October Angling's Best Bets

October may be the best all-around fishing month of the year in North Carolina. Here are some great fall fisheries you should visit. (October 2008)

October is a good news, bad news time of the year for North Carolina's outdoorsmen. That's because it is open season for just about everything that swims, walks or flies, and with limited time, outdoorsmen have to maximize their efforts. Here, we offer up some angling "best bets" from across the state for the busy sportsman who can squeeze in some fishing time.

Whether you are chasing smallmouths in the French Broad River, stalking speckled trout in the Haystacks Marsh on the Crystal Coast or seeking slab crappies on Kerr Lake, you just can't go wrong wetting a line most anywhere in North Carolina in October.

WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA
French Broad Smallmouths

Aside from the spectacular scenery in October, Asheville offers up some of the state's best smallmouth waters in the French Broad River. Andrew Tashie, owner of Asheville Drifters guide service (828/215-7379), helps clients chase smallmouths by floating the French Broad.

"It's great; the water temperatures are right and the smallmouths are putting on the pounds for winter. They feed hard, they're eating big stuff, and you catch a lot of quality fish in October," he said. "It is a good time of year, not a lot of rain; the rivers are real nice. Usually the river is low in October, low and clear, which is good for smallmouth fishing."

While these fish, which generally run up to a couple of pounds apiece, may not be trophy-sized, the potential is there to catch 50 to 100 fish in a day. However, a 2-pound smallmouth on light tackle or a fly rod is always a challenge.

"The French Broad is the place, that's the main smallmouth river. Anywhere from Asheville to Hot Springs, you can access the river all up and down. There are plenty of places to put a boat in. We fish out of inflatable rafts -- that is the best way to do it -- you really need someone rowing the boat," Tashie said.

Anglers can use spinning gear or fly-fishing gear equally as well. A 6 1/2-foot spinning rod with 8-pound-test line or a 9-foot, 6-weight fly rod with weight-forward, floating line are the staples. "I like throwing crankbaits and jerkbaits -- medium-running crankbaits like a Rapala No. 5 in baitfish or crawfish patterns. Anything that looks like crawfish or baitfish imitations," Tashie said.

"In October, they feed pretty hard, hanging on the edge of the current. You need to find those little seams and work them. I like the crankbaits with a lot of rattle and flash and that can get down in there. If you're using a fly rod, you are going to have to work a little harder.

"On the fly, you can still catch them on chartreuse or chartreuse and white topwater poppers, particularly late in the day. Clousers with big eyes, brown, black or olive Woolly Buggers. They are not real selective, not like trout fishing," said Tashie (who also guides for trout on other rivers).

"Use darker color baits for stained water or cloudier days and lighter colors on clear water and sunny days. I've had some days in early October where there is a mayfly hatch, and you can use a nymph, a big Pheasant Tail, a size 10 or 12," Tashie said.

Stone Mountain Trout
Stone Mountain State Park covers 13,000 acres in Wilkes and Allegheny counties, providing trout anglers with quick and easy access to miles of great trout waters. The East Prong Roaring River is the centerpiece of a complex of streams that have a prevalence of browns and rainbows, but brook trout can be found farther up the streams.

Sam Register of Raleigh and his 14-year-old son, Alex, have spent untold numbers of hours camping and hiking the trout trails at Stone Mountain, and October is one of their favorite times of the year.

"It is the best, you can use a variety of flies. But eight times out of 10, we'll fish a Woolly Bugger, a chartreuse or black with a beadhead. The Roaring River is a Delayed Harvest water, but there are some Wild Trout waters like Garden, Widow's and Big Sandy creeks. You can fish Garden Creek -- it's quite a hike, maybe a good two miles back, but there are some pools back there that have some huge browns in them," Register said.

Bullhead Creek offers a unique trophy opportunity where you can pay to fish a particular section of the creek exclusively. Daily permits are on a first-come, first-served basis.

Check trout fishing regulations at ncwildlife.org before you go and all special regulations when you arrive at the park. In October, the park is open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. You can call (336) 957-8185 for more park information.

PIEDMONT NORTH CAROLINA
Kerr Lake Crappie

Jim McKinnon of Durham runs Jig Man Jim's Guide Service (919/943-1128). He puts clients on crappie in Kerr and Falls lakes and loves Kerr in October.

