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Welcome to Fly Fishing The Salt! If you are just discovering the joys of fly fishing the salt (or salt chuck as some call it) here you will find information to steer you in the right direction. Tips on what equipment to use, why, where and how to fish. And we will try to include a little inspiration to get you going. For the experienced salt water angler, there will be personal stories about real fishermen and their experiences, tips on what flies for which fish and techniques that work. Your stories and articles are also most welcome. Share the knowledge and adventure. Pass it on! This is for you.

Fishing Fever, Part 2
Part 2
Pitch Kettle Shad Run

By Doug Sinclair, Grantsboro, NC.
"Go softly by that river side
Or when you would depart,
You'll find its every winding tied
And knotted round you heart."
~ R. Kipling

We crossed the Neuse on route 43 just below Cow Pen Landing and past Pine Tree Creek. The morning was cool and refreshing. A bright sun pierced through places in the broken puffy clouds. This was a fabulous morning to be going fishing. In mid-January there are no chiggers, mosquitos or deer flies. Ducks, Canada geese and other fowl are the winter residents in every field and waterway. They fly freely in this lowland savanna called Vanceboro.

Fred, his son Hunter and I drove north, the boat and trailer in tow. The road was flanked with high banks and vast fields that were stopped at the edge of tall pines. Once an endless forest of longleaf pine and cypress trees, loggers and settlers cut the mighty trees for ship masts and buildings. Their resins were resistant to decay and so became an important staple to the local economy. Forests were thick with park-like floors of soft pine needles, cypress and Spanish moss. These majestic trees have high bowls (the distance between the forest floor and the first branch being about 30 feet off the ground). With polarized glasses you can see deep into the timber and observe the light that flickers down from above.

I often wonder how many times I can visit here and always enjoy it like it was the first time. I marvel at this place called Pitch Kettle. There is a lot of history and the fishing is tremendous. Understand that the Neuse is one of those huge natural hatcheries that attract lots of fish to its waters. The seasons and salinity will dictate which fish are in various locations. The salinity levels don't seem to affect the striper population they travel where there is food. The striped bass, or rock, can run 5 to 15 pounds and will easily play your 7 or 8 weight rod to the gunnel. The trick is keeping them from running down or out to the lowland into roots and submerged stumps. Don't be surprised as you maneuver around these great trees to see remnants from other anglers tied off to branches.

Pitch Kettle Afternoon

Many times I've been invited to fish the Roanoke for Shad and Rock, only to prefer the great Neuse River and the place called Pitch Kettle. Capt. Fred Slann, of New Bern, first took me there. Call it "extreme fly-fishing." The wind howled out at 30 mph from the north and blew tree limbs down and waves with such a fury that launching his boat was difficult to say the least. It required two lines running to shore, shared by Fred's son Hunter and myself, as each of us took a line from the bow and stern, to hold the boat straight when launched from the trailer.

Once on the river, though, wind blown, yet safe and secure, we ventured to the flooded cypress and pine forest, the winter home of these marvelous fish. We traveled west and north. The river makes a ninety-degree turn and we went wide around the treacherous cross current.

Farther up a stream we veered off to the right and into a creek spotted with tall cypress trees. The water was about 10-15 feet deep in the lowlands. The trunks of trees can exceed 12 feet in diameter. Below is a rich bed of vegetation and aquatic life that provides the nutrients for fish and other species. The lowlands are also home to beaver (they can grow to over 60 pounds), otter, raccoon, and other wild animals including black bear. There are wild berries, fruit trees, seeds and edibles for all kinds of wildlife.

Along the sandy bank we spotted the once a stately tree trunks, where parts in the ground still hard and fragrant from the pitch, a kind of embalming fluid for trees. Worn smooth by weather and bleached by the sun, these arboreal vertebrae are sometimes used as kindling and known in rural North Carolina as "lighter wood," "fat lighter," or "fat wood" because they burn furiously. Other carcasses remain in the form of big turpentine stumps, trees that had large box like areas hollowed out to collect resin, hence the name Pitch Kettle and the name of the creek where the pitch was collected.

Even the bark of longleaf strives for immortality and is readily identified by persistent layers at the base of stumps long ago burned deep into the soil. I counted over 200 growth rings on one stump. No doubt when this tree was cut, the pines were abundant. In the first half of the 1800s, records show hundreds of barrels of naval stores shipped from this area. Imagine the aroma of the rich soil, compacted longleaf and cypress, the crisp morning air and the inviting anticipation of hickories invading the river on their spawning run.

Migrant hoards of baitfish move inland at this time of the year. Escaping the cold lower basin they move up the Neuse towards Kinston and Raleigh. Pitch Kettle Creek joins the Neuse at a "T" in the river. The currents and flow are interrupted by a ninety-degree turn in the river forcing water in two directions. Bait fish get confused or are forced head long into the creeks on the bend in the river. In the Lowland areas they find refuge in Pitch Kettle Creek, foraging in the grasses, roots and submerged stumps. Here you will also find stripers because they will eat the shad. Use a seven-weight fly rod which will also be handy should you catch both species on one hookup. The striper will follow your shad and gobble it. You'll have two fish for the hookup of one. Use small flies. Fred prefers small white dart type flies tied with white buck tail on a #6 saltwater hook.

This is a blind casting adventure. However, it is evident to witness the ribbon of baitfish propelling out of the water. The activity gets explosive as he shad get ravenous. Your only worry is snagging your cast on a tree trunk, or hooking up only to have a shad swim under a root. Use #12 leaders, and have plenty of spares when you are fishing shad. These little guys will give you a good fight. Boat them quickly and you will have a great time catching and releasing to your heart's content. Bound by the beauty around you and basked by the aroma that is reminiscent of being in a cedar closet, you'll enjoy this vast labyrinth of intertwining trunks.

Shad Dart

I prefer a Royal Dart tied on a #6 3407 Mustad hook. Wrap the shank with 0.15 lead free wire prior to building the fly. It is similar to Fred's white buck tail fly, except I use red and pearl mylar windings. I have to admit that Fred's flies always work. Take at least 30 flies because some will get lost in the limbs and roots. The hook set is simply a matter of keeping the line tight and letting the shad set himself. Figure on a good day you'll hook 15 or more. On an off day you'll do 4-8. You'll have a great time.

Next time you're in New Bern, Raleigh or anywhere else and you want to try your hand at Hickory Shad, give a call and you'll be in for a treat. Next time we'll start in downtown New Bern, the Capitol of the Carolinas (established 1710), where the rock and speckled trout fishing is out of this world. We will stage down the river, just like the trout and catch hundreds before April 1st. See Cabin Fever for 9-pound striper action in the same places. We have stripers all year round, but we will get to the big ones and large drum much later.

Please don't teach your trash to swim. ~ Doug Sinclair

About Doug:

Capt. Doug Sinclair has relocated from New Smyrna Beach, Florida to Grantsboro, NC. He specializes in fly-fishing and light tackle charters. Doug charters the Coastal Carolina area of New Bern or Oriental. Catch him on the web at www.flyfishacademy.net or call him at (252) 745-3500.

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