Year on the Tar
Rose Bay produces a Pam-slam
Untested waters host an Eden of fish, nature, beauty
By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Sports editor Nathan Summers is taking monthly excursions on the Tar River to explore the river’s character and its characters.
ROSE BAY — The first five months of chronicling a year of fishing on the Tar-Pamlico river system has mostly been about local anglers lending their considerable expertise to my success.
So far, it has been about fishing reliable, tried-and-true spots developed over a couple of decades spent fishing and eventually catching in those places, then returning to hone those spots and help identify new ones.
This magnificent early summer day was different.
When I felt the first serious tug on the end of my line under a golden-gray June morning sky, surrounded on one side by glistening, calm water and on other by dramatic stretches of sea oats and grass, I felt an immediate sense of accomplishment.
“I got one.”
“Do you?” answered a slightly surprised Adam Corey, who once again rescued me from the storm-muddied waters of the Tar in Greenville after boat trouble sunk my original plans with another angler. We had just pulled up to the first spot on what Corey described as an exploratory mission into water he had never fished. That alone was exciting. He asked what lure I felt good about, and I immediately opted for a small, lively looking swimbait.
I felt even better about it when the lure was fixed into the corner of a fish's mouth so early in the trek.
“Do you need the net?” he asked as I steered the first fish of many to the boat.
“Maybe. I don't know. No.”
I wished the answer was yes, but the net was needed a few times that memorable day of fishing in Rose Bay on the northern shore of the Pamlico River in Hyde County. The fish was a speckled trout, a year-round resident here, and its beautifully spotted sides were unmistakable. It was respectable in size, not net-worthy but enough to get my blood flowing.
Motivation was not hard to find. Seemingly every grass shoreline in the coastal bay was teeming with predatory fish making Vs on the water's surface and sending schools of mullet and other small fish leaping en masse into the air to avoid being swallowed. The unmistakable suction sound of a mullet meeting its fate in the dark spaces where water meets grass became common that day.
Before then, I certainly knew what an “inshore slam” was — catching a flounder, a redfish and a speckled trout on the same day in intercoastal waters like these — but had never given it a great deal of thought.
Now I'm at least a little bit obsessed with it. The right lure will catch any one of them, meaning every hook-up brings a bit of mystery to the surface.
All three members of the slam visited the boat that Sunday morning, and it could not possibly have happened in a more picturesque setting. To make this Pam-slam perhaps even grander, we each caught a striped bass as well.
Corey capped the outing with a redfish and a flounder both big enough to fill the net and his cooler along with my largest trout. Quite possibly the biggest home run of all was the quality of the slam on the dinner table in the nights that followed.
Fishing in relative isolation for the entire day only added to the appeal, and our ability to keep finding consistent numbers of specks and flounder into the steamy early afternoon made it unforgettable.
One of the magic moments of the day happened in a quiet corner of those tufted shores. Both of us were feeling the fever of knowing we were in a perfect fish-catching scenario, heaving cast after cast at the water just in front of the grass, when we realized a pod of dolphins was busily cruising along behind us.
It seemed they too could not resist the urge to investigate the nonstop activity in the water and the long lines of crab pots that dotted much of this terrain. Ever calm and quiet, the porpoises dove and rose until they had disappeared into the distance.
Another distinct memory of the day was watching Corey rear back and set the hook on his nice-sized redfish.
Like much of the day, there was a bustle in the water all around us when the fish struck his lure. When he hooked it, a terrified mullet probably way too big to fear being eaten must have nonetheless thought its number was up. It leapt three feet out of the water repeatedly around the battling redfish.
Like the striped bass, the fish properly called a red drum leads a life based on migration. The fish ultimately trek from brackish water like that in the Pamlico River and Rose Bay into the ocean as they age and reach full maturity — only returning inshore to spawn — and at sea they can grow to massive sizes. The younger fish are commonly called puppy drum, meaning they have yet to become accustomed to life in the open ocean, where the older specimens spend much of their lives. But just because they are puppies doesn't mean they are small.
The rise of summer in this bay not only means gorgeous morning views of the sky, the water and the wildlife but also a persistent pattern of gamefish haunting its shorelines, deep pockets and points.
Fishing was good enough that neither of us cared to end the trip that initially promised to be over at high noon. On this day, the usual checks of the time and texts from significant others — “Still fishing?” — were met with our own statements of, “Let's stay just a little bit longer. A few more casts.”
Are there any fishing days better than those?
By late afternoon, we were standing outside on Corey's property and I was watching his mastery with a fillet knife. There is fresh fish, and then there is taking fish home that doesn't even land in the refrigerator but instead is immediately prepared for dinner.
Luckily, my better half, Natalie, showed her own fish mastery, and the blackened redfish with crawfish lemon butter that night rivaled any I have eaten in my favorite New Orleans restaurants. The next night, it was divine parmesan-crusted flounder and trout filets with a citrus reduction on the table that made me go a little cross-eyed with delight at first bite.
Naturally, the Corey household had similar delicacies that week.
Fishing with Adam has been one of the highlights of my year and probably of my now 15 years of angling in eastern North Carolina. He probably doesn't know it, but one of my favorite phrases of his is, “The next time we go ...”
No matter what he says after that, I'm game.
Contact Nathan Summers at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.
The Reflector is seeking seasoned Tar-Pamlico anglers and guides for future stories in the series.