"The fish are going to be schooling up and fattening up for the wintertime. The shad are just pulling off their summer patterns and are heading back in the creeks, so those crappie are going to be pretty close right behind them. If you get on them and catch two or three, there will be more around them," McKinnon said.

Look for water that is a bit stained. McKinnon recommends Panhandle, Rudd's and Butcher creeks.

"The reason I like those creeks is because the water doesn't stay real clear in there and it is easier to catch them in stained water," McKinnon said.

Stained water aids in getting a reaction strike: The fish get a fast look at a bait and want to strike before it gets away, whereas in clear water, the fish can take their time and follow a bait 30 or 40 feet before they decide whether they want it or not.

McKinnon begins his search looking for baitfish with his depthfinder and fast-trolling baits around the mouths of creeks and across the main points along those creeks. "I'll start out in about 8 feet of water across the point, and then make a circle and come across in 10 feet of water and another circle in 12 feet. Once you learn the depth of them, you start adjusting your speed to get in that area.

"Fast-trolling is where you throw baits way off the back of the boat and you troll at about one mile per hour. At Kerr, some of creeks are three or four miles long and you can cover a whole lot of that creek by moving fairly fast," McKinnon said. Use a GPS unit to control your trolling speed, which keeps the bait at the correct depth.

Getting a good spread on the lines is

essential to keep them from tangling while trolling and to cover the widest possible area effectively.

"What I do is run six rods, a 6-foot, 8-foot and 12-foot on each side of the boat for fast-trolling, a 6 off each side of the motor, and then I'll put an 8 out on each side and then run a 12 straight out each side," McKinnon said.

Anglers can target quantity or quality when it comes to October crappie. "The numbers of fish are probably going to be stacked up on brush and your quality fish are going to be out roaming.

"If I have kids in the boat and they don't care what size, they just want to catch fish, I'll put them on those brushpiles and let them catch 30 or 40 or 50 fish -- that's just heaven -- but some of the best stuff to find big fish on at Kerr is if you find a point with big stumps on it.

"I use B'n'M rods with little Pflueger micro reels with 6-pound-test; that reel has a good drag. You can put 80 to 100 yards of line on there; if he runs that much line off, you weren't going to get him anyway," McKinnon said.

McKinnon uses crappie jigs exclusively and likes a couple of different kinds. "I've started using a 3-inch Triple Ripple grub by Bass Pro Shops and I really like it. I think it is a really tremendous jig. When I first started using it, I was kind of hesitant because it is such a big jig, but I think you catch more big fish on it.

"I run a chartreuse or white 1/16-ounce Gamakatsu jighead. The Gamakatsu has a larger hook than most 1/16-ounce jigheads. I alternate that with a 1 1/2-inch Bass Pro Squirmin' Squirt tube jig on a No. 2 hook with a BB split shot squeezed on the shank, and 10 or 12 inches above that I put a No. 7 or a No. 5 split shot.

"Blue is a really good color on Kerr Lake, anything with blue in it. I catch a lot of fish on the blue and chartreuse, black and chartreuse or bubble gum on a cloudy day. In clearer water, you have to go to a watermelon or green pumpkin," McKinnon said.

Never overlook minnows as a bait choice rigged on 1/16-ounce jighead; it's a good combination to add to your spread.

Falls Lake Bass
Crappie and bass both follow shad as they make their fall migration, and Falls Lake offers many options for anglers in October. Moving from their deep-water summertime pattern, bass will stage along creek channel structure near the main body of the lake and eventually move shallow, following shad up the creeks like Horse, Upper Barton, Big Lick and New Light.

Bass are actively feeding in October, giving anglers plenty of bait options. Topwater baits, spinnerbaits and Texas rigs are all productive this month.

Kennon Brown of Hawg Hunter Guide Service (www.hawghunt.com) in Durham loves topwaters in the fall if shad are near the surface. "I'll throw a buzzbait or Pop-R early and late in the day and all day if it is cloudy," Brown said.

