The Ghosts of Winter
LIGHT-TACKLE ANGLERS CASH IN ON COLD WATER FISHING
BY ROBERT REHDER
SThe State-Record Speckled Trout PECKS are caught all along the 322 miles of North Carolina’s coast, and some areas such as the New River basin are famously
productive. But only one spot holds the official state-record fish — Wrightsville Beach. It was under the South Banks Channel
Bridge one chilly winter day in 1961 that John Kenyon Jr. landed the 12-pound, 4-ounce monster.
Do larger behemoths lurk in our coastal waters that could upset the longstanding record? Veteran trout fisherman Ricky Kelly,
fishing with longtime friend Fred Davis,
recently landed a speckled trout of
31.5 inches. The fish weighed more than
14 pounds, a potential new state record. But
Kelly is a dedicated naturalist and catch-and-
release angler, so conservation prevailed.
With no regret he carefully revived the great
fish, held it in the current until it regained
strength, and freed it to live another day.
To no great surprise, exactly where Kelly
caught the giant and what bait he used is
somewhat of a mystery. Typical of trout
fishermen, when asked he didn’t offer much
detail. “I like soft plastics,” he says. He’s
even less descriptive as to where he caught
the big fish, but from his comments it
wasn’t far from where the existing record
When ocean temperatures fall below 60 degrees and icy
winds whip through the surf, most inshore fishermen hang
up their gear and retire for the season. That doesn’t apply to
a local band of hardcore anglers who hunt the lovely, elusive
Known to visit local surf sloughs during winter, “specks”
are sought by a dedicated rough-and-tumble group that
seems to thrive when days turn raw and bitter.
It’s no wonder the fish is highly prized. With its silver,
streamlined body and black spots scattered against a palette
of pink, blue and purple, the speckled trout is exceptionally
handsome, fights like a demon, and tastes heavenly.
Angler Ricky Kelly poses with a 31.5-inch
speckled trout, weighing over 14 pounds,
before releasing it.
32 february 2022