by Captain Brian Horsley
Outer Banks Fly Fishing.com
The old saying “the bigger the bait the bigger the fish” rings true in the fly fishing world, especially in the chilly winter waters off North Carolina’s Outer Banks. From late October on, the Outer Banks is known as a big fish Mecca. Hungry stripers follow a variety of bait that migrates south away from chilly New England and Chesapeake waters.
The stripers average over 30 inches, but the bait is equally impressive, often measuring over a foot long. In mild winters the bait and predators will remain active throughout the winter. Wading and boat based anglers can take advantage of beach blitzes and deeper feeding fish by matching the hatch with BIG flies.
The Atlantic Ocean off the Northern Outer Banks come alive when Nor’easters send croakers, menhaden, mullet, herring and gray trout migrating south. Most of these fish are in the 6 to 12 inches long. As with most fly-fishing “matching the hatch” is important, so big flies with large profiles are the most productive. Standard patterns such as Lefty’s Deceivers and Half- &-Halves are highly effective, but they must be tied in magnum sizes. There are several other large baitfish patterns such as the Spread Fly that create good profiles.
There are many new man-made materials on the market that will help tiers achieve maximum length, lifelike appearance in the water while still being castable. Kinky Fiber by Success Flies is my favorite material for creating large baitfish patterns. Bozo Hair, Yak and Hair Enrico Sea Fibers are also highly useful in tying big flies for stripers. These flies need to be foul proof and able to sink fast with a fast sinking lines. Another useful product for tying large patterns that will not foul is a liquid material called Softex. It can be coated on the body of the fly to help it maintain shape without being overly stiff like Epoxy. Big flies require big eyes and Goop one of the few adhesives available that will keep peepers attached.
Matching the hatch with color is just as important as matching the hatch with size. Most species of fish that stripers chase in the fall can be duplicated with the same patterns. Bunker and trout have essentially the same body type and coloration. They can be imitated with color schemes such as olive and white or tan, white and yellow and white. Croaker can be imitated by using more tans, browns and gold flash. When bad weather or heavy surf makes the inshore ocean water dirty then patterns in all black with lots of purple flash are effective.
Big flies need big hooks. Mustad 34007 form 4/0 to 6/0 or Trey Combs Big Game Hook in the same sizes works very well. The question of double hooks comes up a lot. Some anglers feel the need for double hooks while other do not. If you want to try double hooking your flies us a Gamakatsu Octopus hook 4/0 to 5/0 and a Trey Combs Big Game Hook for the front. Attach the two hooks together by snelling with 100-pound monofilament and for added stiffness wrap .025 lead wire between the two hooks. This gives it extra stiffness and also helps it sink faster. It is important to weight all flies not just the double hooked flies.
When casting big flies and weighted lines in typical windy North Carolina winter conditions requires anglers go up in rod size. Ten weight rods are up to the task of propelling gull size flies. They are also good tools for wading and casting in surf conditions. Tens are able to handle super fast sinking lines used in boats when fish are not feeding on top. They can also wrestle hefty stripers in peak condition.
Sinking fly lines are the most useful even when the stripers are breaking. Weighted fly lines like the Cortland Quick Decent in 425 to 625 are the most effective. If you like building your own heads and sinking lines LC13 is the ticket. LC13 weights 13 grains a foot so a 30-foot head weights 390 grain and sinks like a rock. Leaders are very simple usually a single shot of 20 or 16 pound mono and from 4 to 6 feet in length.
Winter off coast of North Carolina can be a harsh place known for its storms called “Hatteras lows” and nor’easters. But between every stormy cold front there are “blue bird” days. During these calm days its time to hit the beach with waders or venture into the ocean to look for migrating bait and stripers. The most constant place to find big winter stripers feeding is the shoals around Oregon Inlet and Cape Point in Buxton. Wading anglers can fish near the shoals by casting from shore from the North and South sides of Oregon Inlet. The down side of these two places is they are two of the most dangerous places for boaters.
Anglers are easily lured into the ferocious inlet breakers by the sight of thousands of gulls, gannets and pelicans crashing into the whitewater. Beneath the frenzied birds big stripers can be seem busting big bait. Typically stripers become more active as conditions on inlet shoals get worse. The smarter anglers will hunt for breaking fish along the beaches and just outside of the shoals. They may not be as thick but much safer and easier to throw a fly at. Huge flocks of gannets are another tell tale way of locating feeding stripers. Look out along the horizon for high diving white streaks is an excellent way to locate schools of bait. If there is no birds in sight a good bottom machine or fish finders is essential. Start your search in 20 feet of water and zigzag out into 60 feet.
Menhaden mark easily on a bottom machine as well as croakers and trout. When your get a “mark” slow your boat and cast. Counting down your fly to the depth of the mark and then start your strip and hold on. When the weather stays nice for several days and the bait and stripers tend to move out in deep water. Gannets can still be a sign of bait even in 75 feet of water.
Catching stripers in holding 60 feet down on fly can be done. Yak Hair Clousers or Kinky Fiber Clousers tied form 6 to 10 inches will sink fast and hold a good profile in the water. Over the last few years N C winter stripers have averaged over 36 inches and some anglers have caught some reel slobs over 45 inches.
Shore bound anglers have legitimate shots at the big coastal migrants. There are many good locations for surf fly-fishing. There are three premier locations and they are the north side of Oregon Inlet, the south side of Oregon Inlet and Cape Point in Buxton on Hatteras Island. The north side of Oregon Inlet and Cape Point in Buxton are accessible by four-wheel drives. Early morning and the hours around dusk and few hours after are prime time to give the suds a try. The third location is jetty on the south side of Oregon Inlet. This does not have a four wheel drive access but it does have a public parking.
Be careful with your footing like fishing any jetty. Cape Point in Buxton is one of the best know surf fishing spots on the East Coast. Long known for huge channel bass and big bluefish blitzes it is now carving out a name for it’s self as a striper “Mecca. The best beaches are from the old site of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse southward to the Cape. Most of this beach is 4 X 4 accessible. Probably the most efficient way to find a bite on the beach is a cell phone. There are many good tackle shops and fly shop on both island and they do have up to date information and love to share it.
Shore bound fly anglers should take a along a 9 to 10 weight fly rod loaded with intermediate fly line and Don’t forget a stripping basket!
Surf fly anglers don’t need the super magnum size flies. While the will work they are hard to control in the surf and hard to throw any distance. Half & Half’s and Lefty’s Deceivers and Popovics Jiggys tied in chartreuse and white and form 5 to 7 inches long will work just fine. If you are fishing at dusk to after dark try using a solid black fly or darker colored flies. Leaders can be short –6 to 7 feet long and 20 pound tippet is perfect.
Remember size counts when you are looking for a late season trophy striper. When the bait and weather and fish collide the resulting train wreck gives fly anglers one of the best shot at tangling with multiple 20 plus pound fish anywhere on the coast.
Tackle Shops / information sources
1. TW’s Kitty Hawk 252-261-7848
2. TW’s Nags Head- 252-441-4807
3. Frank and Fran’s -Avon Hatteras Island 252-9954171
4. Red Drum Tackle -Buxton Hatteras Island 252-995-5414
5. Frisco Rod and Gun-Frisco Hatteras Island 252-995-5366
Thanks go to Captain Brian Horsley for permission to reproduce this article on TotalFlyFishing.com. This article cannot be reproduced anywhere else without his consent.
You can read more about fly fishing in North Carolina on his website Outer Banks Fly Fishing.com.