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This past summer, as usual, huge schools of tarpon migrated into the coastal North Carolina waters of Pamlico Sound. True to form, hundreds of those fish were taken by spinfishermen but no one came forward to claim he had taken one on a fly. Thus, The Angling Report’s tarpon-on-a-fly challenge remains un-met for another year.

In case you are not familiar with the area under discussion, Pamlico Sound is that massive body of water that separates fragile barrier islands such as Hatteras and Ocracoke from mainland North Carolina. The map accompanying this report shows the immediate area where most of the tarpon are caught. These fish, mind you, are not baby tarpon but behemoths weighing upwards of 70 to 100 pounds.

One of the main reasons why fly tackle doesn’t work well on these fish is the depth of the water. The tarpon in Pamlico Sound tend to stay in 15 to 18 feet of water, which means sight-fishing is out of the question. You simply can’t pole around here, looking for fish in shallow water the way you can in places like Florida. Instead, a dedicated fly angler is going to have to blind cast and get his fly down deep to catch one of these fish.

If you want to try to catch a Tarheel silver king on a fly rod next year, plan to visit the area from mid-July through August, the hot, dog days of summer. A light to moderate southerly flow of air is best. A northeast wind will turn them off for a few days, maybe longer if it blows hard and the water temperature drops. Plan to put in some time, and maybe put the odds a little more on your side by fishing with a local guide with a proven track record.

A much more likely way to take one of these fish is by chumming and fishing with fresh, dead bait on the bottom. Anglers who fish this way tend to fish around some kind of structure on the bottom, such as oyster rocks or wrecks. Or they cruise slowly and look for rolling fish, ease ahead of them, start a chum line and put out their baits. Some anglers find a shrimp trawler that’s culling their catch and hope the tarpon are snacking on the buffet line.

A recommendable guide here is Captain George Beckwith (*), who specializes in fishing the western side of Pamlico Sound near the town of Oriental. As of this writing in late August, his clients had jumped 46 tarpon this year, including 13 in two days of fishing during the last week of July. This success was despite several days of uncommon northeast winds and cool weather, which turned the fish off. Another good tarpon guide in these same waters is Captain Bryan DeHart (*). Both of these fellows have favorable attitudes toward the possibility of taking a tarpon on a fly, although they haven’t done so yet.

This part of North Carolina has much more to offer than tarpon, of course, and the upcoming weeks are a prime time to visit the area. Red drum in the 25 to 50-pound range are available in Pamlico Sound now through about the end of September. George Beckwith says his clients catch and release many red drum, including 20 on the day I talked with him last month. Although they were not caught on fly tackle, Beckwith thinks it could be done.

Later on in the fall, these same fish school up to move out of the inlets and into the ocean. Captain Norman Miller (*), who lives on the barrier island of Ocracoke, specializes in catching these big drum. He primarily fishes for them with fresh bait, or sight casts artificial lures to them, but he will guide folks who want to pursue them with a fly rod.

But that’s not all. Striped bass in the 10 to 20-pound range and bluefish up to 15 pounds are available along the Outer Banks in the fall. Most of the fish are caught here by traditional methods of casting or trolling lures, or with natural baits. But there were several days last fall when both species could have been caught on a fly. Last year the bluefish staged a brief but exciting comeback, after being scarce along the beach for a few seasons. And the striped bass fishing was unprecedented. Starting around the middle of November, large schools of bluefish, mixed with stripers, appeared in the Cape Hatteras surf. Stripers were caught by boaters from Oregon Inlet down to Hatteras Inlet. November and December is the prime time for these fish.

Boaters have the best shot at them, but if conditions are right they can be taken with a fly rod from the beach. Zander Brody (*) is a fly rod specialist who lives on Hatteras Island. He works as a fishing guide for fly rod anglers on both the beach side and Pamlico Sound side.

As regards where to stay, waterfront accommodations are limited for the summer tarpon fishing on the western side of Pamlico Sound, so it helps to plan ahead. The Oriental Marina and Motel (*) is located on the Neuse River, a few miles from the tarpon grounds. It’s comfortable and has an excellent restaurant, and a public boat ramp is nearby. Rates during the main tarpon season are $69 per room for two people on weekdays and $79 on weekends, but these prices include breakfast. For other information on Outer Banks accommodations, contact the Dare County Tourist Bureau (*) or the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce (*). – Joe Malat.

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