A Meditation on the Speckled Trout - Carolina Country

A Meditation on the Speckled Trout

Stories, legends and etiquette of cold-weather fishing in eastern North Carolina

By Kevin McCabe

A Meditation on the Speckled Trout

Kevin McCabe’s wife, artist Kim Mosher, has artist’s proofs of her colored pencil work “Speck Attack.” They are available for $30 each, among other art, from kimmosherdesigns.com

In the mid-1960s, my father gave me two of the best gifts I would ever receive. One was a light-action, seven-foot rod. The second was my first trip fishing for speckled trout in the rough autumn surf. I vividly remember casting a red-headed Mirro Lure into the rolling waves at Onslow Beach. A swift current carried my lure along with all the anticipation a 10- year-old kid could contain. The ocean bottom there was not sand, surprisingly, but a slippery peat with scattered cypress stumps from long ago. The same mudflat would produce 10,000-year-old arrowheads at low tide. Then WHAM! Out of the cold white water came a large shaking yellow- mouth with two fangs. Both the fish and I were hooked. Nearly 50 years have come and gone, but the magic from that day is branded deep within my heart. I believe I am not alone when it comes to the mystique of speckled trout fishing in the evanescent surf.

Whether it's casting a fly into a secret spot in a mountain stream or fishing the perfect slough on a lonely beach, trout fishing has an amazing effect on the dedicated angler. The solitude and quietness are priceless. For many of us, the reward is in the search. Years ago I fished with a retired judge who told me, "You don't need trout to trout fish." It took a while, but I thoroughly understand what that means. Trout fishing has been a form of meditation for centuries. Many books have tried to convey the magic behind it. Years of experience are like the rings in a tree. Keep them deep inside if you want to be alone. Some fishermen are willing to cut corners to catch trout. They may not know or care about this sacred pastime that has been passed down for generations. The speckled trout history throughout eastern North Carolina is very interesting to say the least.

Stories and etiquette from back in The Day

In the 1960s and 1970s there was a cast of characters I had the privilege to fish with: Gunner Charlie, Big John, Curtis Gray, and the Boogerman, to name a few. Other legendary names are out there, but they all fished way before my time. Sadly, many stories and names of this wonderful heritage are fading fast. Some of the older trout men told stories that were quite amazing. One particular story I always enjoyed was from an ancient angler. His grandfather was a slave and obviously a great trout man. He would go down to the beach with a long cane pole, twisted oiled line, and a handmade lure. He would lay the lure on the beach and walk towards his "hole." (A knowledgeable trout man is usually casting in a small 10-foot circle.) After a throwing the lure out, he would walk backward, slowly jigging it through the trough. I like to describe it like teasing a cat with string. After picking a few trout out of each hole, he would return home and was allowed a portion of the day's bounty.

Many old rules of trout etiquette have gone out with the tide these days. The true trout men in the old days used only lures or single handmade jigs. Colors and weights were adjusted to fit the conditions of the day. Live baits, double jigs, and snagging were highly frowned upon among the most dedicated elders and respected trout men. They said it was like cheating, and they would literally run you down the beach using harsh language. I found that out the hard way in my early years after being scorned for using live minnows. Another general rule was never walk into an angler's trout hole without asking for permission first. That act could also get you into lots of trouble. Real trout men are more interested in locating the fish than actually catching them. I feel the same way, but I still take a couple home to eat.

The remains of legendary fishing places

Historic trout fishing spots are also disappearing. Anyone who has ever fished for speckled trout in North Carolina has heard fabulous stories about New River Inlet, the old 172 Bridge in Sneads Ferry, the Buxton Jetties and the old fishing piers. Names like The Scotch Bonnet, Paradise Pier and Ocean City Pier have now become part of hurricane history, and all that remains beside them are whispers of epic trout fishing days on cold autumn mornings. Thankfully, there are still a few piers standing where the fine tradition continues. Many old-timers remember the ridge of giant oak trees that stood on North Topsail Island at New River Inlet. During the peak fall trout run, the tree line and bank would be filled with anglers casting on the outgoing tide. I spent many days under those oaks catching countless numbers of speckled trout as a young man. It was rumored that lots of other treasures came from under those trees too. They were the same trees that Blackbeard hid behind. By the time you saw his top sails, he had you in his sights. Like the piers, the oaks were washed away by storms and time.


