Get In on the Outer Banks
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Written by Capt. Brian Horsley   

An expert guide tells us exactly where to fish and what flies to use to enjoy North Carolina’s best summer saltwater fly fishing.

Many families enjoy the beaches of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Besides being a great vacation destination, the Outer Banks, commonly known as OBX, has earned a reputation for having one of the best saltwater sport fisheries on the East Coast. Most of the better-known fishing on the OBX is done in the fall and winter in conjunction with the seasonal migration of big striped bass, supersize bluefish, and record-breaking albies. But even during the hot, sticky days of July, there are plenty of fish that will chase your flies.

Summer fly fishing on the Outer Banks is wide and varied. Speckled trout, flounder, croaker, and bluefish are common inshore targets, as well the occasional redfish or puppy drum. Much of this angling is done with 6- to 8- weight outfits because the fish are a little smaller. If you have access to a boat, however, you can also target cobia, black-tip and sharp-nose sharks, bluefish, and other nearshore species.

OBX Flies: Back to the Basics

Fly selection for the Outer Banks is very simple, but you’ll want patterns tied in various color combinations. Much of the water inside the OBX is stained, so darker colors and unusual color combinations are most effective. An Outer Banks inshore fly box should include a wide selection of Clouser Deep Minnows. These flies are deadly on just about everything that swims. Favorite Clouser Minnows for speckled trout are black over orange with copper flash, black over red with copper flash, olive over white with copper flash, brown over pink with silver flash, pink over chartreuse with silver flash, and, of course, chartreuse over white with pearl flash. The Clouser Deep Minnow is a very versatile pattern; you can fish it fast to imitate a fleeing minnow, or bounce it on the bottom like a shrimp or crab. There is little sight-fishing on the OBX, and almost all casting is done “blind.” Make long probing casts and fish the entire water column.

Early summer is bluefish time, so tie some of your Clouser Minnows in the high-tie style. These flies seem to hold up best to a bluefish’s razor-sharp teeth. Tie Clouser Minnows from three to three-and-a-half inches long.

While Clouser Minnows are the most commonly used Banks patterns, there are several others worth adding to your fly box. The Half & Half is another essential pattern. The Half & Half is a super fly for schoolie stripers and anything that eats large baitfish. Jiggies and small epoxy flies are also durable patterns for catching bluefish. If you plan to fish the surf early in the morning, use some small bonefish flies as well as sand flea or mole crab patterns. The Wabbit Thing is an effective pattern, and a Bend-Back is a good choice if there is a lot of floating grass.

The tackle for fishing inshore is very simple. I prefer using a 6- to 9-weight rod with an intermediate-sinking fly line. You can get by with a floating line, but your success will improve if you fish lower in the water column. Very light sinking tips also work, but these tend to find more snags and grass. Leaders are also very simple; use a six- to eight-foot-long tapered leader with the intermediate-sinking line, and four to six feet of straight monofilament with the sinking tip.

Easy Wading Trips

Most wading locations have sandy bottoms, but there are oyster and other shells that could cut your feet. Waders are not necessary, but wear tennis shoes or wading boots to protect your feet. When wading in dark or stained water, it is best to protect both your feet and legs, so wearing lightweight long pants is not a bad idea. At times the waters in the sound contain jellyfish or sea nettles. Rays are uncommon, but it is still prudent to shuffle your feet in the water when changing location. And a stripping basket is a very helpful accessory.

Do-it-yourself wading trips are easy to plan. The hardest part may be the distance you’ll have to drive. Many visitors stay in Duck and Corolla, and while these areas have excellent beaches and nice accommodations, they have little access to saltwater backcountry fishing. Currituck Sound, which is the western shore of the Outer Banks from north of Duck, is considered fresh water by the State of North Carolina, and you’ll need a freshwater license to fish there. (You’ll need a saltwater license to fish in other locations.) The lack of water movement in the sound has taken a toll, with the largemouth bass fishery declining as a result.

The best and easiest wading action takes place in and around Oregon Inlet. Oregon Inlet is more than 40 miles south of the northern beaches of Corolla, but it is not a bad morning drive. The towns of Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head are even closer to the inlet. And if you vacation farther south on Hatteras Island, you’ll have primo wading right in your backyard.

