Welcome to Salt Water Fly Fishing

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.

Banker Ponies of Beaufort

Captain Doug Sinclair, Alliance, North Carolina

The best fishing surprises are those that you least expect. My favorite fishing area is Middle Marshes between Beaufort (pronounced "bow-fert") and Shackelford Banks, near Harker's Island and Cape Lookout. The wildlife ramp is on Front Street, in Beaufort across from Carrot Island. This is part of the Outer Bank chain of barrier islands.

On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and in the small villages and towns on the coastal mainland, the oral histories and traditions handed down generation after generation are woven with stories of the wild horses that have lived on the barrier islands for centuries. From Cape Lookout to Currituck, the elders still say, "They've always been here; they were here when our people came; they swam ashore off sinking ships." They are the Outer Banks wild horses.

In 1493, when Columbus made his second voyage to the New World, he had with him the numerous items necessary for colonization, including twenty-five horses. When he arrived in Hispaniola (between Cuba and Puerto Rico), his first act was to establish ranches to be run by the stockmen he had included among his colonists.

They are called banker ponies because they are smaller horses standing only 14 hands high (a hand is about 4 inches, measured from the shoulder to the ground). Years ago, the folks on the Outer Banks started calling them Banker ponies and the name stuck. Ok, what does this have to do with fishing. It is the location of this great fishing spot and the constant contact you will have with these ponies...that's what makes it so great!

The Middle Marshes cover a central location between four channels running from behind Carrot Island to the backside of Shackelford Banks. Carrot Island flanks the southeast side of Taylor's Creek where the Wildlife ramp is located. This is a large area of flats with small, low lying grassy islands of shallow water consisting of a hard bottom and oysters. The tide runs fast and digs deep into the grassy edges. It carries a lot of bait and the puppy drum can be thick.

I picked up Lee Padgett and Phil Gerolstein at the ramp and we motored down Taylor's Creek. A large menhaden plant is a sore spot on the north side of the creek. The menhaden plant is slated for demolition. I don't think anyone will object.

Lee and Phil were using 8wt fly rods. Both were using St. Croix Ultra Legends. Both were rigged with wet tip clear lines and both had 12-pound leaders. We rounded the bouys by the east end of Carrot Island. There not 35 feet away were four Bankers and a foal. What a cool picture with them and the lighthouse as a backdrop. They were standing on the waters edge and just watching all the boats going and coming through the cut. My anglers were just in awe as we motored by these beautiful ponies.

"Do they ever bother anglers?" Phil asked.

"No," I said, "But remember these are wild horses."

I took the channel towards Harkers and Cape Lookout. My favorite approach is the north east side of Middle Marshes. There is a hook and a small bank that helps to block the southeasterly winds that blow up from Beaufort Inlet. The key to catching puppy drum here is to arrive an hour before high tide. I find the best catching time just at the end of the slack and the tide starts to fall. If you aren't in a flats boat, best to pay attention to the water level, least you get caught high and dry.

I polled around two cuts and an oyster bed. Lee got on the platform and started casting to the grass line and nearby oyster beds. Bait was moving in balled up pods. The water was gin clear to the bottom in about two to three feet of water. We used a gold/pink copperhead tied on a #2 owner Fly-liner hook. This is basically a Clouser Minnow with a lot of flash and hot pink estaz. The fly is fished in a hopping motion.

It wasn't long before Lee had a solid hit. But like many fly anglers, he got excited and pulled the fly from the puppy drum's mouth. We moved back to the edge of a drop off and he recast so the fly would be carried into the slough by the tide. This time he let the puppy drum gobble the fly.

I thought Lee would lose his fly rod. This puppy drum ran to the opposite bank and then made a run at the boat. In a rush to get his fly out of the water Phil snagged an oyster shell and was hung on the bottom. Meantime Lee was running around the boat like Sambo chasing the Tiger. The puppy drum didn't make any long runs but he was wearing Lee out moving back and forth from one side of the boat to the other.

Meantime Phil was worried about his line, since we had drifted some distance from where he got hung up and was already into his backing. I got off the poling platform and started the trolling motors. Well…wouldn't you know that puppy drum kicked into 6th gear and started racing up a cut. Since Lee wasn't into his backing, we let him run (think it was a he), while I motored us over to wear Phil was hung up. Because of our position we easily freed Phil's line and he reeled in.

"Lee...Try to turn him."

I wanted that fish to turn back towards the boat. The tide was really running out now and the puppy drum was running the wrong way for us. Finally, he turned and started right at the boat. Lee was now leaning on the poling platform. I motored as fast as we could towards the deep side of a cut to get out of the marsh and back into the sound. Then I ran into the bank. We were stuck for about 2 minutes, but it felt like hours. The tide was pushing us hard. If I could get us free we would float right over to Harker's Island and deeper water.

An hour had gone by. Lee was sweating, tired and generally whipped. We finally cleared the marsh with Lee's fish following right behind. We got this guy to the boat, took pictures, but this time he was going home with Lee for dinner. This is pretty typical of the puppy drum (about 24 inches) for this area. These puppy drum are about 3 years old. We'll probably have another season with them before they move out into the ocean. ~ Doug

About Doug:

Capt Doug Sinclair is a saltwater fly-fishing guide, casting instructor, writer and photographer from Alliance (Oriental), North Carolina. You can find him on the web at www.flyfishcarolina.com or call him at 252.617.5580.

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