A 6-pounder I caught in December 2008.

Looking back over the years is a natural instinct of all humans. With that said, I am very thankful that my father took the time to take me trout fishing one cold autumn day. It changed my life forever. The complete understanding of speckled trout and the nature around them has become a personal study. Because of one fishing trip nearly five decades ago, I have learned more about the ocean, the weather and shoreline dynamics than any institute of higher learning could ever teach. From the stars above, to what's buried in the sand below my feet, I see a clear picture that has made my life more rewarding. I can honestly say ''thank you'' to one speckled trout I let go on a cold day a long time ago.

About the Author

Kevin McCabe has been fishing and studying speckled trout in the surf for 47 years. He says that living on Hatteras Island next to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore provides him miles of beach to look for these fish through the fall and winter. The quiet winter months, he says, also provide time for writing that has become “a part-time hobby and a full-time ambition.”

Comments (9)

  • Kevin, enjoyed talking with you at Hatteras today. Just read “Meditation on Speckled Trout. You should do a book on the subject. We got here last Sunday and leaving in the AM. If I had met you earlier I would sure have fished differently this past week! I mentioned jigs and my fishing buddies said no way in the surf, only bottom rigs and cut bait. Live and learn. Great job and tight lines!

    Charlie Manning |
    October 28, 2017 |

    • Just found this. Glad I could help and will see you again out here....stay safe

      Kevin McCabe |
      June 27, 2020 |

  • Inspiring article. Kevin, i am very interested in, and am trying to glean as much info on winter trout fishing in the surf but info is limited here in south carolina. It is a fishery that is almost non existent or a very closley guarded secret among those who do it. Either way i am wondering if you have any experience or info you are willing to share about winter surf fishing for trout in my state. Please send private email if you can. Thanks.

    Jerry kubo |
    October 10, 2018 |

    • Some good hints for winter......fish real light jigs, fish them very slow, fish closer to the edge of the shore, mirro lures make more noise if you shake them a little, those little cuts on the beach or under the piers is good places for them in winter....good luck!

      Kevin |
      December 11, 2018 |

  • Hi Kevin,
    Someone from Onslow Co. just shared your new book about beach safety with me. I'd love to find out how to get some copies to teach beach safety along with water safety. I'm a fire and life safety educator with a fire department in the piedmont and a lot of my students go to the coast each year. Would love to know more about your book.


    Maria Bostian |
    June 06, 2019 |

    • Hello Maria,

      That's great! The book has been well received by many differant groups. We just saw a news story on WCTI last night. The Emerald Isle police/rescue made a big order to pass out to children and talked about the new approach towards Beach Safety. The back cover with the rip current chart has been popular with children too. You can get them directly from us ( http://kimmosherdesigns.com) if you like. They sell for $9.95 plus a little shipping. I also have a couple free rip current postcards that we encourage everyone to share on sites and pass around. Let us know and we can go from there. Thanks for all you do! Education is the key...

      Regards, Kevin

      Kevin |
      June 06, 2019 |

  • Legend!! Cell:919-601-7102

    Kenny Doyle |
    February 28, 2020 |

  • Kevin stumbled on to this Gem of an article , I could feel the pull of the outgoing tide on my legs , the Explosive Bang on those Mirrolures, The Meditation during the solitude and rhythmic casting and twitch retrieving waiting for the next Big Bang.Awesome
    Your River City Brother

    Rex Straughan |
    October 28, 2021 |

  • Good evening Kevin.
    We spoke this morning north of ramp 43, and I appreciate your time, insight, and stories. Your perspective on “extreme fishing “, “the hunt” vs “the catching “, “reading the beach”, could each be a separate chapter in a book. If you ever had a workshop on speckled trout fishing, I’d make the drive from Richmond to attend.
    BTW- Meditation on speckled trout is so well written and an enjoyable read.
    Thanks again,

    Dave Daniels |
    November 08, 2023 |

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