By Tom Schlichter
You’ve got to love September’s promise here in North Carolina,” said Capt. Dale Collins, of Fish or Die Charters in Swansboro, North Carolina. “The water temperatures are starting to cool and there’s plenty of red drum, flounder and big seatrout in our bays and creeks. Indeed, it’s my favorite time of year to fish around here.”
Collins should know. He’s built a reputation putting fares on big fish in skinny water in this area west of Morehead City and separated from Pamlico Sound on the southern side of Cape Lookout.
He’ll typically kick the morning off with redfish encounters in depths of 2 feet or less. As the sun grows stronger, he’ll probe docks and structure looking for summer flounder before finishing off with feisty seatrout in feeder creeks.
“I’m thinking this September will be a special one if we don’t get smacked by any major storms,” said Collins. “There’s tons of bait around already, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen as many mullet as we have this year. Crabs and small menhaden are abundant, too. Plus we have tons of shrimp; everything loves shrimp.”
Collins targets early morning reds around oyster bars, oyster reefs and oyster rocks in water that is generally hip-deep or less. He’ll work shoal areas and even dig into the grass on White Oak Sound, White Oak River and the area surrounding Swansboro with a 7-foot, 6- to 10-pound class Star Seagis rod. His lure of choice for the reds is a Skitter Walk SW11 in a golden mullet pattern that always seems to bring surface thrills. Backing off the edges and working near docks and structure, he’ll switch to a ¾-ounce white Spro bucktail tipped with a 4-inch Berkley Gulp! pearl-white shrimp for the flatties.
“For the reds,” disclosed Collins, “I keep a second rod rigged with a Z-Man soft plastic or Gulp! Jerk Shad impaled on a weedless screw-style hook. If a redfish blows up on the topwater but misses, I immediately send the soft plastic his way. He’ll slam that as soon as it starts to sink.”
For flounder, Collins hops his bucktail about a foot at a time, but it’s vital you actually feel it strike bottom on the drop. “Most hits come as the lure falls, and if you don’t feel it hit bottom it’s probably in a fish’s mouth,” he said. “Strike immediately, because those flounder spit a lure out quickly once they realize it’s a fake.”
As for the specks, Collins recommends getting on them as soon as possible. “You’ll find the biggest fish arrive first,” he said. Throw a Mirrolure MR 17 or 18, or try my personal favorite: a Zoom Golden Bream on a 1/16-ounce jighead. Man can that lure catch some fish! Just work it slow and allow time for it to get down deep. If you think you are fishing slowly enough, slow down a little more.”
If you’d like to fish the Swansboro area on your own, Collins suggests launching from Cedar Point Wildlife Ramp near Dudley’s Marina (https://www.dudleysmarinanc.com; 252-393-2204) in Swansboro. For overnight accommodations Best Western Plus (252-393-9015) is right near the launch.