Nags Head, North Carolina
On The Fly Saltwater
Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs
No, On The Fly South has not wandered out of our coverage area and ended up on the west coast of the country. We are talking about the gap in the barrier islands that make up North Carolina’s Outer Banks (OBX).
This pass is located roughly 10 miles south of where U.S. Highway 64 meets North Carolina Highway 12 in Nags Head and provides the only land access to the OBX. The inlet is flanked on either side by symbols of the sites past and present.
On the south side is the historic Oregon Inlet Life Saving Station. This vestige of the period predating the U.S. Coast Guard housed crews that manned boats for rescuing sailors and passengers from shipwrecked vessels in the 19th and 20th centuries. Though not open to the public, you can see the state-owned, but unused station, on the north tip of Hatteras Island as you cross the inlet on the new Herbert C. Bonner Bridge.
To the north of the bridge and ocean pass is the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center. This large marina complex represents the area’s present, as ground zero for anglers in this part of the OBX. If you do an Internet search for Oregon Inlet Fishing, the result will be lots of hits regarding off-shore charter fishing. But, neglected in that information is the option for wading and kayak fly-fishing that lays close at hand.
At the end of the east parking area in the marina, the National Park Service provides a free, informal kayak launch on a small beach area. This allows access directly to the water of Roanoke Sound, on the inside of the inlet. Fortunately, launching here does not entail battling the wake of the large ocean-going charter boats heading out of the inlet.
Rather this eastern side of the boat channel actually is a shallow, hard sand flat, much of which is less than waist deep. Portions of the area also are only about knee deep. Running through this flat is a much smaller channel that has enough water to float smaller boats.
Paddling anglers often run out from the launch site and anchor their craft to get out and wade the channel edge while casting. The channel is a natural conduit for fish moving to and from its northern end, where Mott Creek flows from behind Herring Shoal Island and past the entrance to Fishing Center marina.
In this area it is not uncommon to see anglers in skiffs, or even center console boats, anchored in the channel, while wading anglers are just yards away in thigh deep water. There also are some marsh grass islands breaking up the flat, as you edge closer to the inlet and bridge spanning it.
Of course, a lot of the fishermen encountered are using conventional tackle, but some are also flinging flies on the long rod.
Oregon Inlet is noted for hosting some rough weather during the year. It goes without saying that you should watch the weather forecasts and target this area on days of calmer conditions.
So, what are you likely to catch when tossing flies at Oregon Inlet? The most common species to show up are redfish and spotted seatrout. Both of these tend to run up and down the channel through the flat, but the redfish will stray out onto the shallower water as well. When that occurs, you may get a shot at some sight casting.
Other fish you might hook as incidental catches are weakfish and flounder. Since the OBX’s fabled striped bass use Oregon Inlet to access Pamlico Sound to the south, on occasion you might encounter those as well. Usually they will be juvenile-sized fish.
With regard to gear and flies to use here, the first tip that should be heeded is to have a good anchor for your kayak. Make sure it’s heavy enough to hold the boat in the sea breeze and tidal flow. Letting your kayak get sucked out the inlet, makes for a lost boat or at least a difficult retrieval.
Rods should be at least 8- to 9-weight models, with the edge going to the heavier size. You’ll be throwing flies in the ever-present wind, plus you really don’t know what size redfish you might hook.
Fly choice is one of preference, rather than necessity. Whatever your go-to pattern for reds and trout may be, it is likely to work on these fish. Personally, a selection of Clouser Deep Minnows in varied color schemes fits the bill. Chartreuse-and-white is the first I’ll try. You might have a few on hand with bead chain eyes for tossing up on the shallower flat.
Next time you are out on the OBX, give this fly-fishing option a try. You likely won’t be disappointed