If casting to surface-feeding bass that refuse a topwater bait, Brown suggests switching up to a spinnerbait and run it just under the surface or down a few feet. A spinnerbait with a gold head, white skirt and gold willow-leaf blades is also effective on cover in the backs of coves, slow rolled so that the blades just turn. If the water is stained, go to one with a Colorado blade for more vibration.

Texas-rigged worms are good baits for bass staging at the mouths of creeks and secondary points along the creek. June bug and green pumpkin are mainstay colors at Falls.

Finally, never overlook using a jig on any cover.

"Use a black jig with a blue skirt in clear water, a blue jig with a white skirt in stained water and an all-white jig in muddy water. I tip them with a Zoom Super Chunk trailer," Brown said.

COASTAL NORTH CAROLINA
Flounder, Specks And Drum

Captain Bryan Goodwin of Native Guide Service (www.nativeguide.net, 252/725-3961) out of Beaufort doesn't think there is a better time of year for all-around saltwater opportunities and no place better than his home range in the Morehead City-Beaufort area.

"October's great! If I was coming down for the weekend, I would want to light-tackle fish for drum, speckled trout and flounder, and you'd have equal chances for all three. That's the great thing about light-tackle fishing this time of year: You can fish the same locations, use the same bait, same lures and catch all three fish.

"The drum fishing is magnificent. The fish are schooling back up, speckled trout fishing really starts picking up and flounder fishing is great in October. Bait is still prevalent in October, so it's just really a great time for light-tackle fishing.

"Geographically, we are blessed with what I think is the best fishing location in the world as far as diversity," Goodwin said. Anglers can either fish structure from the shore or use their boats for easy access to October hotspots in the marshes.

For landlocked anglers, the rocks at Fort Macon, the piers, either the ocean piers or the new public access with a pier at the Newport River Park at the base of the Morehead-Beaufort Bridge are good choices. Goodwin likes the bridges.

"There are a bunch of them in Carteret County. I fish around the bridge at Harkers Island and the public access at Radio Island," Goodwin said.

To take advantage of the all-in-one opportunity for speckled trout, flounder and red drum, Goodwin suggests trying the marshes. "You've got the old standbys in the Morehead area of the Newport River, the Haystacks Marshes in the main body of the Newport River and the Hoophole Creek in Bogue Sound. You've got the Middle Marshes and the North River Marshes in the Beaufort area; they are easy to find, and they are on all the charts," Goodwin said.

"One key feature you look for are the oyster rocks on the edges of the marshes. The marsh creeks on the rising tide you'll want to fish the flooded flats and grassbeds and oyster rocks and on the falling tide, the deeper holes and sloughs in the creeks.

"Live bait is going to give you the best odds; finger mullet, mud minnows and green-tail shrimp are prevalent in October.

Goodwin uses 7-foot light to medium-light Star rods with Shimano Stradic or Penn Slammer spinning reels spooled with 6- to 12-pound-test line. "These rods have a medium action but are not too stiff or heavy. You need something with a little more backbone in case you hook up with that 5-pound flounder or that 10- or 12-pound drum, or God willing, one of those 6-pound-plus speckled trout," Goodwin said.

Goodwin uses a Carolina rig for live bait with a 14- to 18-inch fluorocarbon leader in 10- to 15-pound-test rigged with a 1/8- to 1/2-ounce egg sinker just heavy enough to keep the bait on the bottom and a Sea Striker wide-bend 2/0 or 3/0 hook. "You work these live baits slow or stopped. You want to put the bait where you anticipate

the fish being, on the edge of the oyster rocks or the holes or sloughs of the creeks.

"Occasionally, stop all of these live baits and let them sit, and then move them slowly; they will do the work for you. When using the shrimp, you can turn it into a floating rig by adding a popping cork. Sea Striker has a great popping cork that you can add to your line without ever changing the rig," Goodwin said.

If no live bait is available, Goodwin switches to soft plastics. "The Got-Cha curlytail and paddle tails in 3- to 4-inch size are my favorites. White or red jigheads in 1/8- and 1/4-ounce are the best with a lime green plastic. Two more good colors are white and either smoke or charcoal. Fish these with a bouncing motion across the bottom," Goodwin said.

With so many opportunities across the state, these are just a few options with great potential, so lock the guns up and cast a line sometime this month.

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