There are several easy spots to wade just north of Oregon Inlet. The first one is at the Bodie Island Lighthouse Visitor Center. You’ll see a dirt road to the right just before entering the parking area at the visitor center. A wooden gate blocks this road, but you are welcome to take the one-quarter-mile walk to Blossie’s Creek. When you reach the creek, you can turn right or left and fish from the bank or wade the creek. If you go north (to the right), you must cross a creek; use caution, because the creek is deep and very muddy. Blossie’s Creek fishes best when there is current, and it seems to fish better on the ebb tide. If the water is clear and light colored, use a light-colored Clouser Minnow, but most of the time a black-over-orange Clouser is a better choice. Expect to find speckled trout, the occasional redfish, flounder, bluefish, and early summer schoolie stripers. If you are there later in the summer, early morning and late evening are the best times of day to fish; in mid to late summer, the water in the creek can reach 90 degrees in midday.

Blossie’s Creek is deepest in the middle, and most of the fish will be hooked when your fly passes over the edge or drop-off in the channel. Cast to the middle of the creek, and let your fly and line sink. Allow the line to sweep down the creek with the current and tighten. Start stripping in line and begin fishing; try different speeds and depths until you find something that works.

Both sides of Oregon Inlet are easily accessible to wading anglers. Fish the north side from the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center. Propeller Slough is a small channel several hundred yards south along the marsh bank on the east side of the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center. Follow the marsh bank until it makes a sharp turn back to the Bonner Bridge. The bottom in this area is hard and the water is shallow, and you can wade to the right. The channel is no more than five feet deep, but it has a good current. You can prospect this area at low tide and fish it seriously at high tide, but the most important factor is to have some moving water. In addition to speckled trout, you can expect to find flounder and croakers, and other fly-eating fish such as spots.

Be careful when fishing the south side of the inlet. Green Island Slough starts on the west side of Bonner Bridge. Green Island has plenty of current and a steep drop-off; use caution when fishing here. Light sinking tips are useful, and you will likely find bluefish, flounder, and houndfish.

Anglers vacationing on Hatteras Island have a wide range of wading spots on the sound side of the island. There is a traditional slough called the Dredge Slough or 7 Mile Slough. It is in the Pamlico Sound on the west side of Highway 12. The slough starts at the Little Kinnakeet Life- Saving Station, which is seven miles north of Avon. The slough runs south to Avon about 100 yards off the shoreline. There are four sand roads that access the slough. Some of these roads require four-wheel-drive vehicles and others do not; you can get an Off-Road Driving Map at a National Park Service Visitor Center. There is not much tide in the slough, but there is often a variety of fish, including croaker, flounder, bluefish, and speckled and gray trout. The same selection of flies and rods strung with intermediate-sinking lines is most effective. The sound side of Hatteras Island is a great place to explore, so poke around and enjoy the local fishing.

Surf and Inshore Boating Opportunities

Late fall through winter is traditional surf-fishing time, but summer also provides surf action. Most of the good fishing is in the early morning or late evenings. Look for a stretch of beach with a steep drop-off; most of the fish are going to be just off the beach working the ledge. Sea mullet (kingfish), croaker, bluefish, and pompano travel the ledges looking for minnows and mole crabs. The most productive flies are small bonefish patterns, Clouser Minnows, and mole crab imitations. Work the drop-offs using an intermediate-sinking line. Move along the slough and look for places where it narrows; this is a natural spot where game fish ambush their prey. A stripping basket is very helpful when fishing the surf.

If you have access to a boat or take a charter, you’ll be able to expand your fishing opportunities. The Outer Banks is better fished from a boat because the very best inshore structure— grass beds, oyster rocks, and marsh islands—are not accessible by foot. Speckled trout make their living over the grass beds and oyster rocks in Roanoke and Pamlico Sounds. There is a lot of wide-open water in these sounds, but you can narrow your search for productive water by looking for current edges or seams that come off the points of islands. Duck Island, in Roanoke Sound, has oyster and grass beds and a sharp ledge on the edges of the slough that runs behind and on the south end of the island. Fish these areas by anchoring your boat along the edges of the slough. A simple electronic depth finder will find these edges. Cast across the current and let your fly sweep with the flowing water; you want the fly to cross or travel along the edges of the slough.

