The Fairest of Bluffs
Updated: Sep 9, 2018
From July 9th to July 13th I had decided to go to my friend's beach house in Sunset Beach, well aware my fishing would be limited while I was there. So instead of helping carpool like a normal friend I decided to pack all my fishing gear into my car and hit the road early on, planning a few stops on a long winded fishing road trip towards the southern terminus of North Carolina.
The trip started with a stop at Buckhorn Creek on the southeast end of Shearon Harris. I've stopped at this spot and registered new species at it several times before, but it's always a great spot to do some high efficiency multi-species fishing, plus, it was on the way to one of my main targets.
The creek was a tad high after some rain showers in the area and I didn't plan on staying long, but I still managed a few fish, including a surly Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus), as well as a lone Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus). The fishing was underwhelming from a spot I normally did well at, and after not long I decided to pack it up and get moving with my trip.
Species List for Spot #1:
Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus): 5
Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus): 1
After a relatively short drive down some lovely gravel roads, I pulled into the parking lot for the next spot, the northern section of Raven Rock State Park. I had been to this park before via the Cape Fear River, but never fished it nor explored its tributaries. I had only done a bit of research, but enough to know my destination. After a tolerable downhill hike that took about 20 minutes, I reached a ford in the creek, and it didn't take long to find some enticing pools.
I began fishing and immediately lost a Nocomis, but eventually the hard work paid off and the fish began coming in one after the other. The first fish that I landed was a White Shiner (Luxilus albeolus), a species I first caught at Buckhorn Creek. I had caught a lot before and some real pretty ones during spawning season. Either way it was nice to find some in another watershed.
Fishing the bigger waterfall didn't yield much in the end and instead I shifted my focus on a deeper pool with some good flow to it, and began pulling in shiners and chubs. The next fish to appear was the Bluehead Chub (Nocomis leptocephalus), a consistently good fighting fish at any size. It was pretty uninspiring, but a good fish nonetheless. My lifer Bluehead Chub also came from Buckhorn Creek, but I have caught them in the Dan River basin of North Carolina as well.
I fished more of the creek while the fishing was still hot, and ended up landing a super cool fish one must be very careful handling.
I had never caught a Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) this small, and while it was a cool feat to add to the repertoire, I sacrificed a good picture for feeling in my hand. The spines on young catfish are ridiculous sharp and one wrong move can end with you losing feeling in your hand or wherever. I started to wrap up for the sake of time, I still had a long drive ahead of me to the next spot via the dreaded I-95 (aka the most boring road in North Carolina) and wanted to get some good fishing in at the next place. I ended up catching several more shiners and chubs, as well as adding Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus) and Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus) to my species list for Avent's Creek.
Species List for Spot #2:
White Shiner (Luxilus albeolus): 2
Bluehead Chub (Nocomis leptocephalus): 2
Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus): 5
Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus): 4
Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus): 1
Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus): 1
The next spot was a fabled spot I had heard of from a good friend of mine, Bobby Emory, that was apparently a swamp fishing heaven, loaded with Bowfin, Flier, and the ever-elusive Redfin Pickerel, a species and genus I had been dying to find for so long. The ride was long and the spot was in the middle of nowhere, but my was it gorgeous.
Although it may seem drab at first, this type of swampy backwater is just what multi-species anglers come from all over the state for. These canals are directly connected to the Lumber River, which runs through downtown Fair Bluff, and used to control flooding, however not so good apparently because the town was completely underwater just three years ago. As a result it now reeks of ghost town, and the canals experience very little pressure. I started by throwing a small roostertail into the weedlines and along structure hoping to find a swamp esox. The first species catch was, by no surprise, the ubiquitous Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus).
These canals really are revered by some in the community, and I knew I had to keep pushing to find some cool species. I ended up hooking another Lepomis, and only my second ever, the Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus). I had only caught one before, not too long before at the Eno River in Durham, where they are pretty drab colored compared to the exquisite looking specimens of tannic water.
I walked up and down the smaller canal several times but didn't catch anything more than the two sunfish. I wasn't discouraged though, and I decided to hit the main canal and try my luck. As soon as I parked and saw it I knew it was buzzing with activity. I could see fish after fish after fish scoop air from the water, and knew immediatley they were the backwater denizen known commonly as the Bowfin (Amia calva). I had no natural bait, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I had been trying to catch an artifical bowfin for so long with little luck. In fact, the first two bowfin I ever caught were on accident, at a neighborhood lake on artificial. Since then it had been a fruitless quest. Even so, I still stocked the same lure I had used to get my lifer, a small Comet Mino with 5 total hooks on it. If choked it really messed fish up, and I acknowledged this but I was careful as I could be. The action on this lure had enticed nearly every catch-able fish in my area to bite and it had always been a staple in my tackle box. I would let the lure sink and then every so slowly retrieve it, just enough to where I could sense the spinner working. It didn't take long. The bowfin were savage in that spot, at a level of ruthlessness I had never encountered. I had been fishing with light-ish tackle; six lb test and a small rod. I knew I had to be careful. Sure enough my caution got the best of me and I lost several bowfin in a row. They would hit the lure crazy hard, peel a bunch of drag or launch themselves in the air, but inevitably come off. This happened about 5 times, nearly getting fish before I finally landed on. It was trouble landing it up the steep banks but I made it work and added my first bowfin from the spot.
As you can tell by the state of the Bowfin, it took some extremely persuasive coaxing until I was able to get him into position to take a half decent picture. After the first the action didn't stop, I just got slightly better at holding on to them for a little bit longer. Fishing a woodpile a bit deeper into the canal yielded a massive strike right next to shore. As I was about to flip it onto the bank the Bowfin made a last ditch effort and ended up breaking off, taking my lure with it. I was sort of devastated, and it took several more tries with different lures before I finally found another one that worked. It was a small bright orange crankbait and the fish suddenly began to stick and not let go. I ended up catching four more bowfin, as well as losing upwards of 10-15 as well. I hadn't brought my net so landing the fish was consistently a struggle, but I made it work for four more, and by the time darkness began to linger I was ready to head out. I hadn't caught any of the species I was directly targeting, but when I say the Bowfin fishery was magical it really was. I have never seen fish so strong and so eager to take a bait, I can only assume that they did not experience a lot of pressure.
Species List for Spot #3:
Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus): 1
Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus): 1
Bowfin (Amia calva): 5
All in all the trip was pretty much a success. I explored some new places and got into some good leads that benefited me in the future. Let's just say my exploits in the swampy water of southeast North Carolina did not end with just this one trip...