Fish Post

Tidelines – September 26, 2019

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If you close flounder, then that means Capt. Luke Donat, of Spot On Charters out of the Carolina Beach area, will just have to target speckled trout prior to mid-October. And speckled trout was the plan for John Metzger and Simba Glass (the two weigh masters for Fisherman’s Post inshore events) and I when we met Luke at 7:00 am for the short boat ride from his house, through Snow’s Cut, and into the Cape Fear River on a surprisingly chilly morning in September.

With everyone on the boat donning long sleeves and pants, likely for the first time since summer started, our trip already had a trout feel to it. I assume I am like many—though I know the trout have to be around all year long, I don’t start thinking trout until the weather cools—but I also now assume that with the recent flounder closure, more inshore anglers, like Luke, will put in the work to find speckled trout during the warmer months, too.

“The river water is super, super clear,” explained Luke as we pulled off plane. “We’ve had a couple days of nice, cool weather, so it’s turned on the trout bite a little bit. Normally I would wait and still go after the flounder in September, even if conditions weren’t like they are, but the closure forces my hand so it was a good time for conditions to get good.”

Gary Hurley, John Metzger, and Simba Glass with some of the trout caught on artificials in the Cape Fear River. They were working grass lines in 4-6′ of water with Capt. Luke Donat of Spot On Charters.

On our day, like many August and September days so far this year, there was a north/northeast wind, so where Luke wanted to fish had to be tempered by where we could fish. Luke pulled up to a riverbank on the east side and in the lee of the wind. The trolling motor started moving us closer to a long, uninterrupted grass bank.

“We are targeting a certain depth that the trout have been hanging out in, especially since we’ve had a couple of bluebird days,” continued Luke. “There hasn’t been a lot of clouds. I find that when you have too many clouds or a mix of sun and clouds, then the trout will tend to hold deeper. I think the clouds scare them. So having some sunny days in a row, they’re coming up on the points and shoals. They’ll be hanging around in 4-6’ of water.”

Simba in his pajama pants and John in his old man’s hat each grabbed a rod with a soft plastic tied on and headed to the front of the boat, and I grabbed a rod rigged with a MirrOlure that had pink sides.

Simba Glass (left) and Capt. Luke Donat, of Spot On Charters, with a healthy trout caught prior to October in the Cape Fear River on a soft plastic paddletail.

“We haven’t had a lot of rainfall inland,” Luke commented about the conditions, “so there’s not a lot of out-flush to the river. The water’s not all clouded up and the dirty tea-colored that you’ll get with too much freshwater. I like a darker color in the river, especially on your hard plastics—dark top with dark pink or orange or yellow sides. But right now we have about 3-4 feet of clarity in the river, which is great, so you can probably use just about anything.”

“MR-17s are great in the river right now,” he told us as he grabbed a hard plastic setup himself. “We’re having a second influx of pogies that are coming down that are about the same size. I haven’t seen the big shrimp run yet this fall, so I’m not using shrimp imitations yet. Any type of mullet or pogie imitation will set you right.”

The game in the river when targeting trout is often covering ground, and we did so easily and almost effortlessly thanks to Luke’s i-Pilot. Luke pushed a couple of buttons on the remote, and then the i-Pilot took us down our first grass bank of the day, one of the paths he had recorded in the machine.

We started catching fish immediately. Mixed in were some small flounder, under-slot red drum, and lizardfish, but the majority of the catch by far were trout in the 2-3 lb. class. The trout bites mostly came in one and only sometimes two at a time.

“In the river a lot of times you’re not fishing for schoolie fish. You’re fishing for pods that might be one or three or five fish. The trout will school up better later in the season, but right now that larger trout might be hanging out on a point or hanging out by a rock by itself, so you often have to cover a lot of ground to get a few sizeable fish.”

If a bite was followed quickly by another bite, we dropped the Power-Pole to better cover that section. Sometimes the temporary pause produced more fish in that zone, and sometimes it didn’t.

We kept moving, we caught more fish, and soon we had enough fish in the livewell for each of us to enjoy a trout dinner. Luke picked up and made the short run back to his dock, and there we sipped some of his special rum, told more stories, filleted the trout, and said our goodbyes.

Capt. Luke Donat, of Spot On Charters, will be targeting trout and red drum throughout the fall until December. He then takes a break and resumes chartering in April for the same two species. You can find him at or give him a call directly at (910) 200-9331.

Luke works hard on every trip to find fish and knows the river better than most, but what many of his clients especially appreciate is his willingness to teach and share information. When asked a question, he goes beyond the “what” and “where” and “when” and spends time also explaining the “why.”

His explanations certainly make more sense than Simba’s choice of pajama pants and Metzger’s bucket hat.