Rodanthe, the northernmost village on Hatteras Island, offers some of the best fishing for speckled trout in the Outer Banks. The fish are in three to five feet of water around the grass on either side of Rodanthe Channel in Pamlico Sound. In addition to speckled trout, packs of bluefish terrorize these waters. A black-over-orange Clouser Minnow is the go-to fly, with chartreuse-over-white the second best choice. Use a Clouser Minnow with an intermediate- sinking line to prospect the entire water column.

Out to Sea

The ocean on the outside of Oregon Inlet is a whole different world. The near-shore summer ocean, from the beach to about eight miles out, can be crowded with bluefish, sharpnose and black-tip sharks, the occasional cobia, and even dolphin. Have you ever heard the expression, “They got tails but no homes”? That is an accurate description of the fishery on the ocean side of the Outer Banks.

Chumming is the most effective way to attract these marauding fish. The preferred method is to toss a piece of frozen ground menhaden in a mesh bag and place this in the water. (Frozen chum is available at most full-service tackle shops.) The odor of the chum in the water will call many fish to within fly-rod casting range.

The Atlantic Ocean is a big place, and it can be tough to decide where to drop your chum bag and start drifting. The best action takes place several miles south of the inlet. Look for clear water that is 68 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer. A tide line where two different bodies of water meet is another excellent place to start. There is usually a dirty and clean side to this line, and you should fish the clean side. Bait like to travel along the edge of the change, hiding in trash or scum lines, so the predators follow the line looking for an easy meal.

Drifting is the preferred method of chumming. Patience is the key: it may take minutes or an hour before your first visitor appears. Black-tip sharks are the easiest fish to chum, but you’ll also see sharp-nose sharks, cobia, and an occasional dolphin. In a perfect world, an angler would have three 9- or 10-weight rods rigged and ready for action: one with an intermediatesinking line, a 20-pound-test tippet and a wire bite guard, and an orange-and-red Big-Eyed Wabbit; the second rod would be loaded with a 350- to 450-grain sinking head, a 20-pound-test tippet with a wire bite guard, and a white Big-Eyed Wabbit or white Half & Half; and the matching third rod would have an intermediate-sinking line, a 20-pound-test leader without a bite guard, and a weighted olive-and-white Lefty’s Deceiver.

First try the rod with the intermediate-sinking line and B.E. Wabbit. Cast in front or to the side of the fish. Almost all fish, including sharks and cobia, will work the chum slick in a big circle. Look for the circle and try to intercept the fish with your fly. Fishing the fly with slow strips or even dead-drift is best. When your fly disappears in the fish’s mouth, strip-strike to set the hook and hold on!

If the fish stay deep and the intermediate line is keeping the fly too high in the water, switch to the rod with the sinking head. This line should deliver the fly down to their level. Fish the fly with a slow retrieve.

Dolphin and cobia can be a little leader shy, so if you get the chance, try the rod with the monofilament leader and Deceiver. Cobia love Deceivers, but if the dolphin get picky, try a small chartreuse-and-white Clouser. The nice thing about chumming is that the fish usually stay around for a few minutes and give you time to switch rods.

The Outer Banks is a huge stretch of beach with many miles of water to fish. It is easy to become overwhelmed, but don’t be intimidated. Select one or two of the areas mentioned in this article and concentrate your efforts. Learn from those experiences, and take this new knowledge and go hunting for yourself. If you have the time and budget, hiring a guide is a good way to get up to speed in any new area. Most guides know the best techniques for fishing the local water. The bottom line: Don’t visit the OBX without your fly rod.


Wow, what an article! A lot of guides are secretive about their home waters, but Capt. Brian Horsley opened the vault and gave us enough leads to keep us busy on several fishing vacations to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. But if you’d still feel more comfortable fishing with an experienced guide, you may book a trip with Capt. Horsley or his wife, Capt. Sarah Gardner. (Yes, they’re a husband-and-wife fly-fishing team!) Check out their Web site at www.outerbanksflyfishing.com.

 
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