facebook at @springtideguideservice, or give him a call at (910) 330-7344.
If you go with Ray, though, don’t blink. Don’t blink when he tells you what his fishing plan for the day is, and don’t blink later in the trip when he’s taking your fish photo.
Enjoy the winter issue, and see you again in March.