Fish Post

Tidelines – March 19, 2020

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With how quickly everyone’s reality is changing daily, a day on the water targeting stripers and shad with Capt. Gary Dubiel, of Spec Fever Guide Service out of New Bern and Oriental, was just the right kind of healthy activity to help feel a sense of normalcy.

John Metzger and I met Dubiel at the Cool Springs Wildlife boat ramp, located a few miles up the Neuse River from New Bern, wrapped in our winter gear, as our early morning meet time welcomed us with temperatures starting out in the low 40s.

We cruised out into the main channel of the Neuse, headed upriver for a short run, and then came off plane where Dubiel deployed the trolling motor and kept us heading slowly upriver while angling over to the north shoreline.

John Metzger and Gary Hurley with two of the shad they caught on shad rigs in the upper Neuse River. They were fishing with Capt. Gary Dubiel of Spec Fever Guide Service.

I pride myself on being good at following instructions when I get on a boat with a captain, and that practice of following instructions, I’ve found, especially pays dividends when fishing with Dubiel, as he is part scientist, part craftsman, and part artist when it comes to analyzing the effectiveness of every part of the fishing process.

He handed both John and I a TFO 7’ inshore series rod (Dubiel likes that they’re sensitive and light enough to get good distance on the cast) with a 2500 Florida Fishing Products reel (smooth action and a great drag), and each rod was tied up with a Storm jig head and a 4” Storm paddle tail soft plastic.

His instructions, though well thought out and tried and tested, were relatively simple to follow. We were to cast just a little bit upriver (not straight upriver and not out to the shoreline), keep the rod tip up, and be sure to let the lead head and soft plastic combo get to the bottom. However, while it was imperative to get our baits to the bottom, it was just as important not to let our baits sit on the bottom.

We were targeting the “drop edges,” those ledges of increasing water depths that come off of the shoreline, and the key was keeping our eye on the line, as the line would tell us when our baits had reached the bottom.

Once Dubiel showed us what to look for—when the bait hits the water, the line falls at a steady pace, but when the bait hits the bottom, there’s a quicker fall of the remaining line onto the surface of the water—it was easy to spot that transition in the fall. And when you see the transition, you give a quick 2-3 cranks of the reel (not imparting any action with the rod itself, just keeping the rod tip up and stationary), and then watch the line as it falls again.

Capt. Gary Dubiel, of Spec Fever Guide Service, with one of the stripers caught in the morning on a Storm soft plastic paddle tail in the Neuse River above New Bern.

Our bites were varied. The first couple of bites for John and I were more nudges than hard strikes, but then the bait-crashing, rod-bending strikes came as we moved later into the morning.

The temptation is to cast close to the shoreline, thinking that’s where the stripers will be, but Dubiel, who has had plenty of experience with anglers wanting to flirt with the shoreline, helped put our shoreline instincts to rest when he pulled up more and bigger stripers by casting off the other side of the boat out into the middle of the river channel.

Our striper action started to slow, so we moved to a couple of new locations to see if we could find another striper run, but the new locations were just as slow. The good news for us, though, was that Dubiel had suspected that the bite might taper off as we moved deeper into the morning, so we headed even further upriver to try and hook some of the shad that had just started moving through the area.

“Forget everything you’ve learned about striper fishing,” Dubiel informed us as he grabbed a couple of TFO 6’6” professional series light action rods. He continued that we were now (1) going to be casting toward the shoreline with the intention of landing our baits right along the tree line, (2) going to be keeping our rod tip down instead of up, and (3) bringing our rig in with a steady retrieve—no action at all, nothing, not even a pause.

Our two-hook shad rigs had a small lead head and curly tail grub as the first hook, and then a small spoon as the second hook. When casting to the shoreline, snags are an even greater risk than bouncing the bottom for stripers, so Dubiel threw out the first cast to show us his idea of targeting the tree line. The rig splashed down just between two cypress knees, he gave just a couple of cranks, and came tight to a respectable large mouth bass on that first cast.

John and I, trying our best to follow instructions, quickly found the target species. There would be a handful of casts in a row with no action, but then we would have 4-8 casts in a row that each brought in a shad. At first, all that John and I could hook were the smaller male shad, but then we started to enjoy the hard pulling, quick-darting, surface-splashing action of the 20” females.

Gary Dubiel, of Spec Fever Guide Service, will transition from stripers and shad to speckled trout fishing in March, and then in April and May he offers lots of opportunities for heading off the Crystal Coast for albacore, bonito, big blues, sharks, and trophy redfish. He’ll then head back to New Bern and Oriental for a summer of redfish, trout, and flounder, and it’s towards the end of the summer that the world class redfish trips (42-48” fish, with some going over 50”) begin and last into October.

If you’re looking for a guide that looks for every opportunity to put his clients on the most fish possible no matter the target species, then give Dubiel a call at (252) 249-1520, or visit him online at

I’m not a doctor, but a day on the water with Spec Fever must be one of the best and most enjoyable practices of social distancing you can employ in these unprecedented days. And to my knowledge, there hasn’t been a single case documented of a shad or a striper passing along COVID-19.